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New Support for Self-Regulation Skills

A special journal issue edited by Stephanie Jones builds knowledge and connects the dots on how to strengthen critical life skills in children (and their parents).

Parents and other adults play a key role in helping children develop the capacity for self-regulation — an essential set of skills that blossom in early childhood and help us manage our emotions, our thinking, and our behavior in school and throughout our lives. But educators, social services agencies, and parents themselves haven’t always had access to knowledge about how self-regulation develops, how to encourage it, and how to develop self-regulation capacities even in adults.

Now, as editors of a new special issue of the journal Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, Professor Stephanie Jones at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ron Prinz at the University of South Carolina, and Matthew Sanders at the University of Queensland bring together a diverse lineup of researchers to fill in the gaps and build that knowledge base.

In the 11 papers published in the special issue, written from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, researchers examine the latest findings about how self-regulation develops and how to promote it. They reveal specific ways in which parents and teachers encourage, or inhibit, self-regulation in children. They also show how specific interventions designed for a diverse range of settings can strengthen adults’ capacity to promote self-regulation in children, and how parents and other adults can develop their own self-regulation skills.

“Research over the last decade shows us how foundational self-regulation is to success in all areas of life, including relationships, school, parenting, and the workplace,” says Jones, whose EASEL Lab is working to strengthen approaches to social and emotional learning in schools and communities. “Our motivation for putting this special issue together was our sense that the time was right for a comprehensive synthesis of what we know about self-regulation — and what that means for what we do in the world. 

“Our hope is that the research summarized here will provide a roadmap to future research and, most importantly, to more effective and relevant guidance for practice and policy. Ultimately, our goal is to equip educators and parents with the tools they need to enhance self-regulation and help kids thrive,” Jones says.

Self-regulation skills include higher-order cognitive functions such as problem solving, planning, and impulse control. Efforts to build these skills often play a central role in school- and community-based programs that aim to promote health, academic success, and social and emotional well-being in children, young people, and their families.

This special issue “explores how self-regulation can be applied in different roles, including parents, teachers, and caregivers, in different contexts including homes, schools, early childhood education, training and through organizations,” says co-editor Sanders. “This resource will be useful for researchers, practitioners, policymakers, service providers, training organizations and the general public as a knowledge base to draw from and apply self-regulation principles and strategies.”

In addition to Jones — who, with HGSE researcher Rebecca Bailey, authored a paper proposing an integrated model for self-regulation in school settings — the special issue features several other authors who are also affiliated with HGSE: Assistant Professor Dana McCoy wrote about measuring children’s executive function and self-regulation in real-world settings, and doctoral students Emily Hanno and Sarah Surrain explored the relationship between self-regulation and language development.