Why schools are an ideal place to teach self-control

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Self-regulation skills help children manage their thoughts and feelings, control impulses, and solve problems. Now, a new federal report recommends that schools include them in the daily curriculum.

“Self-regulation affects well-being across the lifespan, from mental health and emotional well-being to academic achievement, physical health, and socioeconomic success,” says Desiree Murray, associate director of research at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“Interventions in schools can impact the culture and climate in a way that benefits all students.”

“Unfortunately, prolonged or pronounced stress and adversity, including poverty and trauma, can delay children’s self-regulation development.”

The good news is that interventions can improve outcomes for children from backgrounds of risk and adversity—so embedding a focus on self-regulation in schools and other settings could be help.

“For optimal self-regulation, a child or adolescent needs to have a full bucket of skills and supports on which to draw,” Murray says. “There are two crucial periods when children are developing their self-regulation skills the most—in early childhood and early adolescence—when teachers and parents can help them build the skills they need for the rest of their lives.

Why kids in kindergarten need lessons in self-control

“Schools are an ideal place for interventions because there is opportunity to build skills in a cohesive approach from preschool through secondary school and because of the potential power of shared learning with peers. Interventions in schools can impact the culture and climate in a way that benefits all students.”

Strengthening self-regulation can be thought of like teaching literacy—develop simpler skills first, which then build upon one another.

The paper outlines a comprehensive approach to the development of self-regulation, which includes teaching skills through repeated practice and frequent feedback in a supportive context. It suggests providing universal interventions across childhood and into early adulthood, with a strong emphasis on teaching caregivers (including teachers and other school staff) how to support children. The keys to this support are warm and responsive relationships, paired with positive discipline and consistency.

The report also recommends providing more intensive intervention to children who are experiencing self-regulation difficulties. “Some children and youth may need additional supports, such as those provided by ‘Incredible Years’ programs,” Murray says. “These and other interventions may be particularly beneficial for youth who live in adversity, increasing children’s resilience to the negative effects of stress.”

Researchers from Duke University are coauthors of the paper. The US Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families commissioned the report.

Source: UNC-Chapel Hill