Self-regulation can help at-risk children perform better at academics
Washington: Self-regulation is the key to academic success for at-risk children, a new American study has found.
Self-regulation refers to children’s ability to control their behaviour and impulses.
The study was conducted by then-Oregon State University graduate student Michaella Sektnan, who did the research as her master’s thesis working with Megan McClelland, an associate professor at OSU.
Sektnan is now a faculty research assistant for OSU Extension Family and Community Health.
For her paper, which will appear in a fall edition of Early Childhood Research Quarterly, Sektnan used data on 1,298 children from birth through the first grade from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development.
"Family risk" in the data was defined by ethnic minority status, low maternal education, low family income and chronic depressive symptoms in the mother.
Sektnan said: "We know that these risk factors can lead to a gap in academic achievement.
"The relationship to risks such as poverty, ethnic status, and maternal education has been well-documented. What we wanted to know was, controlling for these factors, does self-regulation make a difference?"
It turns out the answer to that question is yes.
Controlling for these risk factors, Sektnan found that children whose parents and teachers reported that they had strong self-regulation in preschool and kindergarten did significantly better on math, reading and vocabulary at the end of first grade.
Sektnan said: "For all outcomes, higher self-regulation was related to higher reading, math and vocabulary, regardless of which risk factor was present.
"This builds on the increasing body of knowledge about the need to develop self-regulation skills in young children."
To give an example, McClelland points to the test scores of the children in this national survey.
At-risk children with stronger self-regulation in kindergarten scored 15 points higher on a standardized math test in first grade, 11 points higher on an early reading test, and nearly seven points higher on a vocabulary test than at-risk children with weaker self-regulation.
McClelland said: "These were pretty impressive increases in children’s achievement.
"I’m a proponent of building self-regulation in children but even for me, these results were surprising. The discrepancy between these children, tested at a very young age, and their academic scores compared to their peers who were not as able to regulate their behaviour was larger than we anticipated."
She went on: "Obviously, these issues - poverty, educational status, maternal depression - are extremely serious and must be addressed.
"But we now know that we can also help children be successful by teaching them how to self-regulate."
McClelland added: "Self-regulation is not just about compliance or being obedient.
"It’s about a very basic, but very necessary skill: being able to listen and pay attention, think, and then act. The message to parents may be to put down the flash cards and see if another approach, like playing a simple game of ``Simon Says`` works better."