“Self-regulation – the ability of a system or being to take steps in order to keep itself in balance”. This may apply to businesses, organisations and individuals.
When I was at university, I knew exactly why I wanted to get my degree qualifications in psychology – I liked ‘working out’ how other people think, what makes them behave the way they do, and so on. Someone mentioned that there was a rising demand for teenage counsellors, an area which interested me the most, so that was where my path was heading to.
Once I started a family and had my own children however, my thinking shifted. It dawned on me that it is the first 5 years of a child’s life that is actually the most crucial period – there was no need to wait and try to ‘fix’ our children when they reach their teens – what they experience and learn, from birth to pre-school, were likely to have vast long-term effects in all aspects of their development in subsequent years.
Professor Shanker, a research professor in Philosophy and Psychology, states that, with regards to children’s emotional, social and cognitive development, self-regulation is one of the key indicator of a child’s healthy growth, affecting her or his ability to learn and develop positive habits in later years. The early years are crucial as it becomes more difficult to alter children’s education and life outcomes once they reach Kindy or Grade 1 (Shanker, 2009, Developmental Pathways: Scaffolding for Early Learners)
Shanker (2012) emphasises that self-regulation is a learnt behaviour and does not happen naturally as a child matures. As in many learning opportunities, a child learns to self-regulate, such as emotionally staying calm and alert, or being able to delay gratification, through observing the behaviour and responses of trusted adults around them.
So when I am in class teaching music to children, whether they are babies under 1 year old, or 6-year olds learning to play the keyboard for the first time, I always keep in mind what and how we can practise self-regulation in varied, fun and challenging ways. When we are doing a particular activity, I ask myself what is the end purpose of this activity, how can we enhance this so that a child benefits not just musically, but also in learning how to manage behaviour?
Music is such a natural, easy way to help children to self-regulate. Playing games like ‘Stop & Go’, or singing songs like ‘Who’s that knocking on the Window’, or dancing to ‘Piggy Jig’ (where you follow a series of movements) – . – all are activities that require children to stop and listen, to delay an expected response and wait for a cue, and to anticipate what is going to happen next.
Without realising it, children develop sound self-regulatory habits simply through playing, dancing, singing and moving to music. Even poems such as ‘Round and round the garden’ and ‘Five Little Peas’, or quiet songs like ‘The Water is Wide’ exposes children to predictive patterns that help them wait and stop before giving a response.
In our class, I am constantly filled with gratitude as days, weeks, months and even years pass – and I get to watch how our children evolve and develop solid self-regulating habits. Each have their own endearing quirks and personality traits (who wouldn’t want that!), each have quiet or loud ways to express themselves, each have their own dance moves and individual ways to respond to a stimuli.
But each child is learning to self-regulate effortlessly. As a mum and a music instructor, it is infinitely more satisfying to help children now in their formative years than in later years, to open their young heart, brain and body to the positive, wonderful and long-lasting impact of music.