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Supporting self-regulation in the early years

Amanda Quirk is an early years teacher and leader with over 30 years’ experience working with children 0 -5, early years teachers and educators in PVIs and schools.

Amanda currently works as EYFS Lead for the Liverpool City Region and Beyond Early Years Stronger Practice Hub, is EYFS lead for Generate Teaching School, and is an area lead for the DFE Experts and Mentors programme. 
In my role I am lucky enough to be out and about the North West, supporting many early years’ practitioners, leaders and managers. Working with young children post COVID has brought some even bigger challenges to us all. One current issue I have observed and I hear about is children who lack basic social skills, have poor emotional regulation, no impulse control, lack focus and are unable to adapt to different situations. These behaviours are closed aligned to self-regulation. 
I am not alone in worrying about this trend and what it may mean in the future for these children.  
The Early Years Foundation Stage statutory framework for group and school-based providers. January 2024, states. ‘Children should be supported to manage emotions, develop a positive sense of self, set themselves simple goals, have confidence in their own abilities, to persist and wait for what they want and direct attention as necessary.’ 

Self-regulation is what makes self-control possible. 

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Without the skills linked to self-regulation, there is an inability to manage oneself and to control actions linked to strong emotions and feelings. This could lead to conflict with peers and adults, a brake down in friendships, and may become a barrier to learning.


As early year’s educators, we are fortunate, in that we have a chance to work with children at their most receptive and responsive.  This thought always gives me hope and the belief that in early years, we can be arbiters of change.  The OFSTED report ‘Best Start in Life Part 2’ makes clear the research that supports links between strong PSED skills and academic success (follow the link below)

Here are 3 key strategies that research advocates in supporting young children to start better self-regulation:


  1. Help children to name a range of different emotions. Use yourself, books and stores, pictures, mirror play, photographs and role play to name and recognise different emotions and feelings with children to extend their vocabulary.



  1. Help children to understand these different emotions. Talk about how different emotions look or feel like in order to help children better understand themselves. Model a range of feelings and emotions and how to deal with them. : Be a role model by demonstrating positive behaviours. Encourage empathy and understanding by discussing feelings and emotions with children, helping them develop their language and emotional intelligence.


  1. Co regulation before self-regulation. Initially narrate the problem and possible solutions with children, then gradually move on to coaching children through real life events that will help to develop language and strategies available to them independently.


The good news is that we can teach self-regulation skills, and they can be learnt. The tools and resources you use may not cost a lot but will have a big impact on the lives of the children in your setting. If we help children to identify their emotions and teach strategies to help children to cope with how they are feeling or what is happening, we will be giving the life-long gift of being able to achieve goals and navigate life’s challenges.


For further information and reading, please click the links below.

OFSTED Research and analysis. Best Start in Life Part 2

Best start in life part 2: the 3 prime areas of learning - GOV.UK (

EEF. Personal Social and Emotional Development. Approaches and practices to support Personal, Social and Emotional development in the Early Years

EEF | Personal Social and Emotional Development (

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