Self-regulation: Just as important as learning ABCs and 123s

Friday, August 15, 2014

One of our wonderful postdoctoral fellows, Dr. Vinaya Rajan, wrote this piece with us. And with school about to start....

During story time, Emily had trouble paying attention to the teacher and squirmed and wiggled in her seat. She noticed a blue jay sitting on a nearby tree branch and spent most of her time looking out the window. During a group activity, Emily spoke out of turn many times and barely allowed the other children in her group a chance to share their work with the class. Later in the day, when her teacher asked all the students to help clean up after art class, Emily put away some of the painting supplies but then quickly moved on to play with a puzzle and never finished cleaning the rest of her work station. When the teacher asked Emily to stop playing with the puzzle, she immediately started crying and fell to the floor in frustration. Emily's story is one that many kindergarten teachers (and parents!) across the country can certainly relate to.

When it comes to success in the school environment, what are the important skills children need to master? Most adults think the focus should be on academic skills, such as counting or knowing the letters of the alphabet. However, it is just as important to teach children to regulate their emotions, thoughts and behavior. Self-regulation is an important skill for children to develop. Kids with good self-regulation can pay attention to classroom activities and ignore distractions, remember the teacher's directions long enough to carry out a task and resist impulses. All of these skills may give them an advantage to succeed in school. In fact, kindergarten teachers rank self-regulation as one of the most important skills for school readiness. Unfortunately, these teachers also report that many of their students struggle with low levels of self-regulation once they enter school. The more kids a teacher has like Emily, the harder it is to manage.

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