WashingtonD.C. [US], Oct. 26 : A recent study of early childhood self-regulation indicated that a lot of children are still learning to control their behavior as they enter kindergarten and may need educational support to develop that critical skill.
The study, co-authored by Michigan State University scholars, showed major differences in how self-regulation develops in children aged 3 to 7.
While some enter preschool with the ability to control their behavior and readiness to learn, others don't develop such self-control until they get to kindergarten - or even later.
The conclusion came as preschool and kindergarten classrooms have shifted focus over the past few decades from social and emotional skills, such as self-regulation, to more academic skills.
The researchers suggest it may be time to put some of the focus back on self-regulation, widely accepted as a marker for future success.
"If you can help children to develop this fundamental skill of behavioral self-regulation, it will allow these students to get so much more out of education.
Self-regulation is very predictive of academic success," said Ryan Bowles, an expert in the field. The team analyzed data from three separate studies that measured the "Head, Toes, Knees and Shoulders" task, in which young children are instructed to do the opposite of what they're told.
If they're told to touch their head, for example, they're supposed to touch their toes. This ability to do the opposite of what they want to do naturally and to stay focused for the entire task involves self-regulation.
A clear pattern emerged in each of the studies, with participants generally fitting into one of three trajectories: early developers, intermediate developers and later developers.
On an average, the later developers were 6-12 months behind intermediate developers and at least 18 months behind early developers.
Overall, about a fifth of the 1,386 participants appeared to make few gains on behavioral self-regulation in preschool.
"I was surprised by the consistency of the findings," said Bowles. Adding, "To replicate the same finding multiple times in a single study is remarkable." Supporting previous research, the study also found that development of self-control was linked to several key factors: gender (boys were more likely to be later developers), language skills and mother's education levels.
"It's well known that self-regulation is crucial to helping kids get an early jump on education, from math to literacy - really all the skills they learn in school," Bowles said.
"So the kids that develop later are really missing out on these great opportunities. They're already behind," he added. The study was published in Developmental Psychology journal..