Introducing me…. the early childhood researcher

I am a really avid reader – of almost anything of quality, but particularly of opinions and research around early childhood development, education and parenting. Not to mention music therapy and related areas given my first careers as music teacher and then music therapist. Yet, other than the hefty tomes of my Masters and PhD theses (read by a select few for which I have great gratitude), and a few journal papers….. I haven’t really put anything out there in the truly public domain. Is this fair that I greedily consume, consume, consume the writing of others with never a hint of reciprocation? I’m not sure, but it does feel as though now might be the right time to flirt with some less academic writing. Welcome to my blog.

Not that there isn’t enough out there already on education, early childhood and parenting.  It feels as though there haven’t been many editions of our national weekend newspaper recently without a child care or education headline on the front cover…. but then I do have a target fixation on these kinds of pieces. Not only because of my professional interest of over 10 years but my role as half of a team currently parenting a 5- and a 7-year-old.

And rightly so should these topics be front and centre given the steep and dramatic cliff of development that soars through the first eight or so years of life. Aaah, the pressure. The pressure to ‘get it right’. Not just as parents but as a society. And a society that also of course must spend due time and effort grappling with other critical contemporary issues – the environment, globalisation etc.

For my part, I’m beginning to carve out a small piece of the puzzle that is early human development. I plan to dive into it, wallow in it, stretch it about a bit and dance a long and invigorating dance with it. It is SELF-REGULATION.

What is self-regulation? I was once asked this by a fellow academic and replied “the root of all evil and the genesis of all good”…. to which she guffawed, but I was only half joking.

Self-regulation is the ability (or not) that each of us have to control our own emotions, thoughts and behaviours in such a way as to be able to learn, function, relate, love and live optimally. When we are born we are almost completely other-regulated, as opposed to self-regulated. We need to be fed, soothed, and rocked to sleep by another. But then as very young infants we begin to look away from faces or objects of interest when we are tired or becoming over-stimulated. This change of gaze direction is one of our first self-regulatory behaviours. Soon we might thumb suck or stroke a soothing object like  a ruggy or favourite toy – again we are self-regulating.

Toddlers – well they are really grappling with this issue. You only have to witness a full-blown toddler tantrum to know what the opposite of self-regulating (or dysregulation) looks like.

But then you can see it in adulthood as well of course. The gambler, the short-fused, the quick-to-succumb to emotional outbursts, the incredibly intelligent family member who just can’t stick with any one course or job long enough to become skilled. And the opposite – what about the musician who might not have stood out as a ‘natural talent’ but just focussed and worked so bloody hard that they shone?

This is my area and one I’m passionate about. We know so much already including how self-regulation skills develop rapidly and crucially in the early years and about how important they are for lifelong success, and I mean success in the broadest sense. Most of this research has been undertaken in America or Europe and it is my vision to develop an Australian understanding of self-regulation and to bring together the sometimes disparate paradigms of self-regulation research into a more useful real-world understanding of the phenomenon.

Most importantly, it is my intent to engage with the children, educators and parents of today and the future, in dialogue and practice that supports self-regulatory functioning. There’s no one  ‘cure’ for all of our societal, parenting and developmental woes of course, that would be too easy and frankly boring. But I reckon that I, along with a generation of astounding international researchers and practitioners that have come before me,….. I reckon we might be on to something here.

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