The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child cites the development of self-regulation and executive functioning skills as one of the most important and challenging tasks of early childhood (Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, 2016). Self-regulation in early childhood has been linked to a multitude of short-term outcomes, including academic achievement, emotion coping, and social functioning, as well as health, financial stability, and fewer criminal behaviors through adulthood (Calkins, 2007; Diamond, 2002; Moffitt, et al., 2011; Montroy, et al., 2016). Research has indicated that ages 3 to 7 is a sensitive period in development during which regulation transitions from reactive or co-regulated behavior to more advanced cognitive and emotional forms of self-regulation, including executive functions (Cole, Armstrong, and Pemberton, 2010; Montroy et al., 2016).
Recent efforts to implement policy and interventions in order to build self-regulation have special relevance for at-risk children. Children who have adverse life experiences, including abuse, neglect, trauma, and living in poverty, may have lower levels of executive functioning and regulation-related skills than their peers (Jones et al., 2016). The effects of living in poverty impact children on a neurological level, interfering with the development of brain areas devoted to regulatory processes, such as the prefrontal cortex. At the same time, executive functioning and other self-regulation skills may ameliorate the harmful effects of adversity by enabling coping skills such as emotion regulation and flexible problem solving (Buckner, Mezzacappa, & Beardslee, 2009). Self-regulation provides a promising target for interventions improving at-risk children’s positive outcomes. Therefore, it is important to identify and promote the factors that strengthen the development of these skills.
Laura’s study will examine the parenting and environmental factors that contribute to children’s self-regulation skills in early childhood. The study will expand on research in self-regulation by examining the role of fathers and alternate kin caregivers (hereafter more broadly referred to as “second caregivers”), as well as mothers, in promoting their children’s self-regulation skills in low-income families. Second caregiver parenting will be examined by incorporating various factors of involvement, including residency status, amount of time spent with the child, and parenting behaviors. The study will utilize self-report and observational methodology in order to examine the relation of parenting behaviors, risk factors, and child self-regulation skills in toddlerhood. In addition, parenting behaviors will be examined longitudinally as predictors of children’s executive function skills at preschool age.
We look forward to hearing about the findings of Laura's study! If you have questions for Laura, she can be reached at