Reading to Preschoolers Can Help Them Learn to Regulate Their Behavior and Emotions
Increased expectations of young children, including self regulation, has lead to parental concerns though they may already possess the solution.
Increased Expectations for Preschoolers Behavior
As today’s kindergarten requirements are becoming more academic with greater learning expectations, children’s ability to inhibit inappropriate behaviors such as biting a classmate who has a toy they want and initiate appropriate behaviors, such as raising their hand when they want to say something, is becoming increasingly necessary. Bodrova & Leong point out that this new stringency placed on young children means teachers can’t simply wait for children to outgrow their problem behaviors. In a study by Rimm-Kaufman, Pianta & Cox, teachers reported that more than half of their kindergarten students had difficulty regulating their behavior, with students not following directions being the biggest problem they experienced when teaching. Helping student learn how to regulate their behavior was their number one goal. Thus, discovering strategies to achieve this goal has become of paramount importance in child education.
Bodrova and Leong define children referred to as self-regulated as the ability to tolerate frustration and not respond immediately, to delay gratification long enough to think ahead regarding consequences, and to inhibit inappropriate responses while coming up with better strategies to handle a problem. These skills are necessary for successful social interactions, learning appropriate responses in difficult situations and decreasing displays of aggression and other types of acting out.
While many may feel that these goals are expecting too much from 5 year olds, such skills are often required in school settings none-the-less. Bodrova and Leong appear to first contradict their previous statements by indicating that children’s ability to regulate their emotions, thoughts and behaviors in this way only evolve as they grow into early adolescence and the responsible part of the brain becomes more developed. However, they go on to say that exercising these skills from a young age helps that area of the brain to develop and the failure to do so may result in children not reaching their full potential in self-regulatory skills.
Parental Concerns May be Easily Solved
During an interview, Rodriguez suggested that school expectations regarding self-regulation can be concerning to parents who feel this is too advanced for young children. Parents may also become frustrated due to not having strategies to teach their preschoolers skills they believe to be more appropriate for older children or to deal with resulting resistance.
Yet this may not be as hard as parents fear. Research has suggested that language skills contribute the most to the development of self- regulation in young children. Vallotan & Ayoub studied language development and the breadth of children’s vocabulary in terms of their ability to control their behavior. Their findings were consistent with earlier studies conducted by Wertsch which indicated that the number of spoken words a child knew and could use the better their ability to gain control over their thoughts, emotions and behaviors. Vallotan & Ayoub’s findings further suggested that parent’s might find it easier to focus on increasing their child’s vocabulary by reading to them than more directly on problem behavior that may be the result of the inability to self-regulate.
The takeaway from the studies on self regulation to date is that parents can help their children learn these skills by helping them increase their vocabulary and their ability to correctly use it. The most natural and enjoyable way to do this for both parents and children are through reading. This can also serve to reverse negative interactions that result from focusing on bad behavior, and instead lead to more positive parent child relationships.
Bodrova, E., & Leong, D., (2008, March). Developing Self-Regulation in Kindergarten: Can We Keep All the Crickets in the Basket? Of Primary Interest: Young Children on the Web. Retrieved July, 8, 2011.
Rimm-Kaufman, S., R.C. Pianta, & M. Cox. 2001. Teachers’ judgments of problems in the transition to school. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 15: 147–66.
Rodriguez, B., (2008). Critical Issue: Meeting the Diverse Needs of Young ChildrenVideotaped interview with Brenda Rodriguez (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory). Retrieved July 8, 2011.
Vallotton, C., & Ayoub, C. (2010). Use your words: The role of language in the development of toddlers’ self-regulation Early Childhood Research Quarterly. Retrieved July 8, 2011.
Wertsch, J. V. (1979). From social interaction to higher psychological processes: A clarification and application of Vygotsky’s theory. Human Development, 22, 1–22.