Self-Regulation Print or save as PDF

How is it defined?

Self-regulation is the “conscious control of thoughts, behaviors and emotions” (McClelland & Tominey, 2016, p. 4). It goes hand-in-hand with executive function, which refers to a set of processes that enable children and adults to adapt to the demands of their context in a flexible way, especially when there are competing distractions. For the classroom teacher, the two most important executive functions are inhibitory control and attentional flexibility. Educators can help develop their students’ ability to self-regulate, thereby allowing them to better adapt to the demands of the classroom (Pandey et al., 2018).

Why is it important?

  • Self-regulation skills are necessary for students to thrive in both social and educational settings (McClelland & Cameron, 2012).
  • A students’ ability to self-regulate impacts reading comprehension (Gerst, Cirino, Fletcher, & Yoshida, 2015), spelling (Dekker, Ziermans, Spruijt, & Swaab, 2017) and math skills (Gerst et al., 2015; Dekker et al., 2017).
  • Early childhood self-regulation predicts long-term academic achievement and educational attainment, including completion of post-secondary studies (McClelland, Acock, Piccinin, Rhea, & Stallings, 2013).
  • Curriculum-based self-regulation interventions in schools can have a positive effect on student health, educational, and social outcomes (Pandey et al., 2018).

How do we measure it?

In the OurSCHOOL Secondary school survey, students respond to Likert questions pertaining to students’ ability to consciously control emotions and behaviours and maintain focus on a task. The data are scaled on a 10-point scale, and students with a score greater than or equal to 6 (i.e., slightly higher than neutral) are considered to have ‘positive self-regulation’. The results are reported as “the percentage of students with self-regulation.”


Dekker, M. C., Ziermans, T. B., Spruijt, A. M., & Swaab, H. (2017). Cognitive, parent and teacher rating measures of executive functioning: Shared and unique influences on school achievement. Frontiers in Psychology 8(48). doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00048

Gerst, E. H., Cirino, P. T., Fletcher, J. M., & Yoshida, H. (2015). Cognitive and behavioral rating measures of executive function as predictors of academic outcomes in children. Child Neuropsychology, 23(4), 381–407.

McClelland, M. M., & Cameron, C. E. (2012). Self-regulation in early childhood: Improving conceptual clarity and developing ecologically valid measures. Child Development Perspectives, 6(2), 136–142.

McClelland, M. M., Acock, A. C., Piccinin, A., Rhea, S. A., & Stallings, M. C. (2013). Relations between preschool attention span-persistence and age 25 educational outcomes. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 28(2), 314–324.

McClelland, M. M., & Tominey, S. L. (2016). Stop, think, act: Integrating self-regulation in the early childhood classroom. New York: Routledge.

Pandey, A., Hale, D., Das, S., Goddings, A. L., Blakemore, S. J., & Viner, R. M. (2018). Effectiveness of universal self-regulation–based interventions in children and adolescents: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Pediatrics, 172(6), 566-575.