The ability for children to regulate emotions contributes to their success in social interactions and their capacity to learn. Self-management and self-regulation are essential aspects of social competency – a child’s growing capacity to effectively interact with others.
Self-management and self-regulation can be defined as “paying attention to your own behaviour” and “being able to manage feelings and behaviours”.
Both of these definitions encompass children learning to be aware of feelings, emotions, and behaviours – and being able to manage them.
This is not easy to learn. It is important that children are given time, space, and multiple opportunities to practice and rehearse to build their competence “ā tōna wā” (in their own time). Early childhood services need to be safe and secure places for this to happen.
Self-management and regulation are dynamic in nature rather than a static way of being – for instance some children have more or less self-regulation in different circumstances.
Self-management and self-regulation are woven throughout Te Whāriki, but are particularly highlighted in the strands of Mana atua/Wellbeing and Mana tangata/Contribution and the principles of Ngā hononga/Relationships and Whakamana/Empowerment.
The development of oral language is a significant contributor to children's growing capacity to regulate their emotions.
Infants begin learning about self-regulation and management through their environment as their parent or caregiver interprets their nonverbal or verbal cues and moderates their emotions.
Toddlers are more able to communicate emotional needs through labelling thoughts, emotions, and intentions. Toddlers have strong feelings that can be intense and unpredictable. They are still learning to self-regulate.
Through the development of verbal communication, young children assume greater responsibility for their own emotional functioning, but still require support to express, articulate, and resolve a range of emotions.
A calm, unhurried physical and emotional environment that allows time for rich and supportive interactions to occur is crucial in supporting children to safely learn about managing their feelings and behaviours.
Children vary widely in their understanding of emotions – both their own and others. They also may display different emotions around the same situation.
Children need to be active contributors to support their self-management and self-regulation. This happens when children have the time and space to observe, negotiate, and manage their behaviours and feelings when playing alongside and with other children.
For infants this means kaiako who are calm, unhurried, accepting, and “tuning into” infants’ emotions and emotional responses.
Toddlers are encouraged in their attempts to initiate social interactions. Toddlers’ feelings are accepted and acknowledged. They are supported to make choices.
Young children can test their working theories and practice solving conflict in peaceful ways. This testing and practicing occurs when children have opportunities to enter and exit groups, take another person’s viewpoint, take social and emotional risks and make friends.
When working on curriculum design (programme planning) for self-management and self-regulation, consider:
Do kaiako have sufficient knowledge about the development of self-management and regulation?
Are parent and whānau aspirations for children’s social learning well understood?
Do kaiako know children well and have a shared understanding of the social learning that is valued in their service?
Are the goals, learning outcomes, and examples of practice in Te Whāriki that apply to self-management, self-regulation and social learning well understood?
How strong are the learning partnerships with whānau for sharing strategies and progress?
How will Kaiako show children’s increasingly complex social skills and strategies through assessment practices?
What on-going, regular evaluation of the effectiveness of children’s learning, and of the teaching and learning strategies will be used by the team?
The foundation for the development of self-management and regulation is having caring, consistent relationships with kaiako who are “attuned” to children’s nonverbal and verbal cues and can respond sensitively to these.
Kaiako who have high expectations of all children and put the mana of the child at the forefront of their interactions are more likely to nurture the development of self-management and regulation. This involves kaiako being thoughtful and intentional about the way they use different strategies with individual children.
Self-management and regulation requires practise. Kaiako who effectively encourage the development of these skills see conflict and challenging situations for children as opportunities to learn. This may mean sometimes holding back before stepping in – being an observer and allowing children find their own solutions.
Kaiako who promote learning of self-management and regulation strategies will:
Acknowledge that every child and whānau have a unique identity, language, and culture that shapes their personality, learning, and contribution to the early childhood setting.
Know children and whānau well and closely observe children.
Communicate as a team to encourage consistency in teaching strategies between kaiako. Such strategies may include, positive affirmation, role modelling, redirection, setting boundaries, supporting language, giving a child space and time to manage their behaviour.
Act as positive role models by setting clear and consistent boundaries for children while also remaining patient and calm.
Work together with children towards successful outcomes.
Pay attention to positive social learning by encouraging children to be aware of others, work together, negotiate, and discuss fairness.
Listen and acknowledged children’s feelings.
Identify and name, describe and explain children’s emotions and feelings.
Offer guidance in appropriate ways to manage feelings and encourage children to problem solve in challenging social situations.
Choose carefully when to intervene in conflicts and relationships with peers.
Encourage the idea of collaborative and collective regulation by children so it's just not kaiako regulating conflict.
Provide opportunities for children to practice and rehearse a range of self-regulation, self-management, and social competence strategies in a safe and supported way.
The authors of this article describe how the teachers at Daisies Early Education and Care Centre in Johnsonville went about developing children’s leadership and creating a “community of responsibility” within the centre.
In this post on The Spoke Blog, Alana James discusses the development of social competency from infants through to teenagers.
This ERO report discusses areas of strength and areas for development for early childhood services in relation to social competency. It also describes the practices of specific service types – Playcentres, kindergartens, and education and care services – in supporting children’s social competence.
Alison Brierley asks teachers to reflect on strategies such as “Use your words”, “We have to share”, and “We don’t hit around here” – and whether they are truly empowering children to self-regulate.
This Brainwave Trust three-part series shares some insight into current research regarding the ways babies develop a sense of themselves as separate to others and how they actively learn to interact with their environment and with their parents/caregivers.