ERIC Identifier: ED477640
Publication Date: 2003-07-00
Author: Blair, Clancy
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Elementary and Early Childhood Education Champaign IL.
Self-Regulation and School Readiness. ERIC Digest.
Self-regulation of behavior generally refers to controlled, cognitive
monitoring of the actions and steps required to obtain a goal, or to bring about
a desired response from the environment. Age-related changes in self-regulation
as well as individual differences in self-regulation at a given age or
developmental stage play fundamental roles in shaping children's experiences and
the responses that children bring forth from caregivers and others. Changes from
basic types of reflexive regulation in infancy (e.g., self-soothing, gaze
aversion), to early attempts at voluntary control of behavior in toddlerhood
(e.g., the intentional coordination of walking and reaching to gain some end),
to active, cognitive control of behavior in the early childhood years (e.g.,
remembering and following rules) represent key developmental shifts in
children's abilities (Kopp, 1989). Increasingly, research in child development
has come to focus on these shifts and the ways in which parents, peers, and
early care experiences play an important part in the development of children's
self-regulation (NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, 2003). However,
individual differences in children's temperamental emotional reactivity (an
automatic autonomic and behavioral response to emotion-inducing stimulation) and
the ability to control this reactivity are also important for understanding
developing self-regulation. This Digest focuses on emotional reactivity and its
relation to the development of cognitive functions that promote self-regulation
in young children. It examines how emotions may influence the development of the
cognitive functions that contribute to successful self-regulation and thereby to
REGULATION AND READINESS
Self-regulation skills underlie
many of the behaviors and attributes associated with successful school
adjustment (Blair, 2002). In particular, both regulation of emotion in
appropriate social interaction and goal-directed behavior, as well as the
regulation of attention and the use of strategies in the execution of cognitive
tasks, are important for successful adjustment to school. A survey of a
nationally representative sample of kindergarten teachers indicated clear
endorsement of multiple aspects of child self-regulation as being essential or
very important to school readiness, including being able to:
* communicate needs, wants, and thoughts verbally
* sustain attention and be enthusiastic and curious in new activities
* inhibit impulsivity and follow directions
* take turns and be sensitive to other children's feelings
In contrast, few teachers endorse strictly academic aspects of readiness,
such as letter or number knowledge or the ability to use a pencil or paintbrush
(Lewit & Baker, 1995).
Similarly, longitudinal studies of young children representative of
middle-income backgrounds indicate that self-regulation skills such as those
listed above underlie the strong relation between social and academic competence
observed in the early elementary grades. Specifically, children who achieve
academically at high levels and exhibit positive social and cognitive
developmental trajectories through the early elementary grades (1) easily form
and maintain friendships, (2) have greater self-perceived control over learning
activities and liking for school, and (3) are rated by the teacher as having
high levels of persistence and the ability to resist distraction (Ladd, Birch,
& Buhs, 1999; Normandeau & Guay, 1998).
Although knowledge of the normative
developmental course of self-regulation in young children is well advanced, our
understanding of individual differences among children and of the ways in which
cognitive, emotional, and physiological aspects of self-regulation are
interrelated within the child is less well established. Here, research on
temperament provides a useful framework (Rothbart & Ahadi, 1994). Current
definitions of temperament emphasize biologically based individual differences
in emotional reactivity and in the developing physiological and cognitive
regulation of this reactivity (Posner & Rothbart, 2000). For example, a
particularly shy or withdrawn child is thought to be characterized by high
levels of emotional reactivity but low levels of regulatory control of this
reactivity. In contrast, a child with high levels of effortful regulatory
control over emotional reactivity involving anxiety or wariness in the presence
of strangers might be thought to be characterized by a more balanced or
easy-going temperament type.
SELF-REGULATION AND COGNITIVE SKILLS
emotional reactivity and the effortful control of this reactivity in the study
of temperament suggests a particular course for the development of
self-regulation in young children. Specifically, neuroscientific research
indicates reciprocal influence between areas of the brain associated with
reactivity resulting from emotional arousal and areas of the brain associated
with the effortful cognitive control of this reactivity (LeDoux, 1995). In
brief, emotional experience can either disrupt or facilitate the application of
the cognitive control processes that are important for self-regulation, such as
sustaining attention, holding information in mind when solving a problem, and
inhibiting impulsive responding when formulating and executing a response
(Derryberry & Reed, 1996). In models of self-regulation in the adult, it is
well known that negative emotional experience can lead to poor attention,
increased disengagement and impulsivity, and increasing negative affect, while
positive emotional experience can lead to higher levels of sustained attention,
engagement, and persistence (Carver & Scheier, 1990). In young children,
similar processes are at work; however, unlike in the typical adult, in the
child, higher-order cognitive processes that can serve as the bulwark against
the ups and downs of emotional experience are just beginning to develop.
Only limited work has explicitly examined the role of emotionality and
emotional reactivity in the development of higher-order cognitive control
processes such as working memory and attention that are important for
self-regulation and for school readiness and school success. An important
scientific next step is the direct examination of ways in which influences on
physiological and neurobiological aspects of emotional reactivity and regulation
in young children are related to success in the transition from preschool to
elementary school. Certainly, emphasis on social and emotional aspects of
readiness for school is increasing. Numerous research reports and policy papers
attest to the vital role of social and emotional competence for successful
school adaptation (Raver & Knitzer, 2002). Work on the neurobiology of the
interaction between emotional and cognitive aspects of child functioning
provides increasing support for this emphasis and suggests that successful
emotion regulation plays a foundational role in the development of the cognitive
skills that are important for early success in school.
IMPLICATIONS FOR CAREGIVERS
Most specifically, it is
important that individuals caring for, working with, or studying the development
of young children recognize that biologically based aspects of emotional
reactivity and regulation are influenced by aspects of the caregiving
environments in which children are situated. From a risk and resilience
perspective, the child characterized by high levels of emotional reactivity
within an environment that provides little support for self-regulation is at
high risk for difficulty in school. In particular, in the effort to promote
school readiness in young children, several key points are suggested by the
growing body of research on the interaction of cognition and emotion in the
development of school readiness:
* High-quality preschool education programs can best
promote school readiness by helping to secure the
social and emotional foundation upon which children
can build cognitive skills that promote knowledge
acquisition in academic domains such as reading and math.
* A premature focus on knowledge acquisition in
preschool without attention to cognitive and
social-emotional competencies through which knowledge is
acquired could lead to learning problems and early
school failure for some children.
* Learning occurs within relationships. Early learning
environments in which teachers are attuned to
temperamental differences among children may help to
provide a comprehensive basis for the development of
skills important for learning.
* Preschool activities that exercise impulse control,
sustained attention, and working memory are likely to
promote the development of cognitive skills important for
knowledge acquisition in the early elementary grades.
* Young children differ in level of emotional reactivity and
in the need to express this reactivity. For example, many
young children require a great deal of rough and tumble
play (Panksepp, 1998). Preschool environments that
restrict or limit the time allotted to this type of play
may unwittingly limit the development of the cognitive
self-regulation skills important for later school success.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Blair, C. (2002). School readiness:
Integrating cognition and emotion in a neurobiological conceptualization of
child functioning at school entry. AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGIST, 57(2), 111-127. EJ 646
Carver, C. S., & Scheier, M. F. (1990). Origins and functions of positive
and negative affect: A control-process view. PSYCHOLOGICAL REVIEW, 97(1), 19-35.
EJ 494 079.
Derryberry, D., & Reed, M. A. (1996). Regulatory processes and the
development of cognitive representations. DEVELOPMENT AND PSYCHOPATHOLOGY, 8(1),
Kopp, C. B. (1989). Regulation of distress and negative emotions: A
developmental view. DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY, 25(3), 343-354. EJ 392 562.
Ladd, G. W., Birch, S. H., & Buhs, E. S. (1999). Children's social and
scholastic lives in kindergarten: Related spheres of influence? CHILD
DEVELOPMENT, 70(6), 1373-1400. EJ 602 156.
LeDoux, J. E. (1995). Emotion: Clues from the brain. ANNUAL REVIEW OF
PSYCHOLOGY, 46, 209-235.
Lewit, E. M., & Baker, L. S. (1995). School readiness. FUTURE OF
CHILDREN, 5(2), 128-139. EJ 522 415.
NICHD Early Child Care Research Network. (2003). Do children's attention
processes mediate the link between family predictors and school readiness?
DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY, 39(3), 581-593.
Normandeau, S., & Guay, F. (1998). Preschool behavior and first-grade
school achievement: The mediational role of cognitive self-control. JOURNAL OF
EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY, 90(1), 111-121. EJ 571 175.
Panksepp, J. (1998). Attention deficit hyperactivity disorders,
psychostimulants, and intolerance of childhood playfulness: A tragedy in the
making? CURRENT DIRECTIONS IN PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE, 7(3), 91-98.
Posner, M. I., & Rothbart, M. K. (2000). Developing mechanisms of
self-regulation. DEVELOPMENT AND PSYCHOPATHOLOGY, 12(3), 427-441.
Raver, C. C., & Knitzer, J. (2002). READY TO ENTER: WHAT RESEARCH TELLS
POLICY MAKERS ABOUT STRATEGIES TO PROMOTE SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL SCHOOL READINESS
AMONG THREE- AND FOUR-YEAR-OLD CHILDREN [Online]. New York: National Center for
Children in Poverty. Available: http://www.nccp.org/ProEmoPP3.html. ED 467 045.
Rothbart, M., & Ahadi, S. (1994). Temperament and the development of
personality. JOURNAL OF ABNORMAL PSYCHOLOGY, 103(1), 55-66.