Self-regulation, a buzz word in education, has received a lot of attention as educators notice the increasing inability for students to regulate their emotions in a variety of situations. Self-regulation is defined as the ability to “monitor, evaluate, and modify one’s emotions” to suit the activity; understand and engage positively in social situations; and demonstrate empathy towards others (Shanker, 2013, p. x).
Self-regulation is viewed as essential for students to be successful at school and at home. Encouraging children to develop the skills of self-regulation makes it more likely that they will address life’s challenges more successfully (Shanker, 2013, p. x).
Children engaging in free play are doing so by choice. Therefore, they are intrinsically motivated to continue the play and will do their best to ensure that all players involved will sustain the play as well. “To do that, they engage in a sophisticated dance, matching their own intrinsic interests/goals in the games while being sensitive to the interests of others […]” (Shanker, 2013, p. 49). During free play, some children encounter more disagreements than others. It is these disagreements that provide important opportunities to practice problem solving and self-regulation. The children who engage in more disagreements than others are the children who precisely need more free play, not less, to encourage the development of necessary social and emotional skills. It is most beneficial for cognitive development when adults monitoring the play do not jump in to fix the situation. Rather, adults must allow enough time for the children to attempt to problem solve the situation independently. Only when the situation escalates should adults intervene. During the intervention adults should guide the children through problem solving, not solve the problem for the children. Children who are provided opportunities to work out disagreements and to problem solve independently develop a “can do” attitude, self-confidence, and self-worth. It is important that educators and parents recognize the cognitive value of play in developing functioning children and future adults (Shanker, 2013, pp. 49-50).
Shanker, S. (2013). Calm, alert, and learning: Classroom strategies for self-regulation. Toronto, Ontario: Pearson Canada, Inc.