Fostering Self-Regulation at an Early Age

Cheryl Crawford
Curriculum Specialist
Blog on July 06 2022

Self-regulation is the ability to manage emotions and behaviors during life’s demanding moments.  We are not born with the skill to self-regulate, but it begins very early in our development. As babies, we are provided with external regulation by our caregivers because we are not yet able to meet our needs. As toddlers, we experience co-regulation through our interactions with caregivers who support us in learning to self-regulate. Ultimately, we learn and develop internalized self-regulation by virtue of these interactions and experiences. For positive self-regulation to properly develop, caregivers themselves must have proper control of their executive function skills. Executive function skills are processes that help us focus our attention, follow instructions, plan, and multitask.

Why self-regulate?

According to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, providing the support that children need to build self-regulation skills at home, in early care, and education programs is one of society’s most important responsibilities. Children that grow up to be adults who can monitor impulses, prioritize tasks, filter distractions, set and achieve goals, and make healthy choices will be positive contributors to society. Additionally, students that have strong regulation skills have been shown to have a higher level of academic achievement. 

Key principles to support self-regulation

Early educators can support the development of self-regulation skills in children by doing the following: 

  1. Modeling authentic self-regulation behaviors
  2. Developing safe environments with trusting relationships that allow for healthy risk-taking
  3. Establishing routines, expectations, and norms
  4. Creating an environment that encourages interaction amongst peers
  5. Providing many different opportunities to learn and practice self-regulation skills
  6. Discussing conflicts and ways to improve

Strategies to support self-regulation

There are a variety of ways to incorporate opportunities for children to learn self-regulation in the classroom. “Choice time,” also referred to as “learning centers,” is a popular teaching method that provides wonderful opportunities for children to practice self-regulation skills while learning. Here are some strategies you can use in the classroom:

  1. Utilize wait-lists to encourage patience at centers that have exceeded the allotted number of students.
  2. Use unit choice maps to develop self-paced learning and autonomy. 
  3. Create self checklists and rubrics to foster metacognition and self-reliance.
  4. Infuse mindfulness activities and game playing at the half-way mark of center rotations to improve focus and make connections to real life.
  5. Allow upper elementary education students to decide how long they will stay at a particular learning center and how they will show their understanding to foster independence, voice, and choice.

To explore these and more ways to empower children with the necessary  skill of self-regulation, check out our companion course here and browse our course catalog for more courses relating to the topic of self-regulation, student choice, and self-paced learning.   


For more tips, tricks, and tools for teaching in and out of the classroom, check out more articles on the Teq Talk blog.

We also offer virtual professional development, training, and remote learning support for educators with OTIS for educators. Explore the technology, tools, and strategies that can spark student success — no matter where teaching or learning are happening.


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