March 19, 2012

By Graydon Gordian

Self-Regulation: its Meaning and Importance

Our mission at Sesame Street isn’t just to teach children numbers and letters. Encouraging socio-emotional development is also a major part of our curriculum. In particular, our goal is to encourage “self-regulation.” It’s a term our early childhood education experts use to describe a person’s ability to control his or her thoughts, actions and emotions.

Happiness, sadness, anger: These are all emotions that children feel. But they need to be taught to identify what they’re feeling if they’re going to respond productively. For instance, if a child has a toy taken away by another child, he needs to recognize what he is feeling – anger – before he can decide how to respond. Instead of, say, hitting the child who took his toy, if he knows he is angry he can realize that he has options for his behavior. One option would be to take a deep breath and ask for his toy back. Recognizing and labeling his emotions is a critical “skill” for a child to develop if he is going to think and then act instead of merely reacting.

Anger is a simple emotion, but self-regulation is also about identifying more complex emotions: pride, excitement, frustration, etc. At a Sesame Workshop curriculum seminar, an educational advisor once told a story about when her daughter came home and said she was angry. Her mom asked why and the girl said because a friend at school had a pink, sparkly coat that she wanted. Her mom told her she wasn’t angry, she was jealous. Identifying subtle differences between emotions like anger and jealousy is critical if a child is going to learn to be self-regulatory.

Identifying and managing one’s emotions and having self-control is just one aspect of self-regulation, but it is important when helping children develop social-emotional competence and achieve academic success. If a child learns self-regulation skills at an early age, it can help them be better prepared for school and for life. That’s why, when teaching children the building blocks of numeracy and literacy, we also help them learn social and emotional skills.

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