The next few weeks we will be learning about kindergarten readiness skills and answering the question, “What does my child need in order to succeed in kindergarten?” You can check out last week’s blog post on kindergarten readiness in the Montessori classroom here.
What is Self-Regulation?
Did you know that the ability to self-regulate is often a better indicator of future academic success than grades or IQ? The development of self-regulation begins during infancy, peaks during the ages of three and seven years of ages, and is followed by decelerated growth. (Source.)
“Supporting self-regulation development in early childhood is an investment in later success, because stronger self-regulation predicts better performance in school, better relationships with others, and fewer behavioral difficulties. . . . [and] helps children successfully negotiate many of the challenges they face, promoting resilience in the face of adversity.” (Source.)
Self-regulation is the ability to understand and control one’s behavior and emotions in response to a particular situation. It is the ability to “control one’s impulses and to stop doing something, if needed . . . . [and] the capacity to do something (even if one doesn’t want to do it) because it is needed.” (Source.)
- The ability to self-regulate, even in children as young as preschool age, is an important indicator of school readiness and academic achievement. (Self-Regulation and School Success, Duckworth & Carlson.)
- Many kindergarten teachers state that the most important indicator of success for a child entering elementary school is the ability to sit still, pay attention, and follow rules (Rimm-Kaufman, Pianta, & Cox, 2000).
- One study showed that children who scored just one deviation above the average on attention span and persistence at the age of 4 years had 39% greater odds of completing college by the age of 25! (McClelland, Piccinin, Acock, & Stallings, 2011)
Are Self-Regulation Skills Genetic or Developed?
The answer is: both! While genes DO determine a child’s predisposition to self-regulate, there are ways to develop this skill, states this article by Psychology Today, including:
- a loving, nurturing and responsive relationship between parents/caregivers and the child
- modeling of self-regulation by parents/caregivers
- setting understanding boundaries
- fostering intrinsic motivation
- learning to wait (with respect to the child’s developmental readiness)
- and, through experiences in their environment (for example, interacting with other children, planting a garden, playing sports, or baking bread – things which require a child to manage himself, whether it is his emotions, his language, or his desires)
How Does Sonnet Montessori Foster Self-Regulation?
While Dr. Montessori did not use the recently coined term self-regulation, she described what we know of as self-regulation as normalization, or the development of inner discipline. Inner discipline, she said, is “the child’s ability to concentrate, work with constant effort, bring order to the mind, respect others as well as the environment, achieve contentment and live in peace.”
A three year study of self-regulation in Montessori and non-Montessori classrooms found Montessori children had higher levels of self-regulation than students in traditional classrooms. Our classrooms support the development of self-regulation by providing structure and routine and an environment designed to support a child’s developing independence.
Our teachers model self-regulation and give children an opportunity to practice it in grace and courtesy lessons. Teachers are trained to observe the child and to give them time, space, and language to express their feelings. They offer the child support and empathy during difficult situations and feelings while allowing them to experience the satisfaction and proud moments of, “I did it!” “It was hard, but I figure it out!” “I solved it on my own!” We also help children by acknowledging what we see happening without assuming motivation. “It looks like you would like a turn with that material. Would you like to ask your friend if you could use it when they are done?”
Montessori classrooms give children the gift of intrinsic motivation – meaning, teachers do not detract from a child’s sense of accomplishment, personal mastery and positive identity by offering bribes, rewards or punishments.
In our classrooms, children work primarily one-on-one or individually, which means children often must wait for the opportunity to work with a specific material. This is a wonderful exercise for developing self-regulation!
Children also have much freedom of choice in our classrooms, in so far as it is respectful towards oneself and others. Children may choose a wide variety of materials to use and choose the length of time they would like to use the materials. They may choose to work individually, or with a friend. Developmentally appropriate freedom allows the child to build their decision-making skills, all while learning to work cooperatively with their friends.
All of these things encourage the development of a child’s self-regulation skills.
How Can I Encourage Self-Regulation at Home?
Here a few ways that you can encourage your child to develop their self-regulation skills.
Model self-regulation. Self-care is foundational to your ability to self-regulate. Ensure that your basic needs (sleep, diet, physical activity, relational connection) are met so that you can be the person you want to be! In addition to this, when your child is dysregulated, it’s important that you be the “calm in their storm”. Respond with and empathetic can help your child navigate the situation.
Fill your child’s self-regulation “tank”! When children feel good about themselves (independent, capable, successful), it increases their capacity to navigate stressful situations. Be intentional to provide your child with “freedom with limits” – meaning, they can mak to make choices throughout the day. The choices you allow him to make are age-appropriate, safe, and that you are comfortable with. For example, choosing what outfit to wear, choosing whether to play outside first or read a book first, choosing whether to read a bedtime story before or after brushing teeth.
Additionally, when children are well-rested and have a balanced diet, regular physical activity, and regular connection with their parents/caregivers, they are better able to self-regulate. It’s important to provide your child with a routine that adequately supports these needs.
Allow your child to safely struggle through hard things. Don’t swoop in to rescue your child when you can safely do so. Instead, give them the opportunity to self-correct and learn from their mistakes. Children who are permitted to struggle within the framework of loving support and guidance (not interference!) from parents have higher self-esteem and better problem-solving skills; they are also less fearful of failure and more willing to try new things and take (healthy) risks!
Provide acknowledgment. When you see your child struggling, this sounds like saying, “I know that you were looking forward to that . . .” “I know that this is hard for you . . .” It’s recognizing and empathizing with their struggle.
Provide encouragement and affirmation. It’s important to understand that encouragement is not praise. Praise, such as, “Wow, you’re so amazing, you did it! Good job!” detracts from a child’s sense of accomplishment. Encouragement lets your child know that you believe they are capable and that you are with them. “I know that you can do hard things, and I’m here to support you.” “Remember when this situation was hard for you, and you did it anyway? You’ve got this!”
Practice. Model skills and language needed to navigate situations that may be triggering for your child and invite your child to practice with you. Modeling is an important part of the Montessori grace and courtesy lessons as it gives children the opportunity to practice before the skills are required. Another tool we use in our classrooms is the “silence game”. We practice moments of silence throughout the day, gradually lengthening the time we can remain silent and still. This promotes self-awareness and self-discipline, and it is a game you can easily replicate at home.