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

Publication Date: March 18, 2019
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Toddlers are rapidly developing movement and language abilities that help them interact with their surroundings. They may go through changes from infant to toddler care settings, or from younger to older toddler childcare rooms, which bring new people, new schedules, and new expectations.


This resource provides tips to help caregivers use co-regulation to support early development of self-regulation skills in toddlers 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 toddlers 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.
    5. Work closely with parents.
    6. Create a sense of community.

  • Toddlers depend on adults as a source of comfort and safety, particularly during times of transition or distress.
  • Toddlers begin to use basic self-regulation skills, such as focusing their attention and adjusting their behavior to reach goals. They can also learn how to wait for short periods and use simple words to tell others what they need.
  • Toddlers’ ability to follow rules and directions is limited, and they need external structure and support to be able to control their impulses and calm down when upset.
  • Positive relationships with caregivers are essential for cultivating emerging self-regulation skills.


Pahigiannis, K., Rosanbalm, K. and Murray, D. W. (2019). Supporting the Development of Self-Regulation in Young Children: Tips for Practitioners Working with Toddlers (1-2 years old) in Classroom Settings. OPRE Brief #2019-28. 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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