Self-Regulation and School Readiness
Self-regulation of behavior generally refers to controlled, cognitive monitoring of the actions and steps required to obtain a goal, or to bring about a desired response from the environment. Age-related changes in self-regulation as well as individual differences in self-regulation at a given age or developmental stage play fundamental roles in shaping children's experiences and the responses that children bring forth from caregivers and others. Changes from basic types of reflexive regulation in infancy (e.g., self-soothing, gaze aversion), to early attempts at voluntary control of behavior in toddlerhood (e.g., the intentional coordination of walking and reaching to gain some end), to active, cognitive control of behavior in the early childhood years (e.g., remembering and following rules) represent key developmental shifts in children's abilities (Kopp, 1989). Increasingly, research in child development has come to focus on these shifts and the ways in which parents, peers, and early care experiences play an important part in the development of children's self-regulation (NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, 2003). However, individual differences in children's temperamental emotional reactivity (an automatic autonomic and behavioral response to emotion-inducing stimulation) and the ability to control this reactivity are also important for understanding developing self-regulation. This Digest focuses on emotional reactivity and its relation to the development of cognitive functions that promote self-regulation in young children. It examines how emotions may influence the development of the cognitive functions that contribute to successful self-regulation and thereby to school readiness.
Regulation and Readiness
Self-regulation skills underlie many of the behaviors and attributes associated with successful school adjustment (Blair, 2002). In particular, both regulation of emotion in appropriate social interaction and goal-directed behavior, as well as the regulation of attention and the use of strategies in the execution of cognitive tasks, are important for successful adjustment to school. A survey of a nationally representative sample of kindergarten teachers indicated clear endorsement of multiple aspects of child self-regulation as being essential or very important to school readiness, including being able to:
- communicate needs, wants, and thoughts verbally
- sustain attention and be enthusiastic and curious in new activities
- inhibit impulsivity and follow directions
- take turns and be sensitive to other children's feelings
In contrast, few teachers endorse strictly academic aspects of readiness, such as letter or number knowledge or the ability to use a pencil or paintbrush (Lewit & Baker, 1995).
Similarly, longitudinal studies of young children representative of middle-income backgrounds indicate that self-regulation skills such as those listed above underlie the strong relation between social and academic competence observed in the early elementary grades. Specifically, children who achieve academically at high levels and exhibit positive social and cognitive developmental trajectories through the early elementary grades (1) easily form and maintain friendships, (2) have greater self-perceived control over learning activities and liking for school, and (3) are rated by the teacher as having high levels of persistence and the ability to resist distraction (Ladd, Birch, & Buhs, 1999; Normandeau & Guay, 1998).
Reprinted with the permission of the Education Resources Information Center.
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