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The Science Behind Self-Regulation and It's Importance in Creating a Sound Learning Environment

By Life Skills Group

Published 31 January 2017 08.54 AM

According to educational psychologist Dale Schunk, self-regulated learning refers to our ability to understand and control our learning environments. To do so, learners need to set goals, select strategies that help achieve those goals, implement strategies, and monitor their progress towards those goals. In a classroom setting, teachers can use their observations and guidance of students’ self-regulation to create a sound learning environment.

By developing an understanding of self-regulation, teachers will be able to design better tasks, create more directed and individualised assessment and reporting, better monitor wellbeing and help students to develop life skills.


Learning that is guided by metacognition relies on the student having the ability to self-regulate, but also gives valuable opportunities for learners to develop self-regulation skills in order to process, priorities and be persistent and resilient. Children learn self-regulation so that they can respond to their environment and make effective choices, and communicate effectively.

Designing tasks with development of these skills in mind will not only help students achieve success in their growth and progress, but will also give them skills they can utilise and extend throughout their lives. For earlier childhood education, teachers can use simple gestures and directions to provide their students with cues to regulate their emotions, behaviour and attention. Also, modelling behaviours and tasks will allow children to mimic responses and behaviours which will help them develop their own. In older students, self-regulation skills are crucial to manage the demands and deadlines of school and extracurricular commitments. Teenagers’ minds are full of school, friends, identity, decision-making, and new responsibilities and accountability. Their bodies are changing and their brains are developing. Teens have to think about moral and ethical dilemmas and face daily challenges. Teenagers’ brains are incredibly malleable though, so self-regulation can be taught and modelled. In a study on self-regulation, Harvard Centre on the Developing Child said encouraging teenagers to set and monitor goals, use positive self-talk, and participate in activities such as sport, yoga, music and theatre will help develop mental flexibility to enhance their ability to self-regulate.


Monitoring student progress through assessment and reporting is crucial for children’s development. By scaffolding activities and tasks and providing criterion for assessment, students will be able to set a standard they wish to achieve, thus learning to self-regulate and look ahead to accomplishing future goals.

Regular assessment and reporting on student progress is crucial for students’ to understand their development and learning; without this, students have nowhere to aim. Positive feedback and constructive criticism will help children gain self-awareness, giving them the opportunity to set and achieve realistic goals.


Self-regulation is central to a child’s capacity to learn. Their wellbeing is also integral to learning, growth and development.

In a recent study, Dr. Stuart Shanker identified six critical elements required for optimal self-regulation. They were: when you are feeling calmly focused and alert, become aware that you are calm and alert; when you are stressed, develop the ability to recognise what is causing the stress; recognise stressors both within and outside the classroom, develop the ability and strategies to deal with those stressors; develop the ability to recover efficiently and effectively from dealing with stressors.

Self-regulation and positive self-talk will help children to keep focused on their goals and teachers modelling this behaviour in the classroom are imperative to this process. By having achievable goals and learning to deal with stress, a child’s wellbeing will improve exponentially.


When writing about self-regulation in adults, Jan Johnson, President of Learning in Action Technologies, said “Self-Regulation is the core emotional intelligence capacity that we all call upon in our daily lives in any situation that causes discomfort. These conscious or unconscious mechanisms reduce our level of distress and pain and re-establish our equilibrium... Using self-soothing strategies is part of the human condition. The goal is to expand our window of tolerance and move towards conscious choice.”

To develop and maintain healthy relationships, self-regulation is key. By teaching children in the classroom how to gain these skills, we are giving them a positive start in life and setting them on a road to success.

Self-regulation gives children valuable skills and self-awareness, which will improve their behaviour, learning, emotional connections with others, as well as an understanding of themselves.

Needing some extra help with teaching your student or child Life Skills? Request a quote today and one of our relationship managers will be in touch shortly to help find the best solution for you. Also, don’t forget to connect with us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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Life Skills Group is Australia’s market leader in curriculum-based social emotional and physical learning programs for students and educators.

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