11.19.15 NLS Blog: Number 6. Self­ Regulation Skills Are Of Utmost Importance

Billy begins his morning walking into the classroom and his mom attempts a quick goodbye as Billy grasps onto her leg sobbing for her not to leave. During circle time, Billy’s teacher begins reading a story. Billy begins wiggling in his seat and gazes out a nearby window. Before snack time, Billy is asked to wash his hands, instead he chooses to sit and start eating before his classmates join him. When it is time to clean up the classroom and conclude the day, Billy decided to pack up before his classmates so he can be first in line. When his teacher reminded him it is time to clean up, Billy threw himself on the floor in a tantrum. You may have witnessed very similar experiences such as that of Billy’s and have asked time and time again, “How can I help this child?”

Billy is an example of a child that clearly displays a lack of self­ regulation. Self­ regulation is defined as being able to complete a given task or instruction while restraining wants, emotions, and/or behavior. Strong self­ regulation skills have a direct correlation to high executive functioning, according to The Gesell Institute of Child Development. In their latest publication, Pretend Play and Brain Growth: The Link to Learning and Academic Success,​ it notes that “…executive functioning skills are essential to academic success and success in the adult years.” These essential skills begin developing as early as infancy.

Self­ regulation skills are not inherited, they are attained. In teaching our children how to regulate themselves, it is important to understand that specific child’s development. According to Dr. Arnold Gesell, cycles of development are made up of six stages; Smooth, Break-­up, Sorting Out, Inwardizing, Expansion, and Neurotic. These definable stages are patterned and predictable. For example, when teaching self­ regulation to a developmental 3­ year old, this definable stage tells us that this child is beginning to understand taking turns but doesn’t always allow for this. So an activity you may want to do with this child is building a tower, first you put a block down and then the child can put a block down taking turns.

When understanding a child’s development and what stage he/she is in, it will help provide useful information to successfully develop strong self­ regulation thus further developing higher executive functioning. When we look at the importance of this and how relative it may be to us as an adult, think of that time you passed on dessert because you are trying to lose those last few pounds. Or the time you waited to watch your favorite TV show until your husband came home. Or perhaps on a bigger scale, you chose to purchase a smaller house than you anticipated because you couldn’t afford the monthly payments. Developing these self regulation skills early in a child’s life are essential for later successes as an adult.

Bailey Bunch
National Lecture Staff
Gesell Institute of Child Development

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