Self-regulation in the early childhood years; a short guide
Self-regulation is the ability to manage and regulate your emotions and behaviour, including managing stress, controlling impulses and keeping yourself motivated. The main skills include:
- impulse control
- stress management
- organisational skills.
In their early years, children are just beginning to learn about emotions and feelings, and how to manage them. From time to time, most young children display behaviours such as aggression, emotional outbursts and inattention. Gradually, children learn what situations are likely to upset them and how they can handle emotions better when these situations arise.
Children vary in the way they perceive, respond and interact with the world around them.
Some take longer and need more help than others to recover from being upset. They can differ in how they respond to new situations, where some dive straight in while others tend to withdraw and observe from a distance. They can also differ in how long they can concentrate for.
Hormones also play a part in the way children self-regulate. Children’s ‘feel good’ hormones (serotonin) are higher when they experience life in their own way and in their own time. High levels of stress hormones (cortisol) lessen the child’s ability to concentrate, manage conflict, problem-solve and try new things. Children who’ve experienced higher levels of stress in their preschool and primary years show more aggression and anxiety and aren’t as socially competent as those who’ve experienced less stress.
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