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At-Risk Children who Display Self-Regulation of Behavior have Better Academic Performance

A new study to be published in Early Childhood Research Quarterly by Michaella Sektnan reveals that at-risk children who are better able to control their impulsive thoughts and behaviors have better academic performance in reading, mathematics, and vocabulary. Sektnan used data on 1,298 children from birth through the first grade from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development. “Family risk” in the data was defined by ethnic minority status, low maternal education, low family income and chronic depressive symptoms in the mother.

“We know that these risk factors can lead to a gap in academic achievement,” Sektnan said. “The relationship to risks such as poverty, ethnic status, and maternal education has been well-documented. What we wanted to know was, controlling for these factors, does self-regulation make a difference?”

It turns out the answer to that question is yes. Controlling for these risk factors, Sektnan found that children whose parents and teachers reported that they had strong self-regulation in preschool and kindergarten did significantly better on math, reading and vocabulary at the end of first grade.

“For all outcomes, higher self-regulation was related to higher reading, math and vocabulary, regardless of which risk factor was present,” Sektnan said. “This builds on the increasing body of knowledge about the need to develop self-regulation skills in young children.”

Megan McClelland, an associate professor at OSU who supervised Sektnan on this project, states “Self-regulation is not just about compliance or being obedient,” McClelland said. “It’s about a very basic, but very necessary skill: being able to listen and pay attention, think, and then act. The message to parents may be to put down the flash cards and see if another approach, like playing a simple game of ‘Simon Says’ works better.”

Alan Acock of OSU and Frederick Morrison of the University of Michigan assisted on this study, which included funding support from the National Institute of Child and Human Development and the National Science Foundation.

Journal Reference:

  1. Michaella Sektnan, Megan M. McClelland, Alan Acock, Frederick J. Morrison. Relations between early family risk, children’s behavioral regulation, and academic achievement. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 2010; DOI: 10.1016/j.ecresq.2010.02.005

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