Self-Regulation is the foundation for lifelong functioning (Murray, D.W., Rosanbalm, K., and Christopoulos, C. (2016)); more important in determining "kindergarten readiness" than knowing the ABCs or rote counting and it sets the stage for managing stressful, distracting, challenging, life situations in any stage of development.

Self-Regulation by definition is the ability to manage one's thoughts and feelings to enable goal-directed actions (Murray, D.W., Rosanbalm, K., Christopoulos, C., Hamoudi, A. (2015)). Essentially, by gaining control of our thoughts and feelings/motivations, we can make the most beneficial, thought out decision in any situation; regardless of the difficulty level.

Co-Regulation is the role of the parent and caregiver to help a child self-regulate by:
  •  providing a warm, nurturing environment
  • structuring the environment
  • teach and coach self-regulation skills   (Rosanbalm, K., Murray, D.W. (2017). 

A parent or caregiver's ability to co-regulate largely depends on their own ability to self-regulate. In other words, I find it difficult to help our baby girl calm down and stop crying if I myself am upset and crying, frustrated or distracted. 

There are 5 big factors that influence an individual's ability to self-regulate. 
These are: 
1. Biology
2. Skills
3. Motivation (internal & external)
4. Caregiver Support (Co-Regulation)
5. Environmental Context

Biology: considered the most internal factor influencing an individual's ability to self-regulate. Your biology is composed of genetics and temperament-- your hard-wiring and how you respond to stimuli that pose a risk for dysregulation. 

Skills: Self-regulation can be taught (like literacy) with a foundational set of skills that are built upon as an individual grows older. With focused attention, support, instruction and reinforcement, an individual is believed to own and independently demonstrate the skills they have been taught when an opportunity presents itself. 

Motivation: the drive to achieve a goal when an individual is recognized for demonstrating behavior misaligned with situation. Motivation can be internal (basic needs: food, safety, attention or social acceptance) or external (tangible incentives, caregiver's approval or disapproval). 

Caregiver Support (Co-Regulation): the development of self-regulation in younger individuals is dependent on Co-Regulation. Strategies to support Co-Regulation include warm, responsive interactions with a child, implementation and utilization of positive behavior management strategies and providing a climate for growth and development. It is important to note that adverse events (domestic violence, substance abuse and high levels of partner conflict) are associated with negative developmental outcomes and poorer self-regulation skills in children. 

There is also a gradual release of responsibility when it comes to Co-Regulation; requiring caregivers to provide consistent, strategic and supportive modeling, teaching and reinforcement for self-regulation skills throughout early childhood and gradually pulling back on the support as children become older. One metaphor is to consider a child's ability to Self-Regulate as if it were a bucket. Filling the bucket early on and promoting independent demonstrations of the skills continues will continue to fill the bucket, essentially meaning that by the time the child becomes a young adult- their bucket is full. Alternatively, for a child with less co-regulation opportunities, their bucket is less full and ultimately, by the time they are a young adult, they are missing important skills to adequately and appropriately regulate themselves. (Figure 1)

Environmental Context: including peer relationships (especially as children become teenagers), supports and resources available in the community/schools, stress, adversity and demands (bullying, crimes and limited resources to medical care) and poverty. Positive supports and relationships that help build an individual's interpersonal skills set the stage for future success. 

Murray, D., Rosanbalm, K., Christopoulos, C., Hamoudi, A. (2015) Foundations for Understanding Self-Regulation from An Applied Developmental Perspective-Toxic Stress Report 1

Rosanbalm, K.D., & Murray, D.W. (2017). Promoting Self-Regulation in Early Childhood:
A Practice Brief. OPRE Brief #2017-79. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation,
Administration for Children and Families, US. Department of Health and Human Services.

Murray (2015)

Figure 1: Co-Regulation from Childhood to Young Adult

Factors that Impact Self-Regulation