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Your Role in Your Child’s Development of Self-Regulation


What do you want for your child?

Most parents would say that they want their child to do well in school and to have friends. A foundational skill that can help your child achieve both is his ability to control impulses, follow directions, and considering others before acting–the ability to self-regulate!

Understanding Your Child’s Communication
In infancy, you can help your baby self-regulate by promoting strategies to help him learn to self-soothe. This involves knowing the things your child likes and dislikes and providing these preferred materials. Learning the signs your child exhibits when he is tired, hungry, or needs to be changed can help meet his needs by reinforcing his communicative signals. These can include rubbing his eyes when tired, mouthing hands when hungry, or he may have a different cry to indicate that he needs a diaper change. Attending to your child’s signals helps him to connect his actions with your responses, which help him feel more in control of his environment.

Setting Limits
No! When your child is young, his primary motivation is what is interesting to him. Young children may learn to obey the word “no” much earlier than they truly understand why they should not do something. This is an important concept, as a child’s self-regulation develops from the outside in. By setting limits, and regularly letting your child know where those limits are, you are helping your child internalize rules and promoting your child’s self-regulation. 

Mine! When your child is young, he is likely to claim everything he sees as “mine!” This is a common occurrence that many parents encounter. You can explain to your child that, while all of the toys in his room are his, you are going to let his friend play with the toys while he visits. Be prepared to stay close to help children negotiate their interactions with the toys. It is important to establish rules to help children negotiate these interactions to avoid conflict. For example, you can teach children that they can only take toys off of the toy shelf (or toy box), not out of another child’s hands. For example, when one child grabs a toy from another child, say in a firm voice ‘no’, then return the toy to the other child. Reinforce the rule (“We only take toys from the toy box”). Following directions and controlling impulses helps to promote your child’s self-regulation.

A Word about Sharing. The concept of sharing does not emerge until a child is four. Prior to age four, we can reinforce turn taking, but it must be supervised by an adult. For example, when playing with blocks, an adult can prompt the children by providing a sufficient number of materials and asking children to give blocks to other children. Following directions and considering others helps to promote your child’s self-regulation.

Having the ability to self-regulate provides your child with a foundation for future learning. These “soft skills” have been demonstrated to be more predictive of future academic ability and are skills you can work on with your child on a daily basis. Below are some Strategies for Success that can:

Strategies for Success
Take note of your child’s subtle communication. What does he do when he is tired, hungry, or needs to be changed? Can you identify his cues? Discuss with another family member.

Discuss with your partner what rules you would like to put in place so that you are both on the same page. It is important for your child to receive consistent messages on what is and is not allowed.

Similarly, discuss with the parent of your child’s playdate on what the rules for interaction will be. Make sure you are both on the same page on how you will deal with children negotiating interaction.

Schedule playdates at times when your child (and his playmate) are well rested and you are available to supervise interactions.

When your child is young, be prepared to provide reminders often on stated rules.

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01 Sep 2020


By Michelle Grantham-Caston, PhD & Cynthia DiCarlo, PhD of LSU Early Childhood Education Lab Preschool

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