We know that during the first 5 years of life, there is significant brain development. However, some areas of the brain are slower to mature than others. One such area is the prefrontal cortex, which is the center for executive function. This is why young children often have difficulty with emotional and impulse control.
But, some of the features of executive function can be encouraged and groomed, even with preschoolers! These features would include the working or short-term memory, self-regulation of actions, and ability to focus attention. This can be done by means of direct teaching, practice, and support.
Just how important is the development of self-control in the early years? Well, according to research, it carries a load of significance. Preschoolers who are encouraged to exhibit self-regulation are more likely to avoid risky behaviors as adolescents and to experience more success in school.
So, when is a good time to start supporting self-regulation? Preschoolers begin to get a handle on their behavior and emotions between the ages of 3 and 7. Parents and teachers can take advantage of this active stage of brain development and help guide things in the right direction. We can gently push the message that they can focus their attention, interact with their peers in more positive ways, and be better listeners if they think about what they’re doing and purposefully take control of things.
Now, that sounds like a tall order for a little child, but if we break it down into a few do-able strategies, we can make some headway....