Reflections on the Relevance of “Self-Regulation” for Native Communities

Publication Date: July 12, 2018
Reflections on the Relevance of “Self-Regulation” for Native Communities Cover

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The words that comprise “self-regulation” (e.g., ‘self’ and ‘regulation’) may be problematic for many Native communities that emphasize community and learning through observing, internalizing, and doing.  Self-regulation may still be relevant for Native communities because self-regulation occurs in relationships, can be developed through a range of different ways of learning, and can serve the well-being of whole communities.


This brief considers ‘self-regulation’ from the orientation of the community with the intention that the underlying value of the construct and the research underlying ‘self-regulation’ may be made more apparent and relevant for Native communities. The following questions are addressed:

  • What is self-regulation and why is it important?
  • How is self-regulation built? What are some of the concerns about the term “self-regulation” for Native American communities?
  • What might a more holistic definition of self-regulation encompass?
  • How might Native Beliefs, Values, and Practices Promote Self-Regulation?

The brief closes with next steps for understanding self-regulation in Native communities. Much of the material in this brief is based on work conducted by the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy for the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), described in a series of four reports referenced throughout the brief (/opre/research/project/toxic-stress-and-self-r... Visit disclaimer page ).

Key Findings and Highlights

  • According to some Native American scholars, a more holistic definition would refer to a balance among ones’ culture, community and self, with a focus on the whole person including mind, body, emotion, and spirit. A holistic definition of self-regulation in some Native communities might include an emphasis on community mindedness, interconnectedness, balance, and vision.
  • Although each community and culture is unique and different, Native scholars concur that American Indian and Alaska Native peoples traditionally lived by values that encouraged living in respect, beauty, balance and harmony.
  • Traditional child-rearing practices of Native people include many cultural activities that require physical fitness, the ability to adapt quickly to change, encourage perseverance, and the ability to focus and learn from watching closely and imitating the actions of elders, which may all contribute to the development of self-regulation.
  • Although “self-regulation” is a construct that needs clarification and reinterpretation as Native peoples consider its potential usefulness, it may be relevant in many ways, including enhancing the understanding of current and historical challenges within Native communities and providing understanding of and affirmation for traditional cultural beliefs, values, and practices including Native language that may help to protect against further disruption and support cultural reclamation and revitalization efforts.


Tsethlikai, M., Murray, D.W., Meyer, A.M., & Sparrow, J. (2018). Reflections on the Relevance of “Self-Regulation” for Native Communities. OPRE Brief #2018-64. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, US. Department of Health and Human Services.


The act of managing thoughts and feelings to enable goal-directed actions.
The supportive process between caring adults and children, youth, or young adults that fosters self-regulation development.
Current as of: