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Self-regulation refers to our ability to control our thinking, behaviours, emotional reactions and social interactions to achieve our goals or react appropriately to the situation – even if it is difficult to do so.
Even adults struggle with self-regulation: when we say we are full, but continue nibbling snacks in front of us; when we know we don’t need another pair of shoes, but give in because they are on sale; when we should be doing something productive (e.g., chores), but watching TV is more enticing. The same applies to children, except they have an even harder time than we do.
Research has shown that our ability to self-regulate is important. By the end of the pre-school years a well self-regulated child can sustain their attention and resist distraction, resist temptation and delay gratification, wait their turn, consider the consequences of their actions, and persist with challenging activities. They can do this even despite often-contrary urges and impulses. They are also able to stop doing enjoyable things (e.g. playing) to engage in less-enjoyable but
necessary things (e.g. tidying up their toys before lunch) when needed. As a consequence, children who are better able to self-regulate are more likely do well at school, experience more positive relationships, and avoid problematic lifestyle choices that can lead to negative adult outcomes (e.g., poorer health, less wealth, more anti-social behaviour).
So what can we do to support children’s self-regulation development? Children are not born with the ability to selfregulate; these skills develop slowly and over time, and are sensitive to influences and experiences both inside and outside the home. Research has shown that the pre-school and early primary years are a particularly significant time to learn and acquire the skills necessary for self-regulation. Yet much of the research that explores what can actually
improve self-regulation has focused on costly and time-consuming options, like computerised “brain training”.
Instead, we believe there are everyday things that parents, educators and caregivers can do to provide experiences and opportunities for children to apply and develop their self-regulatory skills, thereby improving their self-regulation. Within the PRSIST books we have embedded a number of activities that can engage and extend young children’s self-regulation. We have specifically aimed to present activities that are fun, familiar and playful so you can play them again and again. Many more activities are possible; consider these as a starting point from which to develop new activities that similarly engage and challenge children’s emerging self-regulation abilities. We also suggest giving your child/ren lots of opportunities to engage in goal setting, problem solving and decision-making, which are also critical ingredients for successful self-regulation.
You can learn more about the research and work behind these books at prsist.com.au.