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Self-Regulation: The Key to Successful Students? (page 2)

Self-Regulation: The Key to Successful Students?

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Updated on Apr 28, 2010

McClelland agrees that self-regulation is a learned skill.  “There is a lot of evidence to suggest that self-regulation can be taught in children.”  As an example she points to an intervention aimed at improving self-regulation in preschoolers.  “In one recent study,” she says, “we found that a series of classroom games in preschool designed to help children practice paying attention, remembering instructions, and demonstrating self-control significantly improved self-regulation skills, especially for children with low self-regulation.”

The good news for parents and educators is that easy ways to help children develop self-regulation skills may be as close as the local playground.  Both Ponitz and McClelland suggest that classic games where children must follow directions and wait to take turns may be be particularly suited for the development of self-regulation. Specifically, they recommend:  

  • Red Light, Green Light.  One child is the stoplight, the other children are the cars.  When the stoplight yells “Green light!” the children run towards the stoplight.  When the stoplight yells “Red light!” all the children must stop.  If a child doesn’t stop, they must go back to the starting line.  A popular variation is to include a “Yellow light!” where children must walk instead of run.  Excellent for developing self-regulation skills because children must learn to pay attention, follow directions, and wait their turn.  
  • Simon Says.  When Simon says, “Simon says jump!” the children must jump.  But if Simon only says, “Jump!” and somebody jumps, that person must sit out for the rest of the game.  The last person standing becomes the new Simon.  Another excellent game for developing self-regulation because children must listen carefully, pay attention, and follow directions.  
  • Hide n’ Seek.  One child is “it” while the other children hide.  After counting to ten, the “it” player must look until all the other children are found.  The first player found becomes “it.”  Good for developing self-regulation because children must learn to wait patiently and quietly.
  • Role Playing.  Ponitz believes that role-playing games in which children pretend to be another person for an extended period of time may also provide opportunities for children “to think about their choices and not give in to their immediate impulses.”  For example, have one child pretend to be the teacher while the rest of the children pretend to be the students.  

To make the games even more challenging, McClelland recommends adding rules that require children to pay attention, remember new instructions, and do the opposite of what they are used to.  For instance, instead of having children follow commands when a person says “Simon says...” do the opposite and have them follow commands when the phrase isn’t used. Be creative! As research increasingly shows, simple games can be more than mere child’s play when it comes to helping children develop valuable skills that will serve them well later in life.  

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