Education Endowment Foundation:Empowering parents: Nurturing self-regulation in the early years

Empowering parents: Nurturing self-regulation in the early years

Ruth Coleman
Ruth Coleman

Ruth Coleman is the Headteacher at Highfield Nursery School in Ipswich and leads the East of England Stronger Practice Hub.

Blog •3 minutes •

Sinead looks flustered as she drops her daughter Aoife off 35 minutes after the start of the session. She shrugs and says It was a battle again, sorry we are late…she wanted one thing for breakfast, then another – the clothes I’d put out weren’t right…”. The manager, Katherine, smiles and tells Sinead she is happy to see them both. She offers Sinead a cup of tea and a chance to catch her breath in the office.

Early educators are in the perfect position to support parents in navigating the typical challenges many face as young children develop self-regulation skills.

In the EEF’s Working with Parents to Support Children’s Learning guidance report, recommendation 4 highlights the importance of building parents’ efficacy and understanding of the difference they can make.

Clear expectations from the start

At Highfield, we build trusting relationships with children and their families from the very start. During their first induction evening, we help parents understand our approach to building strong bonds between children and their key person. These secure attachments with adults and co-regulation (where adults and children work together to manage difficult feelings and situations) help children to learn and practice self-regulation strategies.

Home visits

The guidance report also tells us that home visits can be particularly important for children from lower-income homes. We offer all children a home visit. We use this to tap into parents’ expertise and get to know the whole’ child: who they spend time with and where, their interests and parents’ aspirations for their child.

Parents as partners

We help parents understand what self-regulation and executive function can look like in young children. We work together to help them develop practical strategies that they could use at home.

A typical example is supporting children with regulating their thoughts and behaviours to take turns. We explain to parents that our approach includes:

  • Clarifying what the child wants (ie: a turn of the tricycle),
  • Modelling language and strategies to communicate their wants with others (such as asking for a turn when their friend has finished),
  • Supporting them while waiting (for example, redirecting their attention or using sand timers).

Our work with parents is gradual, collaborative, and respectful. We are clear with parents there is no such thing as a quick fix’ or a one size fits all’ solution to building self-regulation in young children.

In the office, Sinead expresses her upset and confusion about how best to support Aoife. Katherine listens carefully to Sinead. She assures Sinead that many children struggle with managing strong feelings and developing a sense of independence.

Sinead tells Katherine more about their morning routine. With this information, Katherine helps to guide Sinead towards one simple strategy to test out over the coming days: for example offering Aoife a choice of two things for breakfast that have already been selected from the cupboard.

The time we take to help build parents’ confidence and self-efficacy can have a significant impact on their children’s future success. Starting with simple, actionable strategies may help to increase parents’ confidence, whatever their starting points:

A consistent approach to daily routines can help children understand what is happening and what to expect;

A consistent approach to boundaries, so children know what to expect and parents trust their own judgement in how to respond;

Offering children a choice from pre-selected options supports their developing autonomy in a manageable way.

Further reading:

EEF’s Working with Parents Guidance Report

The Early Intervention Foundation Report: Laying the Foundations- Supporting Children’s Self-Regulation