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Self-regulation, the act of managing thoughts and feelings to enable goal-directed actions, is associated with a variety of positive outcomes in the United States, from higher income levels to lower health care costs. Many studies of Americans have shown the desirable results of self-regulation, including recent reports from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, New York University, and the University of California. All age groups benefit from goal-oriented behavior, though researchers suggest focusing educational efforts on children, adolescents and young adults, whose brains are still engaged in the highest levels of development.

youth development of self-regulation

Individuals develop self-regulation through interactions with caregivers and their broader environments over an extended period, beginning at birth. Examples of self-regulation skills include persisting on complex projects, delaying gratification, problem-solving to achieve goals, and seeking help when stress is unmanageable. These skills have measurable benefits for children, adolescents and young adults as they proceed in systems of education. For instance, students with self-regulation skills have been shown to achieve higher grade point averages than their peers. They also have a decreased likelihood of failing out of school.

Early development is key. Strong self-regulation skills among kindergarten students are associated with better reading and mathematics achievement between kindergarten and sixth grade. It's not surprising, then, that the Head Start Early Outcomes Learning Framework recognizes self-regulation as a key area of child development. Extracurricular youth initiatives, such as 4-H programs, also stress the development of intentional self-regulation. 4-H encourages young people to develop an effective balance of goal setting, perseverance, and making adjustments when goals are not attained.

It's also important to note that, while parents play a critical role in self-regulation development, educators are also very influential. Studies show that child care providers, preschool teachers, and other adults who spend significant time caring for children can be instrumental in supporting their development of self-regulation.

Career development

It is well understood that self-regulation skills developed in children are associated with success later in life. They can help to prepare youth for employment and self-sufficiency. Research shows that those with the best self-regulation skills perform better at work. Self-regulated people also tend to have higher salaries and express more satisfaction with their jobs. Studies have even shown that self-regulation techniques, such as setting goals and forming if-then plans, can help job candidates more successfully negotiate salaries with prospective employers.

Health benefits

There are also a wide variety of positive health outcomes associated with self-regulation. It is, for instance, linked to decreased levels of substance use and violence. Researchers also believe those with robust self-regulation are less likely to experience obesity, cardiovascular disease, asthma, autoimmune diseases, depression and liver cancer. Overall, self-regulation is linked to a reduction in lifelong health care costs.

There are thought to be intergenerational links related to healthy self-regulation skills such as regular physical exercise and stress-reduction practices. Reports indicate that adults who strengthen these skills in themselves are better models of healthy behaviors for their children, resulting in improved resilience among the next generation.


The science surrounding intentional self-regulation is settled: dozens of studies indicate a wide variety of positive effects. Development of self-regulation is particularly important for young people, whose brains are still involved in high levels of development -- and the effects of self-regulation last a lifetime. Better job performance, higher salaries, and improved health outcomes are all associated with the development of self-regulation.