Course:KIN366/ConceptLibrary/Behavioural Regulation

From UBC Wiki
Jump to: navigation, search
Movement Experiences for Children
KIN 366
Instructor: Dr. Shannon S. D. Bredin
Office Hours:
Class Schedule:
Important Course Pages
Lecture Notes
Course Discussion

Behavioural Regulation, often referred to as self-regulation, is a set of developmentally acquired skills involved in controlling, directing, and planning one’s cognition and behaviour (Carlson & Moses, 2001; Eisenberg, Smith, Sadovsky, & Spinrad, 2004; Wanless et al., 2013). Behavioural regulation involves observable and overt behaviours and responses that stem from executive function skills (McClelland & Wanless, 2012). The development of behavioural regulation is influenced by early experiences. These early experiences can vary greatly from child to child especially based on the child’s gender and culture (Wanless et al., 2013).

Principle Characteristics

Depending on the branch of psychology, there are several ways of approaching behavioural regulation. Temperament and personality psychology focus on effortful control, while cognitive psychology and neuroscience fields emphasize the role of executive functions (Wanless et al., 2013). Due to its complexity, studies tend to focus on one or select aspects of behavioural regulation at a time. However, behavioural regulation as a whole encompasses the interaction of several underlying processes in the body.

Skills of Executive Function

Listed below are skills of executive function that, when well-developed, result in strong behavioural regulation:

  1. Inhibitory control. Exhibiting inhibitory control involves the ability to prevent or modify a response. Young children generally have difficulties inhibiting the desire to solve a problem or execute a response immediately. Therefore, it is important that they work to develop their inhibitory control in order to construct the best strategies in their problem solving (Siegler, DeLoache & Eisenberg, 2011).
  2. Attentional or cognitive flexibility. Maintaining appropriate attention involves being able to select relevant information for processing, as well as the capability to focus, sustain, and shift attention while resisting interference and ignoring distractions (Siegler, DeLoache & Eisenberg, 2011). Difficulty in exerting appropriate attention is associated with behavioural problems, weak math and reading skills, and mental illness (Siegler, DeLoache & Eisenberg, 2011).
  3. Working memory. Sometimes referred to as short-term memory, working memory refers to the kind of workspace in which we actively process information (Siegler, DeLoache & Eisenberg, 2011). Effective use of working memory is important because it allows individuals to maintain and manipulate information.


Research has shown that one’s level of behavioural regulation in early years can have a big impact on his/her success in school and therefore his/her future employment, socioeconomic status, and wellbeing.

Achievement in Early Learning Environments

Behavioural regulation is positively related to children’s school readiness (von Suchodoletz, Trommsdorff, Heikamp, Wieber & Gollwitzer, 2009). The transition to school can be challenging for many children, as they must learn to adapt to school standards. Classroom behaviour and academic performance reflect how successfully a child has adapted (McClelland & Wanless, 2012). Since family environment largely influences the development of behavioural regulation, it is not a surprise that there can be significant differences among children when they begin formal schooling. Deficits in behavioural regulation can cause social and academic adjustment difficulties in school, however, children with good behavioural regulation may have significant advantages.

If a child demonstrates an effective use of working memory, this can serve as a predictor for success in early reading and mathematics. Studies have taken a look at children in parts of the United States and in Asian societies and have found that for both, it is true that early behavioural regulation, specifically the use of working memory, can be beneficial to young children’s acquisition of early math, vocabulary, and early literacy skills (Chung & McBride-Chang, 2011,).

Indicator of Future Academic Success

Individuals who are able to self-regulate at young ages tend to have greater positive early and long-term academic trajectories (McClelland & Wanless, 2012). The increased achievement seen in the early years of schooling often carry on into adolescence and can even indicate better high school graduation rates.

Influential Factors

Gender and culture both play important roles in the early development of behavioural regulation. They are closely related due to the fact that gender roles are dependent on cultural expectations and tend to vary across different cultures.

Cultural Expectations

Culture influences gender differences because different cultures encourage boys and girls to engage in different behaviours. Children are socialized into their gender when adults communicate expectations for children’s behaviour and play. The expectations for the type of play that is appropriate for each gender impact what activities children will participate in and therefore affect what opportunities they have to self-regulate.

Due to these cultural influences, girls tend to engage in more sociodramatic play with pretend roles that often require high regulation (Bodrova & Leong, 2006, Elias & Berk, 2002). Traditionally, girls have been encouraged to play with toys such as dolls and cooking sets that don’t involve very much body movement (Lever, 1974). Boys on the other hand tend to play outdoors more than girls using larger body movements that offer less opportunity to practice regulating themselves or with videogames that may encourage aggressive or violent behaviours (Anderson & Bushman, 2001).

Gender Differences

The experiences of boys and girls can vary greatly due to the different gender expectations the world has for children. Although they seem to be most prominent in North American cultures, gender differences in behavioural regulation can be seen all around the world. Studies have consistently found that girls demonstrate stronger inhibitory control, persistence, and more adaptive behaviour in comparison to boys (McCabe, Cunnington, & Brooks-Gunn, 2004; Taylor, Kuo, & Sullivan, 2002). In China, one study demonstrated that girls had higher internal control than boys as they were seen having more focused and independent efforts to clean up toys in a videotaped laboratory setting (Chen, Li, & Chien, 2003). In addition, another study found that both Chinese and American girls performed better on regulatory tasks compared to boys (Sabbagh, Xu, Carlson, Moses, & Lee, 2006). Based on this previous research, it is expected that girls have an advantage over boys with respect to behavioural regulation and its benefits on learning and adapting.

Other Risk Factors

There are a number of risk factors that can hinder the development of behavioural regulation such as maternal education and family income. Studies have found that children growing up in low-income families are more likely to struggle with behavioural regulation and experience other negative outcomes in childhood such as poor academic trajectories (McClelland & Wanless, 2012).

Practical Applications and Intervention Programs

Many early experiences can greatly affect the development of behavioural regulation therefore interventions may be taken at various stages of early childhood. Ideally, interventions would target the earliest stages of childhood, for example, the period of time before children enter formal schooling. By encouraging children early on to engage in a variety of modes of play regardless of gender, all children would have a greater equality of experiences that foster positive behaviour development. However, it is more challenging to intervene at this point in a child’s life because family environments are highly variable. Therefore, interventions beginning at the ages of daycare and preschool to early grade school might be more plausible and easier to implement.

Classroom Games

At the preschool and kindergarten stages, classroom games can be an effective tool in developing behavioural regulation. Tominey and McClelland (2011) implemented an intervention using classroom games that helped children practice attention, working memory, and inhibitory control. Their results showed significant gains in early literacy skills for all children in the intervention as well as significant improvements in self-regulation for children who were initially low in these skills.

Examples of classroom games:

  1. Red Light, Green Light. This game requires children to respond to specific colour cues (e.g. red is stop and green is go) and then for an extra challenge, opposite cues (e.g. red is go and green is stop)
  2. The Freeze Game. Dancing to music and freezing when the music is stopped as well as changing the characteristics of their dancing based on song and directions given by the teacher.
  3. Simon Says. Children are to listen to what Simon says and either carry out or inhibit actions based on the directions given.

Positive Youth Development Sport Programs

Upon entering grade school, Positive Youth Development (PYD) programs become another intervention option for developing behavioural regulation. These are programs that aim to foster youth development (Gano-Overway, Magyar, Kim, Newton, Fry & Guivernau, 2009). They are designed to help youths develop assets that would promote healthy development and help them thrive in society (Gano-Overway, Magyar, Kim, Newton, Fry & Guivernau, 2009). These developmental assets can be physical, intellectual, psychological/emotional, or social society (Gano-Overway, Magyar, Kim, Newton, Fry & Guivernau, 2009). More specifically, in the context of behavioural regulation, participation in PYD sport programs can lead to positive outcomes.

Sport participation has been shown to have a mix of positive and negative effects on behaviour development. On the one hand, some sport situations can lead to the development of negative behaviours such as demonstrating superiority over others, cheating and violence, as well as trash-talking. However, if structured appropriately, sport programs provide opportunity for the growth of developmental assets as they are structured activities with defined goals and also allow children to challenge themselves and be nurtured by supportive role models (Gano-Overway, Magyar, Kim, Newton, Fry & Guivernau, 2009). In addition, appropriately designed sport programs can enhance social behaviour as they can aid in the development of executive skill functions. For example, in soccer, the rules state that participants are not permitted to touch the ball with their hands and therefore the child’s response of using their hands in play is prevented teaching them inhibitory control.

This type of intervention program would be favourable because sports are popular among children and are a fun way to further develop behavioural regulation.


  1. Anderson, C. A., & Bushman, B. J. (2001). Effects of violent video games on aggressive behavior, aggressive cognition, aggressive affect, physiological arousal, and prosocial behavior: A meta-analytic review of the scientific literature. Psychological Science, 12(5), 353-359. doi: 10.1111/1467-9280.00366
  2. Bodrova, E., & Leong, D. J. (2006). Self-regulation as a key to school readiness: How early childhood teachers can promote this critical competency. In M. Zaslow & I. Martinez-Beck (Eds.), Critical issues in early childhood professional development (pp.203-224). Baltimore, MD: Brookes
  3. Carlson, S. M., & Moses, L. J. (2001). Individual difference in inhibitory control and children’s theory of mind. Child Development, 72(4), 1032-1053. doi: 10.1111/1467-8624.00333
  4. Chen, C. J., Li, I. C., & Chien L. Y. (2003). Developmental status among 3- to 5- year-old preschool children in three kindergartens in the Peitou District of Taipei City. Journal of Nursing Research, 11(2), 73-81. doi: 10.1097/01.JNR.0000347622.59907.fc
  5. Chung, K. K. H., & McBride-Chang, C. (2011). Executive functioning skills uniquely predict Chinese word reading. Journal of Education Psychology, 103(4), 909-921. doi: 10.1037/a0024744
  6. Eisenberg, N., Smith, S. L., Sadovsky, A., & Spinrad, T. L. (2004). Effortful control: Relations with emotion regulation, adjustment, and socialization in childhood. In R. F. Baumeister & K. D. Vohs (Eds.), Handbook of self-regulation: Research, theory, and applications (pp.259-282). New York, NY: Guilford.
  7. Elias, C. L., & Berk, L. E. (2002). Self-regulation in young children: Is there a role for sociodramatic play? Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 17, 216-238. doi: 10.1016/S0885-2006(02)00146-1
  8. Gano-Overway, L. A., Magyar, T. M., Kim, M., Newton, M., Fry, M. D., & Guivernau, M. R. (2009). Influence of caring youth sport contexts on efficacy-related beliefs and social behaviors. Developmental Psychology, 45(2), 329-340. doi: 10.1037/a0014067
  9. Lever, J. (1974). Sex differences in the games children play. Social Problems, 23(4), 478-487. Retrieved from
  10. McCabe, L. A. Cunnington, M., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2004). The development of self-regultaion in young children: Individual characteristics and environmental contexts. In R. F. Baumeister & K. D. Vohs (Eds.), handbook of self-regulation: Research, theory, and applications (pp.340-353). New York, NY: Guilford.
  11. McClelland, M. M, & Wanless, S. B. (2012). Growing up with assets and risks: The importance of self-regulation for academic achievement. Research in Human Development, 9(4), 278-297, doi: 10.1080/15427609.2012.729907
  12. Sabbagh, M.A., Xu, F., Carlson, S. M., Moses, L. J., & Lee, K. (2006). The development of executive functioning and theory of mind. Psychological Sciences, 17(1), 74-81. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2005.01667.x
  13. Siegler, R., DeLoache, J., & Eisenberg, N. (2011). How children develop. (3rd ed., p. 18, 146, 153). New York, NY: Worth Publishers.
  14. Taylor, A. F., Kuo, F. E., & Sulliva, W. C. (2002). Views of nature and self-discipline: Evidence from inner city children. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 22(1), 49-63. doi: 10.1006/jevp.2001.0241
  15. Tominey, S. L., & McClelland, M. M. (2011). Red light, purple light: Findings from a randomized trial using circle time games to improve behavioral self-regulation in preschool, Early Education and Development, 22(3), 489-519, doi: 10.1080/10409289.2011.574258
  16. von Suchodoletz, A., Trommsdorff, G., Heikamp, T., Wieber, F., & Gollwitzer, P. M. (2009). Transition to school: The role of kindergarten children's behavioural regulation. Learning and Individual Differences, 19, 561-566. doi: 10.1016/j.hndif.2009.07.006
  17. Wanless, S.B., McClelland, M.M., Lan, X., Son, S-H., Cameron, C.E., Morrison, F.J., Chen, F-M., Chen, J-L., Li, S., Lee, K., Sung, M. (2013). Gender differences in behavioral regulation in four societies: The U.S., Taiwan, South Korea, and China. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 28, 621-633. doi: 10.1016/j.ecresq