By Linda Groves Gillespie and Nancy L. Seibel
What is self-regulation and why is it important? In the report From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development, Shonkoff and Phillips (2000) define self-regulation as a child’s ability to gain control of bodily functions, manage powerful emotions, and maintain focus and attention. The growth of self-regulation is a cornerstone of early childhood development and is visible in all areas of behavior (Shonkoff & Phillips 2000). When caring for an infant or toddler, parents and caregivers act as extensions of or supports for the child’s internal ability to regulate. The adults put a young baby’s pacifier back in her mouth, provide a soft blanket for a toddler falling asleep, and use consistent routines to support self regulation by helping very young children know what to expect. Feeding is one example of a daily routine that adults structure for infants and toddlers. The feeding process requires several aspects of self-regulation. Physically, it requires a baby to suck, swallow, and breathe. Emotionally, a baby’s cries signal her distressed reaction to hunger. Cognitively, a baby attends to the task of feeding long enough to become full. Imagine the three scenarios that follow.