In addition to general societal trends that make the development of self-regulation less likely in some children, there are also many myths about self-regulation. These myths, which are shared by many educators and administrators, translate into practices that stand in the way of effective classroom instruction that would support children’s development of self-regulation.
Myth: The children are simply very young. Most children will grow out of impulsive behaviors on their own.
Current practice in response to the myth: Teachers wait for children to develop self-regulation on their own.
Results in the classroom: Classrooms are chaotic and unmanageable. Children then practice being impulsive instead of learning ways to master their own behavior. Some children never develop satisfactory self-regulation, which leads to greater problems later in their school careers.
Myth: The children have a medical condition such as ADHD, and consequently cannot develop self-regulation.
Current practice in response to the myth: Although some children actually do have the medical condition of ADHD, many children are wrongly labeled with it. This over identification leads to the possible use of medication when it is not warranted. Often teachers do not feel that they can do anything for these children except send them to special education.
Results in the classroom: Children who do not need medication are often given it. Children are still not taught strategies that would help them learn to control attention and thinking, helping them to master their mental behavior. In other words, the root academic problem has not been addressed.
Myth: The children are just bullies and have aggressive personalities that cannot be changed.
Current practice in response to the myth: Many early childhood programs copy high school and middle school “zero tolerance” policies and institute a “three strikes and you’re out” rule. This leads to preschool children being expelled for things such as hitting or biting.
Result in the classroom: Preschool and kindergarten children are being expelled at alarming rates. In fact, some preschools expel children at a rate that is 15 times higher than that of older children. Once expelled, these children have even fewer opportunities to learn self-regulation. Many children just move from program to program.
Myth: Children learn to regulate themselves if the teacher controls everything that children do.
Current practice in response to the myth: More and more activities in preschool and kindergarten are teacher-directed activities and conducted in large groups.
Result in the classroom: Children are “teacher-regulated,” not “self-regulated.” When the teacher is not directing everything, as in later elementary grades where children are expected to work independently, the children cannot work without total supervision. Children look well behaved, but only when supervised by adults. Children have not learned the self-regulation necessary to become independent learners.
Myth: Parents are the primary culprits. If they did a better job of raising children, we wouldn’t have problems with self-regulation.
Current practice in response to the myth: Teachers blame the parents. This leads to the idea that “there is nothing I can do,” so children are allowed to continue to be un-regulated. Teachers may send home literature or suggest parenting classes, which are usually unsuccessful at creating the conditions for change.
Result in the classroom: Children are still not taught the tools to help them become self-regulated. Parents and teachers become extremely frustrated.