skip to content

Click here to search our resources

PEDAL Hub: Resource Library

Self-regulation helps children guide their thoughts, emotions and behaviours to accomplish a goal (such as deciding to finish homework instead of watching TV). The cognitive aspect of self-regulation is called executive function, and includes working memory, inhibitory control and cognitive flexibility. These are important for planning, goal-directed behaviour, following instructions and organizing information1.

  • Working memory: remembering information while manipulating it (for example, mentally subtracting three from five requires working memory as the numbers  -3 and 5 - have to be kept in mind while performing the actual calculation) 
  • Inhibitory control: stopping one behaviour and showing a different behaviour instead (choosing to focus on what the teacher is saying in class instead of daydreaming about football) 
  • Cognitive flexibility: switching between different situations (for example, from a lively lunch break to a quiet phonics lesson) or mind-sets (considering different perspectives)

To show goal-directed behaviour, the child needs to keep the goal in mind and control being distracted by other things, and possible alternatives also have to be taken into consideration2
 
 
Self-regulation and executive function are often compared to an air traffic control system. Like a busy airport where planes need to be coordinated across different runways and flight paths to stop them crashing into each other, the child’s brain has to perform simultaneous functions. It has to inhibit distraction, keep information in mind and process it, shift between different situations, and curb impulsive behaviour to show appropriate behaviour instead3.
Self-regulation and executive function are also associated with children’s school readiness4, academic achievement5, classroom behaviour6 and social competence7.

So it is vital to know how these skills can be developed in the classroom. Approaches to teaching that promote self-regulation/executive function in the classroom include 

  • Tools of the Mind
  • Montessori
  • Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS)
  • Chicago School Readiness Project (CSRP)

Most of these programs emphasize a child-led, playful approach that is supported by structure. For example, the Tools of the Mind curriculum encourages young learners to listen carefully by showing a picture of an ear - the picture serves as a reminder of what the child should be doing. Another activity is ‘buddy reading’, where children practice taking turns as well as listening and storytelling8. In a supportive and structured manner, a Montessori teacher will give children the freedom to choose from a range of activities every day. Teachers aim to find tasks that are challenging for the children9, 10. This approach is linked to Vygotsky’s theory that children develop higher levels of executive function if they are challenged and supported at an appropriate level.

Research on parenting also emphasizes the importance of scaffolding for the development of children’s executive function11, 12. Scaffolding is supporting a child whilst he or she tries something difficult, giving them ‘just enough’ of the tools and confidence to complete the task. Teachers also use scaffolding techniques in the classroom to encourage, support and develop new skills.

 


Useful Links for Further Reading

Tools of the Mind

Montessori

Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS)

Chicago School Readiness Project (CSRP)

Harvard Center on the Developing Child – executive function

Bernier, A. et al. (2010) From External Regulation to Self-Regulation: Early Parenting Precursors of Young Children’s Executive Functioning (Journal Article)

Abstract:

In keeping with proposals emphasizing the role of early experience in infant brain development, this study investigated the prospective links between quality of parent–infant interactions and subsequent child executive functioning (EF), including working memory, impulse control, and set shifting. Maternal sensitivity, mind-mindedness and autonomy support were assessed when children were 12 to 15 months old (N = 80). Child EF was assessed at 18 and 26 months. All three parenting dimensions were found to relate to child EF. Autonomy support was the strongest predictor of EF at each age, independent of general cognitive ability and maternal education. These findings add to previous results on child stress-response systems in suggesting that parent–child relationships may play an important role in children’s developing self-regulatory capacities.

Date:
January 2010
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
81
Page/s:
326-339
Synonyms:
  • Developmental outcomes
  • Longitudinal
  • Parent/Guardian play
  • Play with other adult
  • Self-regulation
  • Executive function
Relevant age group/s:
Research discipline:

Blair, C. (2002) Early intervention for low birth weight, preterm infants: The role of negative emotionality in the specification of effects (Journal Article)

Abstract:

This study examined the relation of negative emotionality in infancy to child social and cognitive developmental outcomes among low birth weight (LBW) preterm infants participating in the Infant Health and Development Program (IHDP), a comprehensive compensatory education intervention beginning in infancy and lasting through age 3 years. In this analysis, intervention effects at age 36 months on maternal report of child behavior as assessed by the Child Behavior Checklist externalizing and internalizing scales and on intelligence as measured by the Stanford–Binet scale were largest among children characterized by higher levels of negative emotionality in infancy. Findings indicate that for LBW preterm infants characterized by negative emotionality at age 12 months the intervention was associated with a twofold decrease in the occurrence of clinically meaningful levels of behavior problems at age 3 years and a fourfold decrease in the occurrence of a high-risk profile in which both internalizing and externalizing scores are in the clinically meaningful range. The intervention was also associated with a fivefold decrease in the occurrence of IQ ≤ 75 at age 3 years among children with higher levels of negative emotionality and heavier LBW (2001–2500 g). However, specific aspects of temperamental difficulty such as fearfulness and anger were related to internalizing and externalizing, respectively, in both the intervention and control groups. Findings are consistent with research linking negative emotionality in infancy with social and cognitive developmental outcomes in early childhood among normal birth weight infants. Results suggest the need for further attention to child temperament in early intervention research.

Author/s:
Date:
January 2002
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
14
Page/s:
Synonyms:
  • Affective behaviour
  • Developmental outcomes
  • Experimental
  • Mental health
  • Physical health
  • Self-regulation
  • Social-emotional
  • Well-being outcomes
Relevant age group/s:
Research discipline:

Blair, C. et al. (2007) Relating Effortful Control, Executive Function, and False Belief Understanding to Emerging Math and Literacy Ability in Kindergarten (Journal Article)

Abstract:

This study examined the role of self-regulation in emerging academic ability in one hundred and forty-one 3- to 5-year-old children from low-income homes. Measures of effortful control, false belief understanding, and the inhibitory control and attention-shifting aspects of executive function in preschool were related to measures of math and literacy ability in kindergarten. Results indicated that the various aspects of child self-regulation accounted for unique variance in the academic outcomes independent of general intelligence and that the inhibitory control aspect of executive function was a prominent correlate of both early math and reading ability. Findings suggest that curricula designed to improve self-regulation skills as well as enhance early academic abilities may be most effective in helping children succeed in school.

Author/s:
Date:
January 2007
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
78
Page/s:
647-663
Synonyms:
  • Academic outcomes
  • Developmental outcomes
  • Literacy
  • Longitudinal
  • Numeracy
  • Pre-academic skills
  • Socio-economic background
  • Executive function
Relevant age group/s:
Research discipline:

Bodrova, E. et al. (2007) Tools of the Mind: The Vygotskian Approach to Early Childhood Education (Book)

Abstract:

As the only text of its kind, this book provides in-depth information about Vygotsky's theories, neo-Vygotskians' findings, and concrete explanations and strategies that instruct teachers how to influence student learning and development.  Key changes to this edition include a new chapter on dynamic assessment, separate and expanded chapters on developmental accomplishments of infants and toddlers, preschool/kindergarten, and primary grades and on supporting those accomplishments, and elaborations of Vygotsky's ideas from neo-Vygotskians from Russia.   FEATURES:   Written for the beginning student, the book provides a clear discussion of Vygotskian principles including...a historical overview and a complete chapter on the "Zone of Proximal Development," (ZPD). Each section of the book builds on the other...framework, strategies, and applications of the Vygotskian approach. The work of Vygotsky is compared in a fair and balanced way with the work of Piaget. Examples and activities have been class-tested in a variety of classroom environments including a Head Start program, private preschool, and in the Denver Public Schools.

Author/s:
Date:
January 2007
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
Page/s:
Synonyms:
  • Developmental outcomes
  • Self-regulation
  • Executive function
Tags:

Hofmann, W. et al. (2012) Executive functions and self-regulation (Journal Article)

Abstract:

Self-regulation is a core aspect of adaptive human behavior that has been studied, largely in parallel, through the lenses of social and personality psychology as well as cognitive psychology. Here, we argue for more communication between these disciplines and highlight recent research that speaks to their connection. We outline how basic facets of executive functioning (working memory operations, behavioral inhibition, and task-switching) may subserve successful self-regulation. We also argue that temporary reductions in executive functions underlie many of the situational risk factors identified in the social psychological research on self-regulation and review recent evidence that the training of executive functions holds significant potential for improving poor self-regulation in problem populations.

Date:
January 2012
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
16
Page/s:
174-180
Synonyms:
  • Developmental outcomes
  • Literature review
  • Self-regulation
  • Executive function
Relevant age group/s:
Research discipline:

Hughes, C. et al. (2009) How do families help or hinder the emergence of early executive function? (Journal Article)

Abstract:

This chapter describes longitudinal findings from a socially diverse sample of 125 British children seen at ages two and four. Four models of social influence on executive function are tested, using multiple measures of family life as well as comprehensive assessments of children's executive functions. Our results confirm the importance of maternal scaffolding for young children's executive functions, but they also suggest positive effects of observational learning and adverse effects of disorganized and unpredictable family life; however, no support was found for an association between executive function and general positive characteristics of family interactions.

Date:
January 2009
Volume:
2009
Page/s:
35-50
Synonyms:
  • Developmental outcomes
  • Longitudinal
  • Self-regulation
  • Socio-economic background
  • Executive function
Relevant age group/s:
Research discipline:

Lillard, A. (2012) Preschool children's development in classic Montessori, supplemented Montessori, and conventional programs (Journal Article)

Abstract:

Research on the outcomes of Montessori education is scarce and results are inconsistent. One possible reason for the inconsistency is variations in Montessori implementation fidelity. To test whether outcomes vary according to implementation fidelity, we examined preschool children enrolled in high fidelity classic Montessori programs, lower fidelity Montessori programs that supplemented the program with conventional school activities, and, for comparison, conventional programs. Children were tested at the start and end of the school year on a range of social and academic skills. Although they performed no better in the fall, children in Classic Montessori programs, as compared with children in Supplemented Montessori and Conventional programs, showed significantly greater school-year gains on outcome measures of executive function, reading, math, vocabulary, and social problem-solving, suggesting that high fidelity Montessori implementation is associated with better outcomes than lower fidelity Montessori programs or conventional programs.

Author/s:
Date:
January 2012
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
50
Page/s:
379-401
Synonyms:
  • Academic outcomes
  • Developmental outcomes
  • Pre-academic skills
  • Problem-solving
  • Social cognition
  • Social-emotional
  • Executive function
Relevant age group/s:

Lillard, A. et al. (2006) The early years: Evaluating Montessori education (Journal Article)

Abstract:

Please click on the link provided below to read the abstract.

Date:
January 2006
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
313
Page/s:
1893–1894
Synonyms:
  • Academic achievement
  • Developmental outcomes
  • Pre-academic skills
  • Social-emotional
  • Executive function
Relevant age group/s:

Riggs, N. et al. (2006) The Mediational Role of Neurocognition in the Behavioral Outcomes of a Social-Emotional Prevention Program in Elementary School Students: Effects of the PATHS Curriculum (Journal Article)

Abstract:

Neuropsychology is one field that holds promise in the construction of comprehensive, developmental models for the promotion of social competence and prevention of problem behavior. Neuropsychological models of behavior suggest that children's neurological functioning affects the regulation of strong emotions, as well as performance in social, cognitive, and behavioral spheres. The current study examines the underlying neurocognitive conceptual theory of action of one social-emotional development program. Hypothesized was that inhibitory control and verbal fluency would mediate the relationship between program condition and teacher-reported externalizing and internalizing behavior problems. Participants were 318 regular education students enrolled in the second or third grade. A series of regression analyses provided empirical support for (a) the effectiveness of the PATHS Curriculum in promoting inhibitory control and verbal fluency and (b) a partial mediating role for inhibitory control in the relation between prevention condition and behavioral outcomes. Implications are that programs designed to promote social and emotional development should consider comprehensive models that attend to neurocognitive functioning and development. Lack of consideration of neurocognitive pathways to the promotion of social competence may ignore important mechanisms through which prevention affects youth outcomes. Furthermore, the findings suggest that developers of social-emotional preventions should design curricula to explicitly promote the developmental integration of executive functioning, verbal processing, and emotional awareness. Doing so may enhance prevention outcomes particularly if those preventions are implemented during a time of peak neurocognitive development

Date:
January 2006
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
7
Page/s:
91-102
Synonyms:
  • Affective behaviour
  • Developmental outcomes
  • Mental health
  • Social-emotional
  • Well-being outcomes
  • Executive function
Relevant age group/s:
Research discipline:

Rimm-Kaufman, S. et al. (2009) The contribution of children’s self-regulation and classroom quality to children’s adaptive behaviors in the kindergarten classroom. (Journal Article)

Abstract:

In this study, the authors examined the extent to which children’s self-regulation upon kindergarten entrance and classroom quality in kindergarten contributed to children’s adaptive classroom behavior. Children’s self-regulation was assessed using a direct assessment upon entrance into kindergarten. Classroom quality was measured on the basis of multiple classroom observations during the kindergarten year. Children’s adaptive classroom behavior in kindergarten was assessed through teacher report and classroom observations: Teachers rated children’s cognitive and behavioral self-control and work habits during the spring of the kindergarten year; observers rated children’s engagement and measured off-task behavior at 2-month intervals from November to May. Hierarchical linear models revealed that children’s self-regulation upon school entry in a direct assessment related to teachers’ report of behavioral self-control, cognitive self-control, and work habits in the spring of the kindergarten year. Classroom quality, particularly teachers’ effective classroom management, was linked to children’s greater behavioral and cognitive self-control, children’s higher behavioral engagement, and less time spent off-task in the classroom. Classroom quality did not moderate the relation between children’s self-regulation upon school entry and children’s adaptive classroom behaviors in kindergarten. The discussion considers the implications of classroom management for supporting children’s early development of behavioral skills that are important in school settings.

Date:
January 2009
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
45
Page/s:
958-972
Synonyms:
  • Developmental outcomes
  • Longitudinal
  • Self-regulation
  • Executive function
Relevant age group/s: