Self-Regulation in Preschool Children

St. Anne's Preschool is adding more strategies to their teaching this year to help their students develop self-regulation through play.  Of course one condition for developing self-regulation is through regulation by adults and others.  Children learn to follow rules and routines.  Adults tell them what to do.  Adults model appropriate interactions and problem solving strategies.  Eventually, these behaviors become internalized. Children learn to follow directions from other peers.  Because there is a bit more choice about doing this, this puts them a bit higher on the developmental continuum.Unfortunately, neither is sufficient to fully develop self-regulation.  Kids also learn by helping others to understand the rules.  Often this appears as tattling.  It is easier for me to tell you what to do than to tell myself.  I may appear a bit bossy, but I understand what to do and am “helping” others understand as well.  Applying the rules to myself requires that I can overcome any negative feelings I may have about complying.  This happens in the third stage of development.In the last stage of development, the child chooses to follow the norms because he/she knows how and wants to.  Make-believe play designed into the thematic centers in preschool encourages self-regulation because children can act out roles and learn to comply with the rules established by the group in a safe environment.For example, if a kid chooses to play “cooking” in the playhouse and decides to bring in horses from another center and play outside of the “rules for kitchen” established by the group, members of the group may remind him/her that “that is not how you play cooking.”  If he/she wants to continue to play with that group, he will have to follow the lead of others.  This naturally occurs when children play and helps develop that third kind of self-regulation.  At its best no adult intervention is necessary.  In a make believe situation kids can practice self-regulation in a safe environment.When you come in as a parent volunteer, notice the situations that support the three stages of self-regulation:

  1. Being regulated by others
  2. Regulating others
  3. Self-regulation

They take lots of time and practice on a child’s part, but it is well worth the effort to set up a classroom so that children can play and have fun while we help them develop these important life skills.  If you have time, take a look at this video about the Marshmallow Test and some of the implications for helping your child delay gratification and become self-regulated.