Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Language Skills Help Boys Develop Self-Regulation

Many a parent of a toddler has encouraged their child to "use your words" in dealing with a problem or request, instead of crying, acting out, or whining. It turns out that teaching toddlers to "use their words" is especially useful in helping boys develop self-regulation. A recent study published in Early Childhood Research Quarterly found that language skills are more important in the development of self-regulation skills in young boys than young girls.

The study looked at children as they developed from age 1 to 3. As previous research has shown, this study replicated the finding that language skills, particularly vocabulary, helps kids regulate their emotions and behavior. Research has often found that girls are typically more advanced in their language skills, and thus self-regulation skills, at this young age. What was different about this study, however, is that it showed that toddler boys with strong language skills can be as skilled in self-regulation as girls at this age.

What's so important about self-regulation? Well, besides the obvious encounters in daily life (e.g., not running out in the street), self-regulation has been highlighted as one of the key aspects to success in school, career, and life. Ellen Galinsky in her book Mind in the Making, lists focus and self-control as one of the 7 essential skills kids need to learn in order to be successful. She states the following about these crucial skills,

"Focus and self control involve many executive functions of the brain, such as paying attention, remembering the rules, and inhibiting one’s initial response to achieve a larger goal. Scientists call these executive functions because these are the brain functions we use to manage our attention, our emotions, and our behavior in pursuit of our goals. Many scientists now believe that executive functions predict children’s success as well as—if not better than—IQ tests."
So it seems the early development of self-regulation skills can only help our children as they move through life.

I remember when my son (now 4) was a toddler and how language helped him with self-regulation. He started to learn that certain items were off-limits (e.g., trash can, toilet bowl) and when he got close to them he would say "no, no." This "self-talk" is the early stages of this development of self-regulation. He had heard his dad and I say "no" to these items enough that he had begun to internalize it. Of course, at this age, he was not always successful in staying away from these items, but at least he was learning. As he learned more and more vocabulary he was able to say what he needed or wanted, as well as continue this internal dialog to help control his actions. I think it is helpful to know that boys really are able to learn language skills to help self-regulation at the same level as girls. Although girls usually have a natural tendency to pick up language earlier, it is important to encourage language skills as much as possible with boys too.

This post originally appeared on The Thoughtful Parent
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