Promoting Self-Regulation in the First Five Years: A Practice Brief

Publication Date: January 5, 2018

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Early childhood is a period of rapid brain development that paves the way for growth of self-regulation skills. Intentional work by adults to promote self-regulation capacity early in the lives of children can help children to develop critical skills like attentional control, problem-solving, and coping strategies for managing distressing environmental or emotional experiences.


This brief provides information about self-regulation development in the first five years of life. It is designed for early childhood leaders such as program administrators. The brief is based on work conducted by the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy for the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), described in a series of four reports referenced throughout the brief.

Key Findings and Highlights

  • Self-regulation plays a fundamental role in wellbeing, and the first five years of life are foundational in building skills that can last a lifetime.
  • Comprehensive interventions and environmental supports using a self-regulation framework can produce broad, substantive changes in both child self-regulation and caregiver co-regulation skills.
  • Applied systematically and proactively, self-regulation support can promote a solid foundation in skills needed for social, emotional, behavioral, and academic success during the school years.
  • Early investment in self-regulation development is expected to pay dividends in self-regulation capacity and outcomes across the lifespan.

  • Because stronger self-regulation is associated with higher income, better financial planning, lower rates of substance use and violence, and decreased long-term health costs, self-regulation investment has the potential to help build healthier communities for our families.


Rosanbalm, K.D., & Murray, D.W. (2017). Promoting Self-Regulation in Early Childhood: A Practice Brief. OPRE Brief #2017-79. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, US. 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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