As infants grow more independent, they develop the capacity to monitor their own actions, concentrate on tasks, and manage their emotions. This ability to self-regulate plays a crucial role in responding effectively to both internal and external demands, influencing behavior, attention, and emotions.
Research reveals that self-regulation begins its formation during infancy and gradually stabilizes as individuals progress into adolescence. However, this process faces unique challenges corresponding to the child’s developmental stage. For example, infants need to coordinate their sleep and wake cycles while also learning to self-soothe. Toddlers must adjust their behaviors, and preschoolers grapple with mastering delayed gratification. As a result, by the time children enter kindergarten, they have developed an increasing capacity for self-regulation.
On the other hand, poor self-regulation is linked to impulsivity, difficulty managing stress, and struggles with maintaining healthy habits. Children with poor self-regulation often find it challenging to stay focused and organized.
Findings from an 8-year longitudinal study (which observes data over a specific period) spanning from early childhood (4 to 5 years old) through early adolescence (ages 12 or 13) support the dynamic nature of self-regulatory processes and their profound impact on personal and social development.
Notably, self-regulation tends to increase during middle childhood but stabilizes during the preschool years. Interestingly, girls demonstrate higher self-regulatory abilities compared to boys of the same age. These differences align with disparities in aggressiveness and negative emotions such as anger and irritability between boys and girls.
Furthermore, research indicates that the long-lasting effects of regulatory processes become evident as differences in lack of control, attentional control, and ego control during preschool can reliably predict an individual’s emotional and behavioral functioning in the future. In other words, these early patterns of self-regulation significantly influence a person’s overall development, well-being, and lifelong success.
Raffaelli, M., Crockett, L., and Shen, Y-L. (2005). Developmental Stability and Change in Self-Regulation From Childhood to Adolescence. The Journal of genetic psychology. 166. 54-75. 10.3200/GNTP.166.1.54-76.