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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development
involved in emotion regulation comes from studies using parent and teacher questionnaires and observational tasks (i.e., not peeking while an experimenter wraps a present for you) involving behaviors that should reflect these competencies. There is very little evidence as yet that relates data obtained from these methods to activity in the anterior cingulate or other areas in the frontal lobes. Thus, the link to brain development is still only a theoretical one.
Children develop effortful control competencies gradually over the preschool years, and the full expression of these competencies requires development that extends into adolescence. From early in their development, some children seem to be better at effortful control than others, and there appears to be reasonable stability in this aspect of temperament and regulatory capacity (Kochanska et al., 2000). There is also growing evidence that individual differences in these capacities have meaningful implications for several aspects of early development that parents and others who work with young children care a great deal about. For example, young children who are higher on measures of effortful control tend to perform better on measures of early conscience and moral behavior (Kochanska et al., 1996, 1997). Conversely, infants and young children who have difficulties with inhibiting more compelling, negative impulses also tend to elicit aversive responses from others which, in turn, recreate precisely the kinds of experiences that lead to impulsive and negative behaviors (Rothbart and Bates, 1998). Not surprisingly, children who are not good at effortful control have a hard time with peer relations (see Chapter 7). In each of these examples, the response biases that come with a young child's unique temperamental profile provide the intrinsic context within which developing capacities for self-regulation emerge.
In sum, self-regulatory skills have important implications for how well children negotiate many other tasks of early childhood. Identifying and intervening with children who need extra help in developing these competencies may be important. However, determining who really needs help, as opposed to just more time to grow up, may be difficult. Furthermore, it seems possible that children who have more to regulate (i.e., those who are more exuberant and more active, more anxious and inhibited) may appear to be delayed or deficient in self-regulatory abilities, when in fact they are not. They may simply need to reach more mature levels of these abilities to be able to adequately manage who they are.
REGULATION OF ATTENTION AND EXECUTIVE FUNCTION
Just as infants and young children must learn to control their emotions, they must also learn to control behavior and regulate mental processes. The ability to think, retrieve, and remember information, solve problems,