Arjun, five, is in the bathtub with his little sister having a ‘tubby’. Saanvi, two, starts blobbing soap on to the back of Arjun’s head. Arjun does nothing. Saanvi tries a few more dollops, then stops and starts playing with her toys. “Arjun, what just happened?”, his mom asked. He stated, “I was ignoring her.”

What happened? Arjun used self-regulation. That is, he managed his own behaviour, thinking and emotions. Previously, Arjun would normally screech at his sister and complain to an adult that she was “bugging him”. The day before the ‘tubby’ incident, he and his mom had a discussion about how you can ignore some things and not let them bother you and often they simply go away. It worked for both Arjun and his sister. He learned that he didn’t need to respond to his sister’s actions and the younger child learned there are better ways to get her brother’s attention.

Self-regulation is a powerful skill that has an important impact on children throughout their lives. Children with stronger self-regulation skills:

  • Are  more successful in school
  • Persist with things longer
  • Cope better with bigger challenges
  • Keep track of how they are doing and change their approach when needed
  • Make friends more readily
  • Learn to do things just for the challenge, out of interest or pleasure, NOT for rewards.

Some writers go so far as to say, “(self-regulation is) at the root of much that is good in people and society. It fosters the ability to stay on task when our minds would rather wander. It allows people to restrain momentary desires to reach cherished long-term goals. It allows people to overcome selfish impulses and for groups of people to work together. It is thus no surprise that it relates to such desirable things as health, happiness, academic achievement, financial stability, and low levels of drug dependence and criminality.” (Inzlicht & Berkman, 2015, p. 511)

Babies learn that sucking their fingers, thumb or ‘blankie’ can help them soothe themselves – this is beginning self-regulation. Self-regulation doesn’t occur over night or just in a few children. It starts early in life and continues into the adult years.

EF development curve

Through the preschool years, children develop more patience and cna handle longer delays in getting what they want. They also learn more about how to control their hands (and busy fingers) – you’ll likely find fewer surprises in your grocery cart when you go shopping with your child. Children also learn how and when they should use a quieter voice although they often forget.

They not only learn to control their bodies but also to manage their thinking. This means paying attention to certain things while ignoring others. They also learn to keep ideas in their minds while checking their own progress. Children learn to become more flexible in their thinking – they’re able to deal more easily with being told they can’t wear their favourite rain boots on a sunny day. This also marks improvements in dealing with frustration and disappointment.

Developing self-regulation takes time – more than 20 years for most people! Learning these skills also takes support of parents and other adults. in the child’s life We should start early in planting the seeds of self-regulation so the children can go on to refine and build on these skills in the years to come.


Why spark* was developed

Here’s an excerpt from Canadian Child Magazine (the book cover shown was the original one I used which was replaced by the child doing handsprings) – spark article


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