#Science: Today we ask whether childhood self-regulation has an impact on childhood development and whether we can do anything about it?
Award-winning scientist, Professor Sarah-Jane Blackmore is an expert at bridging the gap between early cognitive development and education. She has a wealth of research under her belt – some which hit tabloids late last year claiming GCSEs are damaging to the teenage brain. Much of her research has direct implications for governmental policy regarding education; including her in-depth investigation into the impact of self-regulation in childhood development.
So, what is self-regulation? Self-regulation is one’s ability to control our emotions, stop ourselves acting inappropriately and our ability to carry out self-directed learning such as studying. We continually learn and develop this skill all the way into adolescence which is why, unlike toddlers, (most) adults can stop themselves having a massive tantrum if they don’t get their way.
Most of the time, we as adults think nothing of this ability but it requires an extensively complex network of cognitive ability and brain structures that all us to control ourselves and emotions. Not only this but the ability to self-regulate, particularly in childhood, plays a foundational role in the development and maintenance of life long physical health and well-being. This is obvious for some behaviors, for example, we need to learn how to self-regulate our cravings for chocolate and other sugary treats otherwise we run the risk of developing severe health problems from overindulging.
Picking this apart in more detail, research indicates how greater social regulation as a child is associated with a range of positive attributes including school readiness, academic achievement, and good mental good. Whereas a poor ability to self-regulate as a child has demonstrated to be linked to adverse outcomes such as poor health, psychiatric disorder, substance dependence, crime, and unemployment.
Considering this, it is no wonder why there has been a chunk of research attempting to develop interventions in childhood and adolescence that improve self-regulation with the ultimate aim of improving life-long outcomes. These interventions have shown promising results, but due to differing methods of intervention, it is unclear as to which intervention works the best.
Cue, Professor Blakemore’s research!
Similar to the research technique Dr. Stuart Riche took as described in our recent blog post “We don’t need no education! Do we?”, Professor Blakemore and her colleagues had a mammoth task to undertake, sifting through 14,369 studies looking or developing self-regulating interventions over the past four decades.
From her findings, five distinct types of interventions were reported to not only improve the child’s self-regulating ability but also have positive outcomes in other areas of the child’s behaviour as social skills, conduct, behavioural problems. These interventions ranged from the more common school-based intervention to Mindfulness/Yoga interventions to physical activity to (most relevant to parents) family-based interventions involving parent training and after-school programs with siblings.
So how can you help your child develop their ability to self-regulate? For starters, don’t expect too much at once. Most of the studies Professor Blakemore looked at involved children in primary school and older. The ability to self-regulate continues to develop all the way into a person’s teens. It is completely normal for a child to have a meltdown, and it is these situations that allow the practice to perfect the ability to self-regulate. Although it is easier said than done, try not to completely avoid such situations that might cause your child to become frustrated. Children need to be exposed to such situations to be given the opportunity to practice and while they are practicing, they need to be given a key framework for how to regulate their behaviour and a supportive environment that encourages such behaviour, a technique clinician call scaffolding. Check out this article with tips for helping children to self-regulate.