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Self Regulation as a Predictor of Academic Abilities

Self regulation is the ability of a person to tolerate sensations, situations and distress and form appropriate responses to that sensory input. Simply stated, it is the ability to control behavior. In children, self regulation matures just like other developmental processes. Children get older and learn to think before they act. Research continues to develop in this area of self regulation and how much it effects other aspects of development. A recent article in Developmental Psychology reports that self regulation in children is a predictor of academic abilities. The researchers used the Head-Toes-Knees-Shoulders Task (HTKS) to evaluate 343 kindergartners ability to self regulate. The HTKS task measures the ability to listen, remember instructions and follow motor commands. It does not measure emotional responses. Children with higher levels of self regulation in the beginning of the school year achieved higher scores in reading, vocabulary and math at the end of the school year. The researchers concluded that improving self regulation in children can improve academic achievement and behavioral responses.

Now, for any therapist, teacher or parent who has knowledge of sensory integration knows how much deficits in self regulation effect behaviours, social skills and motor responses. We need to continue to educate school staff on the importance of this skill be developed in all children. Pre-kindergarten and kindergarten curriculum has changed it’s focus to reading, writing and math skills at an earlier age. There is not enough practice time to learn self regulation during these early formative years. Now it appears as if this hard core academic curriculum in the early years needs to slow down. This study provides significant evidence to support teaching self regulation skills.

Here are 5 simple tips to encourage self regulation in all children:
1. Therapists, teachers and parents should model good self regulation and self control. Use a calm tone in stressful situations. Model self control during disruptive classroom or home time.
2. Partner children who lack self regulation with children who exhibit better control to act as appropriate role models.
3. Play fun games that require children to wait for directions before they act (i.e. Simon Says).
4. Play fun games that require turn taking.
5. Keep activities structured and predictable.

Something to ponder for OT’s – Do you find that the majority of children with sensory modulation disorder exhibit deficits in all aspects of academic achievement? Does anyone know of any research on this topic? Would love to read it. Please comment.

References: Ponitz, Claire Cameron; McClelland, Megan M.; Matthews, J. S.; Morrison, Frederick J. A structured observation of behavioral self-regulation and its contribution to kindergarten outcomes. Developmental Psychology. Vol 45(3), May 2009, 605-619.

Oregon State University (2009, June 9). Self-regulation Game Predicts Kindergarten Achievement. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 9, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2009/06/090608162547.htm