Effective Practice Guides

Cognitive Self-Regulation: Do


Try the following practices with infants and toddlers and preschool-aged children. Find out how home visitors can put these practices to work with families.

Infants and Toddlers1,2

  • Provide a variety of interesting, culturally- and age-appropriate toys and materials to explore.
  • When interacting with young infants, give them one or two toys or materials at a time to play with. Switch the materials when you notice children losing interest.
  • Allow children to use toys and materials in their own ways and repeat actions and activities.
  • Play simple games that involve repetition, such as peek-a-boo.
  • Describe what children see, hear, and do. For toddlers, interpret and expand on what they do and say.
    • For example, if a child says "Daddy truck," you might say, "You drove to school in daddy's truck? What did you like about being in daddy's truck?"
  • Ask open-ended questions such as, "How did you do that? Tell me more."
  • Use children's names to get their attention (e.g., "Katie, do you see that bird?").
  • Use simple statements to let children know that you see how they feel (e.g., "I can see how frustrating that is for you. You are really working hard to figure that out.").
  • Help children just enough to get them past where they are stuck.
    • For example, if an infant is having trouble rolling from his back to his tummy, you might tuck the child's arm under his tummy to see if that helps, rather than turning him over all the way.


  • Play games, such as Simon Says or freeze dance, where children are challenged to control impulses and hold information in mind and use it to perform a task.3
  • Praise children's attempts to regulate or control their impulses (e.g., "Jeremy, thank you for remembering to raise your hand so everyone gets a turn.").
  • Use external aids to support children's attention and memory. For example:
    • Invite children to plan which learning center they will play in and give them a card with a picture of the learning center.
    • In buddy reading, you might pair one child who holds a card indicating they want to hear a story with a child who holds a card indicating that they would like to read a story.4
  • Assist a frustrated child by providing just enough help (e.g., "You are working so hard on that puzzle! Would that piece fit if you turned it a little bit?").
  • Use prompts to help children connect new concepts with what was learned previously (e.g., "Remember when …," "Yesterday …," and “What does this remind you of?").5
  • Ask children to generate ideas and try them out (e.g., "How could we use these materials to build a birdhouse?").

Home Visitors

Home visitors can support parents in identifying, adapting, and trying the practices above during home visits and group socializations. Here are more ideas.6

  • Suggest ways to help their child stay engaged and attentive. For example, comment on what the child is doing or introduce a new aspect to the child's play or interaction:
    • "You might ask Lucille how she's going to put her baby doll to sleep now."
    • "What do you think might happen to Devon's attention during block play if you added some new ‘blocks’ such as empty food or shoe boxes?"
  • Assure parents that young children get real satisfaction from solving problems by themselves if they can and with "just enough" help if they can't. For example, "Let's watch for a minute. She's really working on it and doesn't seem frustrated." Or suggest that parents ask their toddler or preschooler, "What else might work?," and offer an idea if the child needs it.
  • Help parents recognize their child's (and their own) tolerance for frustration. Some children are frustrated with one failed attempt, while others seem able to persist no matter what. Sometimes it is harder for the adults to watch the child try and try and not succeed. Remind parents that we all learn from failures—even young children.
  • Brainstorm with parents to find different activities and household routines for their preschooler that involve remembering and following directions to complete simple tasks.

1Early Head Start National Resource Center, News You Can Use: Approaches Toward Learning—Foundations of School Readiness, Part 2 (Washington, DC: Author, 2012), https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/school-readiness/article/news-you-can-use-approaches-toward-learning-part-2-foundations-school.

2Early Head Start National Resource Center, News You Can Use: Approaches Toward Learning—Foundations of School Readiness, Part 3 (Washington, DC: Author, 2012), https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/school-readiness/article/news-you-can-use-approaches-toward-learning-part-3-foundations-school.

3Steven Barnett, et. al., "Educational Effects of the Tools of the Mind Curriculum: A Randomized Trial," Early Childhood Research Quarterly 23, no. 3 (2008): 299–313

4Steven Barnett, et. al., "Educational Effects of the Tools of the Mind Curriculum: A Randomized Trial," Early Childhood Research Quarterly 23, no. 3 (2008): 299–313.

5National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning, Making Learning Meaningful (Washington, DC: Author, 2013), https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/video/making-learning-meaningful.

6Early Head Start National Resource Center (EHS NRC), OpenDoors Home Visitor's Handbook (Washington, DC: HHS, ACF, OHS, EHS NRC, 2014), Chapter 10.1, Approaches toward Learning, How To.

Topic:School Readiness

Resource Type: Article

Last Updated: June 5, 2018