Social and Emotional Learning Development — Understanding Self-Regulation
It is clearly important to develop self-understanding and healthy self-esteem, but one of the most important skills we develop in childhood is the ability to control aspects of the self. Without this ability we would have difficulty accomplishing anything, regardless of how good we feel about ourselves (Littlefield-Cook, Cook, Berk, & Bee, 2005). So what is self-regulation? Self-regulation is the ability to monitor and control our own behavior, thoughts, emotions, and alter them in accordance with the demands of the situation. Self–regulation is then in turn reducing the frequency and intensity of those impulses that have occurred.
Self-regulation is a cognitive process which begins in infancy. Each time a caregiver responds appropriately to an infant’s cries, vocalizations, gestures, eye contact, or other nonverbal communication, the infant is learning to modify his or her own behavior. Teaching young children to manage their own behavior allows teachers to spend more time teaching and less time dealing with occurrences of challenging behaviors in their classrooms. Children around four years of age and older can be taught self-regulation skills, which will help them pay attention to their own behavior, complete activities, and engage in interactions using appropriate behavior (Center on Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning, n.d.).
Mature self-regulation requires several sophisticated cognitive skills. These include awareness of the demands of any given situation; consistent monitoring of our behavior, thoughts and strategies; consideration of how successful we are at meeting the demands of the situation; and the ability to change aspects of our current functioning as needed to fit the goal. Aspects of self-regulation correlate with various positive outcomes for children which include better academic performance, problem solving skills and reading success (Littlefield-Cook, Cook, Berk, & Bee, 2005).
According to the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learners, teachers should ask the following questions to help children learn to monitor their own behavior:
- Is the child able to make an accurate self-assessment of his or her behavior?
- What is the child’s current level of self-management skills?
- What is it that interests or engages the child that may be used to begin a self-management program?
- Are there any factors or challenges that the child faces which need to be considered before implementing a self-management plan?
Research has found that self-regulation development follows a standard pattern. Before children are able to develop and use cognitive competencies, they must first gain control of their emotions. Teachers can help children by identifying and reducing their stressors and teaching them how to positive express their feelings when they are upset. Teaching young children this foundational skill, which they can use to monitor their behavior and control their actions, can result in more successful interactions and outcomes.
- Center for Social and Emotional Foundation for Early Learning. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://csefel.vanderbilt.edu/resources/wwb/wwb7.html.
- Littlefield-Cook, J., Cook, G., Berk, L. E., & Bee, H. (2005). Child development: Principles and perspectives (Vol. 55, pp. 23-38). Allyn and Bacon.
- Provide charts with rules, routines, and schedules. Use real objects, photographs, or icons to illustrate actions these charts, and reference these charts often. Teach children how to meet the expectations and provide positive feedback (verbal and nonverbal) for appropriate behavior during transitions, when children follow rules, and when they remember routines.
- Arrange the furniture in the classroom in a way that allows easy traffic flow and avoids congestion and potential physical conflict.
- Provide quiet, distraction-free areas in the classroom, such as centers that are generally quiet like the book corner, as well as areas where children can choose to be on their own when they need time to calm down or relax before rejoining the group.
Organization of Classroom Materials
- Use pictures and other labels to keep materials organized.
- Model appropriate use of materials.
- Create big books of rules or routines for children to read.
- Establish clean-up routines and signals.
Supporting Self-Regulation with Individual Children
- Help the child learn each step of a new routine and recognize when new steps are completed.
- Respond promptly to requests for help and intervene immediately when behavior escalates.
- Use guidance, persuasion, and distraction rather than power assertion to redirect a child’s behavior.
- Encourage children to express their emotions honestly as long as they do not hurt others.
- Validate feelings but not inappropriate behaviors that result from them (e.g., "It’s okay to feel angry, but we need to use words instead of hitting; hitting hurts people.")
- Ignore inappropriate attention-getting behavior when possible.
- Focus on what a child should do, rather than not do.
- Provide warm reassurance and support during emotionally challenging times (saying goodbye to family members, presenting during show and tell, ect.).
- Remember the old adage “catch the child doing it right” and let them know it! Describe their behavior with praise, “I saw you use your walking feet all the way down the hallway. High five!”
Learn foundational understanding and find more strategies in the third chapter of the CIRCLE Activity Collection and in the eCIRCLE online course "Social and Emotional Development."