Self Regulation: Key to Academic success?

by FS&TS

Written by:  Kelly Hungaski, MS/CCC-SLP & Senia Lee, MOTR/L

This weekend myself and another therapist hosted a resource table at an event sponsored by the Early Childhood Coalition.  We were  also able to attend a presentation by Katy Smith, 2011 MN teacher of the year,  about “Getting Ready to Read and Write: School Readiness Begins at Birth.”

Katy was an inspiring and charismatic presenter who had great ideas for kindergarten readiness.   One that resonated with me was the importance of “self regulation.” She defined self regulation as “the ability to keep your hands, voice, and thoughts to yourself until it’s your turn.” She related this to a child’s ability to sit still, pay attention, and entertain themselves when needed. Examples of opportunities for children to learn to self-regulate include at the dinner table for family meals, while sitting in church, on a car ride, and waiting your turn when  adults are talking.

A child who has good self regulation is twice as likely to succeed in school than a child who comes into kindergarten with a good knowledge of the alphabet but poor self regulation skills.

As Katy pointed out, our society seems to be afraid of letting our children get bored.  Pinterest gives us great ideas for making “busy bags” so that our children can be entertained while waiting at the doctor’s office.  We have DVD players in cars, smartphones and tablet computers available for when we are at restaurants or waiting in lines.  We fill up our children’s after school schedules and summers with camps, sports, playdates and other activities.

But do we remember to build in FREE time?  Do we give our children opportunities to use their imagination and to entertain themselves (that is, without setting them up in front of the TV or a video game)?  Katy proposed a school of thought that “less is more” – by providing our children with lessstimulation and allowing our children to experience boredom, we are providing them with opportunities to learn to self-regulate, thus contributing to academic success.

While Katy’s presentation was directed towards “neurotypical learners,” the challenge to establish and maintain self regulation applies to all of the children and adults, including those we see at our clinic.  The children who make the most progress in therapy are the children who are able to pay attention and control their body long enough to benefit from the skills we are working on.  While we work on developing the skill of self-regulation during our sessions, it is also an excellent skill to work on at home. Self-regulation is like a muscle in that it needs to be stretched, worked, and strengthened.

So how do we help our children improve their self regulation during our day?  We can start small by practicing for 30 seconds or one minute.  Establish routines so that kids can anticipate a preferred activity (i.e. story time with Mom) after a non-preferred activity (i.e. washing their hair in the bath).  Make our expectations clear (and then enforce them!):  “We are going to practice sitting while Mommy’s calls the doctor’s office.  I want you to sit on your seat, close your mouth and wait.”  Allow your children to entertain themselves or to experience boredom.  As the child becomes successful in these shorter episodes of self-regulation,, we can increase the time.

We can also practice self-regulation when playing with toys or games.  Try stacking blocks, is your child able to wait until you place your block before adding their block.  Does your child have enough self-control to wait until it is their turn to play?

To learn more about Self Regulation and ideas for helping at home; please read this article from the National Association for the Education of Young Children.