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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development
tions around like a talisman can be very destructive to oneself and others. Mobilizing efforts to explore a new problem or situation is very important and useful; staying mobilized while working on a problem to the point of exhaustion and collapse is unhealthy. Adequate adaptation and development require reaction and regulation. Infants and young children are often good at the reaction part, but need help with regulation. Children increasingly develop the ability to regulate their reactions, particularly in supportive environments. To reiterate one of our core concepts, development may be viewed as an increasing capacity for self-regulation, seen particularly in the child's ability to function more independently in a personal and social context.
Reaction and regulation can be seen in all aspects of life, from the capacity to work harder when one is rested better to the capacity to fight diseases better when one is able to both turn on and turn off the immune system more efficiently. Regulation in early development is deeply embedded in the child's relations with others. In caring for infants, parents are acting as extensions of their internal regulatory systems. Establishing the connection between parent and child can be seen as the basic task of the early months of life. Making that connection is not always easy, however. It requires the ability to read and understand the baby's needs and the knowledge, energy, and resources to respond in ways that are helpful. Providing the experiences that allow children to take over and self-regulate in one aspect of their lives after another is a very general description of the job of parents, teachers, and protectors of children that extends throughout early childhood and into the adolescent years. The first step in the earliest days of children's lives is to establish regulatory connections with them and then gradually shift the responsibility of regulation over to them in the day-to-day domains of sleeping, waking, and soothing.
In this chapter, the development of self-regulation is profiled with respect to managing physiological arousal, emotions, and attention. These are fundamental tasks for the early years, but they entail very different influences and developmental processes. The reason for considering each a component of developing self-regulation is that these are the earliest ways that infants and toddlers learn to manage themselves and begin to acquire the behavioral, emotional, and cognitive self-control that is essential to competent functioning throughout life (Bronson, 2000; Kopp, 2000). Each is important also because it reflects the growing maturity and integration of several brain areas (particularly in the frontal regions) that enable increased self-monitoring and deliberate inhibition of undesired behavior (Diamond, 1996; Diamond and Taylor, 1996; Diamond et al., 1994).
These neurobiological changes are consistent with the common observation that, between birth and age 6, children become increasingly proficient at exercising self-control and applying rules consistently to their own