Teaching Infants & Toddlers Emotional Regulation

Summary of the Article

The article “Don’t Tell Me No; I Tell You No!”: Facilitating Self-Control in Infants and Toddlers was written by Tsunghui Tu and Martha Lash and published in Childhood Education on 2007. In this article, Tu and Lash describe the importance of understanding key developmental processes for educators to be able to guide young children in developing self-control because it “is a slow, continuous process” (Tu & Lash, 2007, par. 25). They note first that the “[ability to self-regulate] is . . . predictive of emotional knowledge, social competence, conscience, and resiliency in early to middle childhood” (Tu & Lash, 2007, par. 5). They also explain that self-control “leads to increased self-confidence and self-esteem” (Tu & Lash, 2007, par. 6). In short, teaching infants and toddlers emotional regulation is fundamental to their holistic development. It sets the stage for healthy development as the child becomes more competent and more receptive to learning.

Tu and Lash (2007) review the significance of the first two stages of Erikson’s psychosocial theory, of temperament, and of having respect for families and cultural homes. They consider how the environment plays a role in children’s development. In resolving the conflict in each of Erikson’s stages of development, the infant or toddler relies on feelings of attachment, belonging, autonomy, and competence, all of which are directly affected by other people’s responses to the child. Therefore, Tu and Lash explain that it is imperative that caregivers pay attention and give respect to the infant or toddler’s unique temperament and cultural background. Armed with this knowledge, educators can use various tools and strategies in teaching young children self-control that the authors discuss in the article.

Evaluation of the Article

Self-Control and Erikson’s Psychosocial Theory

Erik Erikson introduced eight stages of psychosocial development in which “[each] stage involves what [he] originally called a ‘crisis’ in personality” (Martorell & Kruk, 2014, p. 16). According to Martorell & Kruk (2014), “[each] stage requires the balancing of a positive trait and a corresponding negative one. . . . Successful resolution of one crisis produces a ‘virtue’ or personal strength” (p. 16). As the child overcomes the first two crises (trust vs. mistrust, and autonomy vs. shame and doubt), he develops hope about the “world [as] a good and safe place” (Martorell & Kruk, 2014, p. 18) and will to “balance . . . independence and self-sufficiency” (Martorell & Kruk, 2014, p. 18). He also “begin[s] to substitute [his] own judgment for [his] caregivers’. . . . [He is] better able to make [his] wishes understood [and he] become[s] more powerful and independent” (Martorell & Kruk, 2014, p. 18). Tu and Lash (2007) expand on this and explain that when children trust their primary caregivers and develop autonomy, they are better able “to control [themselves]” (par. 7) and “experience a sense of power” (Tu & Lash, 2007, par. 8). They feel that they are capable and competent, allowing them to manage their emotions and impulses better.

It is important to understand Erikson’s psychosocial development theory through Tu & Lash’s (2007) expansion and examples as it provides a foundation with which early childhood educators could apply their learning in the field. When infants and toddlers have resolved the first crisis in Erikson’s psychosocial development theory, the educator recognizes that they “are [now] more capable of ‘waiting’ when the significant figures in their lives are gone for a time” (Tu & Lash, 2007, par. 7). Similarly, as the children “discover the power they possess . . . [and they] do more for themselves” (Tu & Lash, 2007, par. 8), the educator sees that she can scaffold this discovery and support the children’s development of self-regulation.

Self-Control and the Unique Child                   

Temperament plays a big role in children’s development of self-regulation skills. It is what Zero to Three (2010) refers to as “[a child’s] own individual way of approaching the world. . . . [Concurrently, it] shapes the way he experiences the world” (par. 1 & 3). Tu & Lash (2007) introduce the goodness-of-fit model regarding children’s temperament and explain that “temperament and environment can work together to produce favorable outcomes for the child and more positive interactions for all” (par. 10). In addition, both articles stress the significance of the influences of the child’s family and culture on his development of self-concept and, effectively, self-control. Being aware that “what is appropriate and effective differs from child to child” (Tu & Lash, 2007, par. 1), educators can individually modify their approach in guiding children towards better behaviour.

Self-Control and the Learning Environment

Barbre (2013) describes that “[learning] environments should convey respect for children’s temperaments and stages of development” (p. 43). It is vital to plan developmentally appropriate programs and learning environments to “give children optimal time and space in which to learn new skills and build on existing competencies” (Barbre, 2013, p. 44). Barbre (2013) explains that social-emotional competencies, such as self-regulation, “develop[s] out of trusting, nurturing, and responsive relationships” (p. 66). Likewise, Tu & Lash (2007) advise “[setting] up a safe, rich, and appropriate environment [as] a proactive way to help infants and toddlers begin developing self-control” (par. 16). Learning environments encompass the physical and the social settings in which children grow and learn. Thus, Tu & Lash (2007) suggest that educators must follow through established limits that are “reasonable, fair, clear communicating, and developmentally appropriate” (par. 17) and, at the same time, they must “arrange routines and events in the environment so that infants can discover regularities, thus helping [them] learn to recognize the signals . . . and regulate their emotions” (par. 16). Equipped with this understanding, educators can anticipate children’s behaviours and support their development of self-control by manipulating the environment in a beneficial way for the child.

Implications for Early Childhood Educators

Early childhood educators work with young children who have not yet developed or are still developing self-control. It is important to understand that this ability is one of the cornerstones of healthy development in children. It “leads to self-confidence and self-esteem” (Tu & Lash, 2007, par. 6) and helps the child adjust better to the adult world. Tu & Lash (2007) review the significance of the first two stages of Erikson’s psychosocial theory, of temperament, and of having respect for varying families and cultural homes in teaching young children self-control. They also discuss various tools and strategies that educators can use “to better facilitate [children’s] evolving abilities toward self-control” (Tu & Lash, 2007, par. 1). Understanding that children “transition to self-control” (Tu & Lash, 2007, Figure 2) at 24 months and that “self-control emerges” (Tu & Lash, 2007, Figure 2) at 36 months allows educators to appropriately guide children in regulating their emotions.

For instance, Tu & Lash (2007) advise that educators may “[ignore] inappropriate behavior . . . only if it does not endager the child or others, and as long as the behaviors will not damage or destroy property” (par. 21). However, it is important to “[send] the message that they have been heard, and that it is acceptable to have various feelings” (Tu & Lash, 2007, par. 19) by acknowledging children’s emotions and using I-messages to let them know how their behaviour affects others.


Barbre, J. (2013). Foundations of responsive caregiving: infants, toddlers, and twos. Minnesota: Redleaf Press.

Martorell, G. and Kruk, R. (2014). Child: From birth to adolescence. Canada: McGraw-Hill Ryerson Limited.

Tu, T. and Lash, M. (2007). “Don’t tell me no; I tell you no!”: Facilitating self-control in infants and toddlers. Childhood Education, 84(2), 79.

Zero to Three. (2010). Tips on temperament. Retrieved from http://www.zerotothree.org/resources/243-tips-on-temperament

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