The developmental stage of middle childhood promotes many changes to a child’s life. At this stage, the majority of children can successfully engage with a range of everyday practices that may involve areas pertaining to the use of problem solving skills, decision making and motor movement. Posner & Rothbart (2000) reinforce that during middle childhood the development of a child’s independence is forming from their engagement with a range of social situations and circumstances. Opportunities such as venturing into the higher levels of primary education and gaining more responsibilities enable children at this age to engage in regular contact with the larger world. Gradually social connections and friendships become more important and the development of emotional, social, and mental skills adapt to suit such self-governance (Posner & Rothbart, 2000).
According to Heckhausen & Dweck (1998), it is during the middle years of childhood that children start to further develop cognitive strategies as to advance their control of their emotions and impulses. Children learn to maintain different moral/ethical standards and start directing and monitoring their cognitive and behavioural response patterns in their recognition of certain self-set goals and social expectations (Mischel & Ayduk, 2002). In light of such lifespan progression, the self-governed areas of impulse control, emotional stability, meta-cognition and the ability to uphold social expectation and moral standards represent the diverse aspects that interrelate to support one of middle childhood’s key developmental elements known as self-regulation (Zimmerman, 2000).
Self-regulation can be seen as a foundational element in defining what it means to be human and encompasses the underlying abilities of decision-making, higher-order thinking and morality (Raffaelli, Crockett & Yuh-Ling, 2005). Thus, self-regulatory capacities can be seen as essential beyond that of middle childhood. Our need for complex and adaptive regulatory processes that allow us to maintain and further develop ourselves as to better suit a range of social, environmental and expressive conditions means that the development of self-regulation is promoted in our development of independence, and therefore our progression through middle childhood and into the older stages of life.
Middle childhood is reinforced as a stage of development that is especially significant in shaping the content and function of a child’s self-regulatory processing (Cicchetti & Tucker, 1994). Between the ages of 6 and 12, most children begin having extensive contact with society and thus intensify their efforts to come to terms with their own goals, as well as the needs of others in their social environments. They become less egocentric and better able to empathise and take the perspective of another person into consideration; which therefore makes them increasingly sensitive to the views of others and to social, as opposed to material, reinforcers. Additionally, their repertoire of concepts and skills continue to grow at a rapid rate; from which the acquisition of a variety of intellectual, social, artistic and athletic skills constructively provide new domains for self-regulation.
The theoretical concept of self-regulation is interrelated to an increasing set of self-governing variables (Posner & Rothbart, 2000). The diversity of self-governance has promoted studies that examine theoretical connections to development variables ranging between that of self-concept, self-esteem, self-awareness, self-evaluation, self-consciousness and even self-management. As a result, this surge of research has engaged a deeper level of interest into understanding the self through the collection of empirical evidence and the investigation of theoretical models of theorists such as Rosenberg (1979), Lynch et al. (1982) and Bandura (1986).
The influence of the defining characteristics of middle childhood on the development of self regulation is dealt with by many major developmental theorists, although their views are often conflicting. From a Freudian perspective, middle childhood is perceived as a period of self-discovery and independence which, in comparison to the earlier stages of development, children are able to become progressively free from the governance of the id (Freud, 1961). Middle childhood is consequently recognised as the age of the ego – A time of wider socialisation and personal exploration that prompts the child to move beyond that of a reliance on the family and turn to the outside world for self-support and guidance. It is this phase of development that allows one to become rapidly knowledgeable and socialised as we start to scaffold and further enhance a new level of both ‘self’ and ‘social’ understanding that is necessary in becoming an effective member of society.
Contrastingly, Zimmerman (2000) stresses that the basis of self-regulation is more foundationally derived from an individual’s perception of others reactions to their behaviour. The development phase of Middle childhood is a time of critical analysis from which individuals become more aware of the evaluation of others. It is characterised more by one’s recognition and adaptation of response in light of a process of social self-reflection.
In acknowledging the cognitive development of children, and in reference to the work of Piaget (1952), middle childhood is defined as a time when children progressively become less egocentric and much more responsive to others. Essentially, it was theorised that the experiences that occur in this development period are a defining stage for children to develop their own views of themselves (E.g. being productive versus being inadequate etc). Subsequently, the acquisition of self regulation is often linked to the attainment of appreciation and self-worth from that of a socially-endorsed perspective (Zimmerman, 2000).
The paper ‘Developmental Stability and Change in Self-Regulation from Childhood to Adolescence’ by Raffaelli, Crockett, & Yuh-Ling (2005) examines the developmental course of self-regulation in a cohort of children from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. The paper was aimed at addressing four main focus questions:
What is the structure of self-regulation?
Do self-regulatory capacities increase over time?
Do individual differences in self-regulation stabilise during childhood? and;
Are there gender differences in the development of self-regulation?
The research of this paper reflects an investigation that examines the development of self-regulatory processes in a range of childhood stages – from early childhood to early adolescence. In reference to the assessment of self-regulation in middle childhood, the study sampled approximately 650 children aged between 8 and 9. The researchers utilised pre-conducted maternal-report items from a Behaviour Problems Inventory (BPI) to measure the regulation of affect, behaviour and attention across a three-point scale ranging from: ‘often true’ to ‘never true’. The analysed assessment items were completed by the mother of the child and were aimed at addressing a range of developmental aspects such as temper control, impulsivity, restlessness, confusion, independence etc.
The logic behind the use of this parent-derived data was that by periodically collecting these scaled-report items at the 3 foundational stages of child development (I.e. early childhood, middle childhood and adolescence) the researchers would be able to comparatively monitor the progressive development of self-regulatory processes and as a result better understand its developmental importance across the initial stages of the lifespan.
In examining the results, a factor analysis of the rated items revealed that the structure of self-regulatory development is an integrated construct of variables. That is, there were high inter-correlations between self-regulatory aspects (I.e. elements of emotional affect, attention regulation and behaviour regulation) which were indicative of different sub-components of self-regulations not being empirically distinct.
In addressing the question of whether self-regulatory capacities increase over time, the research examined the child’s development using a repeated measures ANOVA, which specified the rated items of self-regulation as the dependent variable and time intervals as the repeated factor. This analysis further supported a significant increase in self-regulation development during middle childhood (ages 8 to 9 years), with an approximate 45% increase in the recognition of the developmental aspects addressed in the report items during middle childhood, than in contrast to that of early childhood.
The collected data from the research also addressed the question of the stabilisation of self-regulation during childhood. The findings of the analysed correlation coefficients between the stages of development and the assigned measurement items highlighted a trend that the stability of individual differences increased over time. Furthermore by analysing the development of these items, the research also helped to identify how differences in areas such as impulsivity, attention and ego control can predict subsequent boundaries in self-regulation development – I.e. Higher levels of aggressive tendencies were indicative of a link between a slower stabilisation of the overall development of self-regulation.
In addressing the dynamics of self-regulatory development between genders, the study provided comparative evidence that females exhibited significantly higher levels of self-regulation than males over all 3 key development stages; but especially during the middle childhood phase. In reference to these findings the differences between genders was reinforced in comparative correlations which distinguished key differences in male development patterns, particularly in terms of higher levels of behavioural traits in aggressiveness and negative emotions such as anger and irritability – An area of examination which the researchers highlighted as being a possible element in delaying development in self-regulation.
In examining the interpretations of the results, there are evidently some limitations of the study that should be considered. One such restriction to the collection of the data was that the measure of self-regulation originated from a single reporter; the mother. Although the utilisation of parent-based observational reports are widely used in childhood studies and are recognised as being an empirically valuable means of assessing child behaviour and response patterns (Baumeister & Vohs, 2004), the reliance on a single and personally-related correspondent may have skewed the results.
In acknowledging the socially-developmental nature of middle childhood, the methodology used in the study could reflect a common method variance that doesn’t fully acknowledge a child’s response patterns in various social situations (E.g. school attendance) where the mother is not present. The stability of the specified self-regulatory processes may be more reliable in being observed on a shared-level basis. Future research should consider integrating multiple measures of self-regulation that are collected from multiple reporters or using multiple methods. The utilisation of such multi-method and reporter inclusion may prove to be important, especially in fully analysing self-regulation functions beyond that of a parent-perspective and into an everyday routine.
Another limitation of the study originates from the use of a collected dataset that wasn’t initially designed to target the developmental area of self-regulation. While there are a range of strengths in using the data collected from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) in the paper’s given research (E.g. sample size, sample consistency and the use of constant assessment items across time), the analysis and measure of self-regulation was not fully customised to suit the research and was limited to the items that were available in the given dataset. The BPI that was used to originally collect this data was aimed at assessing behavioural issues rather than that of foundational elements of self-regulation.
For that reason, this variation in the context of measurement may have also affected how the mothers responded to the scaled-inventory items and could possibly account for the various correlations of self-regulatory elements that were interpreted in the study.
Additionally, the number of items used to analyse the levels of self-regulatory behaviour reflected a relatively small collection of scaled-items. This consequently reveals a limited level of variable analysis, especially in comparison to the work of various childhood researchers examining self-regulation, who typically use a broader and more logically defined series of measures to best assess a child’s ability to self-regulate (Baumeister & Vohs, 2004).
The concept of ‘self-regulation’ is now recognised as a critical aspect and defining factor of individual development across the lifespan (Zimmerman, 2000). Despite the highlighted restrictions, the presented study helps to support and append current literature and research in developmental psychology through a detailed analysis of a large-scale and long-term investigation of self-regulatory components from early childhood to adolescence.
In reinforcing the significance of this study, the recognition and analysis of varying levels of self-regulatory skills have been linked to a variety of lifestyle factors and developmental outcomes, such as: academic engagement, coping skills, mental health status, risk-taking behaviours and addiction (Baumeister & Vohs, 2004). By completing this study, Raffaelli, Crockett, & Yuh-Ling (2005) have empirically supported various correlations between measured assessment-items and predictive behavioural/cognitive response patterns.
Overall, this research has set some key baseline data towards monitoring the changes of self-regulatory functioning as to further define an explanatory construct of the development throughout the stages of childhood and, more importantly, across the lifespan.
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