Why Talk? – How You Can Improve Self-Regulation Skills

Talking and the Link with Self-Regulation Skills… That Empowers Children’s Voice

Self-Regulation Skills….

Self-regulation skills are an important developmental skill that has an accumulating influence and effect on various areas of children’s development, including their self-esteem and self-worth, which builds their social-emotional wellbeing and self-identity.

By empowering children with their voice through facilitating intentional talk and conversational opportunities, this stimulates their growth of self-regulatory skills. It also supports their literacy and language development, among other developmental areas.

The Importance of Intentional Talk and Conversations


~ When children utilise expressive/verbal language skills, they learn about sentence structure, meaning of words in context, turn-taking in conversation and pragmatics (3).

      • These skills are the foundation of other language forms and development, including reading and writing.
      • The best way to learn these skills is through talking, particularly intentional and conversational talk.

~ When children have higher emotional self-regulatory skills, this allows them to understand societal rules and behaviour, which leads them to monitoring their own actions (1).

      • This takes children to the level of internalising their self-regulation, which is what we want for all children’s self-regulation skills to reach.
      • However, before reaching the point they can internalise their self-regulation, children are externally regulating their emotions (2).
      • This means they need adult support to help them to self-regulate (2).
          • Teachers can facilitate this area of development through various means such as the following strategies.


Engage WITH children in the following experiences:

~ Narrative and play literacy experiences, combined with drama elements for extension. Eg. improvisation, storytelling and puppetry.

~ Sociodramatic play with teachers and peers.

~ Process drama

      • Teachers use a teacher-in-role (TIR) technique to begin a drama/sociodramatic experience. They adopt a submissive role, then during the experience they work alongside the children – questioning, encouraging, developing and/or steering the drama while remaining in-role.
      • E.g. The teacher could be the new fire-fighter en-route to an emergency with the ‘expert’ children fire-fighters.

~ Ask open-ended, thought-provoking / inquiry-based questions, rather than close-ended questions.


INITIATE conversations and/or ENGAGE IN conversations with children.

~ At mealtimes – Have conversations about what they are eating and extend on it by talking about what they like to eat. Other topics to talk about that go beyond the present include, what they enjoyed doing during the day, what they did yesterday or what they will do over the weekend, and how’s their day going (reflecting on their feelings and thoughts of the day).

~ When children need a break, because they are getting a bit too energetic, break up the day with some ‘quiet time’.

      • ‘Quiet time’ is a time where children can get into small groups in a relaxed mood/setting, and have little conversations – recalling past events, predicting future events (such as what they will do tomorrow or on their planned holiday) and/or narrating imagined stories to each other.
So why all this talking? What’s really taking place?

When Children Talk Beyond Their Immediate Context They…

~ Develop ‘decontextualised language’. That is, they talk about and explain events in the past and future, which allows them to wonder and imagine about ideas.

~ Develop their verbal language skills and increase their vocabulary.

~ Develop skills that will contribute later to their writing, both for creative and more formal purposes.

~ When children narrate stories and love to have ‘chats’, they also develop more self-confidence as they learn more social skills and grow in their social-emotional skills and wellbeing (3).

~ Use higher-level thinking skills such as, suggestions and prediction as they answer open-ended questions posed to them. This sparks curiosity that contributes to their cognitive development (4).

When Teachers Have Conversations & Talk With Children… (3)

~ Teachers can model language, including grammar, sentence structure and vocabulary.

~ Teachers can model self-regulatory processing skills.

~ Children learn empathy as they see others have different thoughts, feelings and experiences than themselves.

~ Children develop a sense of belonging and being as they develop trusting relationships with adults and peers through the conversations they have with each other. This all contributes to more self-confidence and positive social-emotional wellbeing.

As a result, children are empowered with their voice! They use their voice/words to speak out, and in doing so, are empowered and realise that their voice can and has the right to be listened to and respected by both their peers and adults.


To read more about how to use language as a means to promote self-regulatory skills through other areas in the program, how it supports the growth in other areas of development, and to know more benefits beyond those listed here, refer to the reading by:

(3) Test J.E., Cunningham, D.D., & Lee, A.C. (2010). Talking with young children: How teachers encourage learning. Dimensions of Early Childhood, 38(3), 3-14. From: http://southernearlychildhood.org/upload/pdf/Talking_With_Young_Children.pdf



(1) Willis, E., & Dinehart, L.H. (2014). Contemplative practices in early childhood: Implications for self-regulation skills and school readiness. Early Child Development and Care, 184(4),487-499. doi: 10.1080/03004430.2013.804069

(2) Bodrova & Leong, 2007; Dawson & Guare, 2010, as cited in Willis & Dinehart (2014).

(4) A study by Weitzman & Greenberg, 2002, as cited in Test, Cunningham, & Lee (2010).

© Tirzah Lim 2017

What are Self-Regulation Skills?

Self-Regulation Skills and the Link with Social-Emotional Wellbeing

What the research says…

The importance of social-emotional development has been clearly established, especially in recent research with the emphasis on social-emotional health and wellbeing (6,11,12). There is now also an awareness of the link between social-emotional development and self-regulation skills. Thus, there has been an increase in research in this area, including a focus on the effects of these two areas of development on school readiness and early academic achievement (2,3,12,15).

As a result of these findings, it has been acknowledged that early development and support of these regulatory processes, or commonly referred to as self-regulation skills (including the development of behavioural, cognitive/executive functioning and emotional self-regulation skills) are of great importance.

It has also been noted that the development of self-regulatory skills best begins during the early childhood years, particularly at home with family. This is because family are the closest and most influential factor in children’s lives (4,12,15).

However, it has only been in the last ten years that research has really focused on the importance of the development of self-regulation and importantly in interaction with those beyond the family context, in particular within early childhood education and care (ECEC) settings, compared to a primary school settings (as most past research have concentrated on). Examples of primary school studies included those cited by Mortensen et al. (2015), (including, Mashburn et al., 2010; Rudasill et al., 2009; Sabol et al., 2012), as well as other studies cited by Rudasill et al. (2016), (such as Hamre et al., 2001; O’ Connor, 2010; Rudasill, 2011).


As the preschool years are the peak time that regulatory processes develop and are crucial for foundational skills for children’s development (5,17), research has looked into this area more closely. Consequently, researchers have started to investigate potential protective factors in the ECEC context, including preschools and long day centres. Furthermore, studies have placed particular emphasis on populations that are at-risk due to individual and/or broader contextual factors.

There are three main types of factors within the ECEC context that have been found to positively and effectively influence the development of regulatory processes in the preschool years, protective factors that ECEC contexts can easily tailor into their classroom. These protective factors have been found to have correlated benefits to all children – children from positive and less positive backgrounds – that is, children having experienced more at-risk contextual factors.




The first main factor that was identified to be influential in an ECEC context was teacher quality, but what this actually included was somewhat unclear and undefined. So to clearly understand what teacher quality actually was required further analysis of studies.

The following child-centred beliefs = factors of teacher quality:

  • Making curriculum and classroom decision, including having authoritative leadership and organisational structure,  whilst promoting autonomy among children. As well as teaching through sensitive interactions and caring relationships (10).
  • This correlated to growing self-regualtion, namely behavioural self-regulation (10).



Though academic outcomes could not directly be linked to child-centred beliefs and practices, there was an indirect relationship between those practices. This was a result of increased self-regulatory processes, and as such, this furthered skills in literacy and maths (10).

Curriculum decisions was another area of teacher quality. Willis et al. (2014) pointed out that children firstly learn to externally regulate their emotions through the help of others in the context of ECEC settings such as, through sociodramatic play experiences.

  • Rather than use more internal skills, which they would use when they got more skillful, it was proposed that through sociodramatic play children would be able to learn to externally regulate their emotions through scaffolded experiences with a more experienced teacher or peer to model and facilitate emotional self-regulation (18).

Additionally, through sociodramatic play…

  • Behaviour would itself be regulated by the ‘role’ they adopted, while also being regulated by others.
  • Within this safe ‘pretend’ world of scenarios there were no serious consequences to making the incorrect response. There were instead given opportunities to try again with the same or different strategies till they got it correct, and in doing so, refine their range of self-regulatory skills.

Curriculum decisions, another area of teacher quality.

Inclusion of active play was another important curriculum decision that had an influential effect. In the study by Becker et al. (2014) they had participants from Head Start preschools (who were preschool groups characterised as high-risk including children who have disabilities and physical delays, and who catered for children from low income families). Though this was a small sample, findings from the study were important in regards to the participants of the study and purpose.

  • Becker et al. (2014) found that the inclusion of active play in the everyday curriculum improved the self-regulatory skills of children, particularly children who came from a high-risk background, as described above.
  • They also found that there was a link between more active play and better self-regulation, in that children also showed higher literacy and maths skills, which was an indirect effect of using their self-regulatory processing skills obtained through the medium of active play.

It was significant to note the importance of curriculum decisions for individual needs, particularly for those who were more likely to have disabilities and physical delays. It was also important to know what factors were more likely to help and improve their skills.



Children’s most basic human LEARNING needs

  • Include collaborative learning, giving the child autonomy, and promoting a sense of belonging and competence.
  • Another area of child-centred practices and beliefs.

These concepts are all related to the issue of learning that takes place IN INTERACTION with others and the learning context (7,18).

When this type of learning was promoted, children’s basic human LEARNING needs were met, which meant lowered stress levels and less need to use emotion regulation. Overall, resulting in increased self-regulatory skills (7).

Learning that takes place IN INTERACTION with others and the learning context… meets children’s basic human LEARNING needs… resulting in increased self-regulatory skills


A second major factor that was identified to be influential in an ECEC context was engagement. Engagement with teachers, in the classroom, as well as in class tasks. However, a key factor that was important to consider alongside this issue was classroom climate/environment.


The study by Williford et al. (2013b) found that children who were more engaged in class tasks were more positively engaged with teachers and this was correlated to an increase in task orientation.

  • They also found that despite children being engaged in more negativity in the classroom, controlled emotional regulatory processing behaviours were related to positive engagement with teachers.

Another study by Williford et al. (2013a) added that in correlation with higher engagement in the classroom and with class tasks, this was related to greater gains in self-regulation.

  • There was also a relationship between the quality of teacher interactions in the classroom and inhibitory control, along with an increase in receptive vocabulary.
  • As a whole, these findings were related to better school readiness skills.

An environment is characterised by the relationships formed between teachers and children, which then influences children’s engagement in the classroom (3).

But how are these relationships supported? How is engagement heightened?

Through establishing the right….



Related to this second factor of engagement is the key factor of classroom climate/environment in relation to how emotionally and organisationally supportive the environment is.


In a study undertaken by Cadima et al. (2016) with a population of socially disadvantaged children, it was found that closer teacher-child relationships had a correlation with higher self-regulation.

  • A finding was that it was not just closer individualised teacher-child relationships that helped self-regulation. It was ALSO necessary to consider the quality of support provided by the classroom environment – that is, the climate of the learning environment.

The study by Choi et al (2016) found similar findings when they looked at cognitive regulation/executive function (i.e., skills including planning, reflection and independence), specifically focusing on inhibitory control (i.e., skills such as delaying gratification and restraining impulses).

  • The population of this study was based on children who were characterised by behaviour and emotion that were more negative, in particular, having lower/poorer inhibitory control.
  • They found that children who came with lower/poorer inhibitory control benefited from emotionally supportive and well-organised classrooms.

  • Interestingly, children from this group also made greater gains and improvement in inhibitory control than children who began and were on a normal trajectory of regulatory processes development.
  • Therefore, initial child inhibitory control was not a factor in determining their trajectory.
  • The key was teacher support, which enabled negative trajectories to be overturned and instead lead children to improved inhibitory control.

Inhibitory control and cognitive regulation were determined by both teacher-child interactions AND environmental climate established within the classroom (4).

Rudasill et al. (2016) added to the mounting research, with findings concerning effortful control (i.e. self-regulation relating to temperament), teacher-child relationships, and teacher-child conflict.

  • They found that emotional support assisted with low effortful control.
  • While the reverse was found too. That is, negative emotional support limited and made inhibitory control (i.e., skills such as delaying gratification and restraining impulses) worse, which also increased teacher-child conflict.

Basing discussion around teaching practices and teacher-child interactions as well as how children are the active recipients of teacher interactions, there were further findings regarding emotional support of children with and without behavioural problems and teacher-child conflict (13).

  • This suggested that children are ‘active’ in their own ecological context as a ‘child’/individual. In the same way teachers are ‘active’ in their ecological context as professionals in the ‘ECEC setting’ .
    • When considering the mesosystem – that is, the interconnection between the different contexts, this meant that within the ECEC context children and teachers had bi-directional effects on one another. Specfically in relation to this discussion, when positive emotional support was provided negative class behaviour decreased, which included teacher-child conflict.


The third and last main influential factor in an ECEC context was teacher-child relationships. The following studies build on the research by Cadima et al. (2016) and Rudasill et al. (2016), which were specifically related to the second protective factor.

Mortensen et al. (2015) discussed findings by various studies, including the following areas.

  • How children’s self-regulation related to social-emotional competence.
  • How engagement in class and being emotionally supported by teachers related back to high-quality teachers and high-quality child relationships with others.
  • The various studies in this area also found correlations to academic outcomes, namely literacy and maths outcomes.

In other studies, it was found that higher teacher-child relationships were correlated with higher self-regulation, as well as with higher maths skills in both preschool and kindergarten.

  • This was because the skills that enabled children to excel in understanding and solving maths problems (i.e., skills related to the learning of maths) such as working memory, inhibitory skills, and cognitive flexibility were the same skills associated with developing behavioural and cognitive self-regulation (2).

On another academic level, there were significant findings in relation to the impact of teacher-child relationships and behaviour regulation on the effects of language development, specifically grammar skills.

In this study, they found that despite having high teacher-child conflict, a child’s grammar skills still increased (15). However, it was their level of behavioural regulatory skills that related to the amount of grammar gained.

  • That is, more controlled behaviour regulation correlated with higher grammar skills.
  • While lower behaviour regulation correlated with lower grammar gain.
  • On the other hand, children with a weak (versus low) behaviour regulation had further risk for delay in language development. This was because teacher-child relationships that were characterised as having high-conflict, compounded experiences for children that impacted more areas of language development in addition to their grammar skills.

An additional study by Graziano et al. (2015) followed a group of children with externalising behavioural problems who were reported to have more difficulties with school readiness skills at preschool and difficulties when beginning school.

  • They concluded from their findings that that the defining factor was the quality of relationships – the positive and closer teacher-child relationships.
  • This correlated with executive function/cognitive regulation skills, teacher-rated school readiness and later school achievement.


  • Skills that assist in school readiness and academic achievement such as, working memory, planning, and independence are the same skills required to develop self-regulatory processes.
  • More importantly, Graziano et al. (2015) concluded that it was the quality of teacher-child relationships that could act as a protective factor for negative effects of self-regulatory processes.

It is important to note that the various types of factors from the ECEC setting...

  • Did NOT actually raise self-regulation as a whole for children with ‘normally’ developing self-regulatory development or children who had well developed self-regulation skills.
  • Instead, the three identified protective factors assisted in the development of self-regulatory skills and later school achievement. That is, the ECEC setting was another important ecological context in the life of children who were at-risk of developing low self-regulation. Not being born ‘at-risk’; but instead because of the interactive factors in their ecological context this affected the trajectory of their development in a less positive way.

As such, there are particular factors that act as protective, influential factors in the ECEC context that can support children to catch-up to their peers. In doing so, when provided with these more positive and effective factors in an ECEC context, children who were at-risk could make even greater gains, overtaking the skills and abilities of their peers who were on a ‘normal’, stable trajectory of self-regulatory development.


The study by Gunzenhauser et al (2015)(9) looked at families from lower versus higher socio-economic status (SES), and discussed some important findings in regards to a mix of the three factors that influence behaviour regulation.

      • Just because children were from higher-SES families did not mean they expanded the growth of their self-regulation or even that they had higher self-regulation.
      • The opposite was also true for children from lower-SES families. That is, just because children were from lower-SES families did not mean they lowered their self-regulation or had lower self-regulation.
      • Children from lower-SES families could still develop self-regulation to the same quality and even high self-regulation, as a positive contributing factor was the ECEC context.
CURRICULUM DECISIONSMore books vs. less books (9)

(Books – a measurement of home educational resources).

Despite being from a lower-SES, children with more books at home related to the support of the development of positive behaviour regulation.

However, some children from lower-SES had less books at home. In these cases the ECEC context became a protective factor by the curriculum decisions that were made. In particular, making books available and reading to children a focal part of the program.

    • This would support the development of children’s varying levels of regulatory processing skills who were also from varying SES backgrounds.
TEACHER-CHILD RELATIONSHIPSIs gender a risk factorin the development of self-regulatory processing skills?(9)

Gender was found not to be a risk factor.

In fact boys who had low processing skills or at-risk of developing low self-regulatory skills when growing up in the context of an at-risk familial environment, actually had a higher rate bouncing back and ‘catching up’ compared to girls.

The key was teacher-child relationships characterised by verbally stimulating non-gender specific socialisation (9).

  • The quality in relationships children developed with their teachers in the ECEC setting became a protective factor for children. A relationship that they may not have established or will develop in the home environment.
  • Even more, when children developed these relationships characterised by this style of verbal socialisation this was found to have a significant impact on the development of children’s self-regulatory processing skills, particularly boys from lower-SES backgrounds(9).

**** REFLECT ****

Are you gender-specific in your verbal socialisation?

Eg: Being more emotionally supportive and verbally stimulating to girls vs. more physically playful with boys.

Empirical studies says that most families are not very aware. However, teachers in ECEC contexts are more aware of their interactions, and provide equal time and verbal stimulation to both boys and girls (Matthew et al., 2014; as cited in Gunzenhauser et al., 2015).


(1) Becker, D.R., McClelland, M.M., Loprinzi P., & Trost, S.G. (2014). Physical activity, self-regulation, and early academic achievement in preschool children. Early Education & Development, 25, 56-70. doi: 10.1080/10409289.2013.780505

(2) Blair, C., & McKinnon, R.D. (2016). Moderating effects of executive functions and the teacher-child relationship on the development of mathematics ability in kindergarten. Learning and Instruction, 41, 85-93. doi: 10.1016/j.learninstruc.2015.10.001

(3) Cadima, J., Verschueren, K., Leal, T., & Guedes, C. (2016). Classroom interactions, dyadic teacher-child relationships, and self-regulation in socially disadvantaged young children. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 44(1), 7-17. doi: 10.1007/s10802-015-0060-5

(4) Choi, J.Y., Castle, S., Williamson, A.C., Young, E., Worley, L., Long, M., & Horm, D.M. (2016).  Teacher-child interactions and the development of executive function in preschool-age children attending Head Start. Early Education & Development, 27(6), 751-769. doi:10.1080/10409289.2016.1129864

(5) Degol, J.L., & Bachman, H.J. (2015). Preschool teachers’ classroom behavioural socialisation practices and low-income children’s self-regulation skills. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 31, 89-100. doi: 10.1016/j.ecresjq.2015.01.002

(6) Denham, S.A., Bassett, H.H., Way, E., Mincic, M., Zinsser, K., & Graling, K. (2012).  Preschoolers’ emotion knowledge: Self-regulatory foundations, and predictions of early school success. Cognition & Emotion, 26(4), 667-679. doi: 10.1080/02699931.2011.602049

(7) Fried, L. (2011). Teaching teachers about emotion regulation in the classroom.  Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 36(3), 117-127.

(8) Graziano, P.A., Garb, L.R., Ros, R., Hart, K., & Garcia, A. (2015). Executive functioning and school readiness among pre-schoolers with externalising problems: The moderating role of the student-teacher relationship. Early Education & Development, 27(5), 573-589. doi: 10.1080/10409289.2016.1102019

(9) Gunzenhauser, C., & Von Suchodoletz, A. (2015). Boys might catch up, family influences continue: Influences on behavioural self-regulation in children from an affluent region in Germany before school entry. Early Education & Development, 26, 645-662. doi: 10.1080/10409289.2015.1012188

(10) Hur, E., Buettner, C., & Jeon, L. (2015). The association between teachers’ child- centred beliefs and children’s academic achievement: The indirect effect of  children’s behavioural self-regulation. Child & Youth Care Forum, 44(2), 309-325. doi: 10.1007/s10566-014-9283-9

(11) Kragh-Muller, G., & Gloeckler, L.R. (2010). What did you learn in school today? The importance of socioemotional development – A comparison of U.S. and Danish child report. Childhood Education, 87(1), 53-61.

(12)Mortensen, J.A., & Barnett, M.A. (2015). Teacher-child interactions in infant/toddler child care and socioemotional development. Early Education & Development, 26(2), 209-229. doi: 10.1080/10409289.2015.985878

(13) Nurmi, J.-E., & Kiuru, N. (2015). Students’ evocative impact on teacher instruction and teacher–child relationships. International Journal of Behavioural Development, 39(5), 445-457. doi: 10.1177/0165025415592514

(14) Rudasill, K.M., Hawley, L., Molfese, V.J., Tu, X., Prokasky, A., & Sirota, K. (2016). Temperament and teacher-child conflict in preschool: The moderating roles of classroom instructional and emotional support. Early Education & Development, 27(7), 859-874. doi: 10.1080/10409289.2016.1156988

(15) Schmitt, M.B., Pentimonti, J.M., & Justice, L.M. (2012). Teacher-child relationships, behaviour regulation, and language gain among at-risk preschoolers. Journal of School Psychology, 50(5), 681-699. doi: 10.1016/j.jsp.2012.04.003

(16) Williford, A.P., Maier, M.F., Downer, J.T., Pianta, R.C., & Howes, C. (2013a). Understanding how children’s engagement and teachers’ interactions combine to predict school readiness. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 34(6), 299-309. doi: 10.1016/j.appdev.2013.05.002

(17) Williford, A., Vick Whitaker, J.E., Vitello, V., & Downer, J. (2013b). Children’s engagement within the preschool classroom and their development of self-regulation. Early Education & Development, 24(2), 162-187. doi: 10.1080/10409289.2011.628270

(18) Willis, E., & Dinehart, L.H. (2014). Contemplative practices in early childhood: Implications for self-regulation skills and school readiness. Early Child Development & Care, 184(4), 487-499. doi: 10.1080/03004430.2013.804069

© Tirzah Lim 2017

Taking Care of Teachers’ Emotional Wellbeing

How to Reduce Teacher Stress and Support Children’s Development



To understand the importance of your role as a teacher and leader, you need to see yourself in the mesosystem of a child’s life – that is, in the context of the early childhood (EC) setting.

EC settings along with teachers can either be a ‘protective’ source of support for children or a risk factor that adds to the risks already experienced by children.

To be a support for children, it has been found there are three main protective sources of support in EC settings that have a major positive influence on teacher stress. The reduction in teacher stress influencing, among other areas, class management and behaviour management.

On the other end, teacher stress is also a major contributing factor on children’s self-regulatory skills. When these skills are supported positively and effectively, it has long term effects on early school achievement and success.


Protective Factor 1: Teacher quality that translates to child-centred beliefs

Protective Factor 2: Engagement and Classroom Climate

Protective Factor 3: Teacher-Child Relationships

Protective Factor 1: Teacher quality that translates to child-centred beliefs

  1. Classroom decisions – Collaborative learning and child autonomy.
  2. Curriculum decisions – Promote literacy, intentional talk and conversations, and socio-dramatic play.

Protective Factor 2: Engagement and Classroom Climate

  1. Engagement with teachers, classroom activities, and the class.
  2. Classroom climate – Emotional and organisational support.

Protective Factor 3: Teacher-Child Relationships

  • Is interrelated to the other two factors by influencing and being influenced by teacher quality and child-centred beliefs, as well as engagement and classroom climate.
When supporting children of higher self-regulatory processing skills, this will EMPOWER the ‘voices’ of the children, thereby BUILD a stronger emotional wellbeing, and SHAPE a confident identity.

If you want to know more “Contact Me” and I will email you my powerpoint presentation.

It will explain more about each of the points outlined above, including HOW TO promote and facilitate these practices.

© Tirzah Lim 2017