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What Is Self-regulation, And What Promotes It In The Early Years?

Tere Bowen-Irish, OTR/L

February 15, 2024

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Question

What is self-regulation, and what promotes it in the early years?

Answer

Self-regulation is:

  • The ability to manage reactions and behaviors, and to have good relationships with others
  • Believe it or not, this skill shows early, rapid growth in the toddler and pre-school years and can affect regulation later in life.
  • Other aspects include focusing on a task, impulse control, and recovery after excitement or frustration.

Self-regulation is the ability to manage reactions, behaviors, and relationships from an early age through adulthood. It involves focusing, demonstrating impulse control, and recovering after a reprimand. How quickly can they put their feet on the brakes, take it off the gas, and then recover and be in a self-regulatory state? 

Self-regulation develops through nurturing relationships and supportive environments. For example, in toddler and preschool years, intense feelings can lead to tantrums because emotion regulation is difficult at that age.

Before they arrive in our care as infants, babies may already exhibit self-soothing behaviors by seeking oral motor input through finger sucking, thumb sucking, or using a pacifier. They might also find comfort in cuddly toys that aid in their self-regulation.

As toddlers, they are often labeled as experiencing the "terrible twos," but it is crucial to recognize that these apparent outbursts are often manifestations of feeling overwhelmed. Managing such intense emotions can be challenging for them, and it necessitates modeling and teaching cause-and-effect relationships to facilitate their development of self-regulation skills.

As educators, our primary responsibility is to build connections with each child, tailoring our approach to meet their individual needs, as is customary throughout all grade levels.

Additionally, we must consider the child's background and experiences. Have they been exposed to nurturing relationships? Have they spent significant time in daycare, leading to interactions with multiple adults, potentially hindering their bonding experiences outside the family? These aspects are essential to remember when observing signs of dysregulation in the child.

 

This Ask the Expert is an edited excerpt from the course Exploring Self Regulation With 3 To 5 Year Olds, by Tere Bowen-Irish, OTR/L.


tere bowen irish

Tere Bowen-Irish, OTR/L

Tere Bowen- Irish has practiced Occupational Therapy in pediatrics and psychiatry for over 40 years. Through her business, All the Possibilities, she continues to provide treatment, assessment, and consultation for clients. Workshops for therapists, educators, and parents are offered privately or publicly on a variety of topics such as inclusion, child development, classroom management, behavioral challenges, executive function, and other topics relevant to the 21st-century educational system. The focus is on common sense and a practical approach toward empowering educators and students to create a climate of learning, understanding, and inclusiveness for all abilities.

Tere is also the creator/author of The Drive Thru Menu Suite of Exercises, which is an initiative to bring movement and mindfulness into today’s classrooms. She is a certified YogaKids teacher and a Certified Mindful Schools Instructor. She is the author of Yoga and Me, Come be a Tree and co-authored My Mindful Music with Mary Ann Harman. Feel free to contact Tere at tereirish@gmail.com

 


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Self-regulation for 3–5-year-olds can be quite variable. As we know, self-regulation skills help kids navigate their environments, regardless of age. This seminar will explore self-regulation for little ones just starting their first school experience. Learning to wait, responding calmly, being able to listen, and direction following are all part of building the foundational skills of self-reg. Let’s help them get a great start!

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