Supporting the Development of Self-Regulation in Young Children: Tips for Practitioners Working with Preschool Children in Classroom Settings

Publication Date: March 18, 2019
Cover Preschool Toxic Stress

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The preschool period in a child’s life is full of new experiences, new expectations, and new opportunities to build relationships. Children in this age group have great potential to develop their self-regulation skills with specific instruction, support, and scaffolding from caring adults.


This resource provides tips to help caregivers use co-regulation to support early development of self-regulation skills in preschool children in classroom settings. This is one of four early childhood practitioner tip sheets. For each of four groups of early childhood practitioners (i.e., those working with infants in childcare settings; those working with toddlers in classroom settings; those working with preschool children in classroom settings; and those working in home settings), these tip sheets provide the following: a review of key concepts related to self-regulation; a listing of the skills developing in that age group; six co-regulation tips for caregivers to support the specific self-regulation skills developing at each age; and specific details within each of the six co-regulation tips. Caregivers can use the tips provided within each resource to support the specific self-regulation skills developing at each age. Most of the material is based on the reports and briefs in the Self-Regulation and Toxic Stress Series (/opre/research/project/ toxic-stress-and-self-regulation-reports) prepared for the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) by the Duke Center for Family Policy and the UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute.


  • Six sets of tips are provided for practitioners working with preschool children in classroom settings:
    1. Start with you.
    2. Establish a warm and responsive relationship with each child.
    3. Create calm and structured childcare environments.
    4. Respond with warmth and structure during stressful moments and teach children how to solve problems.
    5. Work closely with parents.
    6. Create a sense of community.
  • Preschool children can focus their attention on short, simple tasks, and become better able to control impulses and wait for longer periods.
  • The actions of preschool children become shaped more by rules and goals and they are better able to understand other perspectives (a key component of empathy).
  • The increasing language skills of preschool children help them to calm down and solve problems.
  • Emotions are powerful drivers of behavior at this age and children need significant external structure and reinforcement to manage strong feelings and follow rules and directions.
  • Positive relationships with caregivers are essential for cultivating preschoolers’ expanding skill sets.


Pahigiannis, K., Rosanbalm, K. and Murray, D. W. (2019). Supporting the Development of Self-Regulation in Young Children: Tips for Practitioners Working with Preschool Children (3-5 years old) in Classroom Settings. OPRE Brief #2019-29. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. 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.
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