Father and child laying on the floor inspecting something

Self-Regulation and Cognitive Development

Our research

Within the Self-Regulation and Cognitive Development (SRCD) theme, experts from Education and Psychology conduct interdisciplinary research to understand processes underlying early self-regulation and cognitive development, with the practical goal of informing practices to support children's development, learning and well-being.

If we know exactly where a child is up to in their development, we can then target what we do specifically to what that child’s needs are, and will take them to the step of their development. 

We need to know how we can empower those people who spend the most time with those children, to do things for the benefit of those children they’re working with. 

My name is Steven Howard, Iam an associate professor in the School of Education and theme leader for the Self Regulation and Cognitive Development themes in Early Start. 

The Self Regulation and Cognitive Development research group really looks at how children self regulation develops, why that's important and what we can do to support it. 

So we know that self regulation is important for right now, it’s how we interact with the world, can we sit still, can we pay attention. That self regulation ability is going to allow us to resist impulses and interact independently and productively in our world and that’s going to translate throughout our life as well, it means that we won't make as many risky choices as adolescents, and we will engage more independently and productively as adults. 

So what we then need to know is, what we can do to foster those abilities early on to set really good positive trajectories for young children.  

One study in particular that we have recently finished is a study with 50 preschools and nearly 500 children, where we were looking at playful ways that we can support their self regulation development, the sorts of games and activities that we can do with young children in preschool, over the course of a year, that at the end of the year, we see those benefits, that we are trying to realise. 

Self regulation is a really fruitful area for research. Those coming into the field is still lots of work to be done, we are trying to tackle this work as best we can and as efficiently as we can, but of course there is always room for collaborations from new researchers, from organisations that also have an interest or a passion in this and want to try out with us and co-develop things that we are looking at. 

If we’re able to promote the self regulation of our youngest generation now, in 20 years we will have a generation of young adults who can interact independently in the world, make choices, that are considers rather than impulsive. That’s really what we want for our young children, to have productive and positive futures 

The specific objectives of this group are:

  • To generate insights into early self-regulation development, including the diverse factors that influence its development, and the outcomes that are influenced by self-regulation
  • To create positive and productive changes in early childhood education and care practices that underpin children's learning and development
  • To contribute to Early Start’s program of community engagement through our focus on translational research
  • To make a significant contribution to the Early Start Engagement Frontier of monitoring and observation for development and early learning
  • To support the next generation of researchers (early career researchers, PhD students) in this area
  • To increase international awareness of our researchers, and promote understanding of Early Start as a place of innovation for the benefit of children and those who care for them

For established researchers, future or current research students, organisations, centres or groups interested in collaborating with any member(s) of the team, you can contact the Theme Leader, Associate Professor Steven Howard, or any of the theme members (below) directly.


  • Elizabeth Aylward
  • Alysha Calleia
  • Heather Gan
  • Jo Grimmond
  • Faisal Mirza


  • Rosalyn Muir
  • Renae Pinazza
  • Davina Robson
  • Gerardo Sozio
  • Kim Stouse-Lee
  • Karel Strooband
  • Stephanie Varcoe
  • Elena Vasseleu
  • Lisa Webster




An Early Start to Self-Regulation: A Longitudinal Study

A major area of collective research for our group involves the longitudinal follow-up of 300+ children from their final year of preschool into the early years of primary school. This will help generate understandings of how early self-regulation (and related abilities) develop, ideal ways to understand a child’s self-regulatory development, and the outcomes associated with a child’s self-regulation development.

Monitoring to Optimise Development and Early Learning (MODEL)

Drawing from the expertise of a number of theme members, the Early Years MODEL seeks to develop, validate and disseminate tools to support early years practice, including monitoring children’s learning, development and wellbeing. The research and development priorities for the Early Years MODEL are the creation of valid and reliable tools for monitoring and intentional developmental assessment of children from 3 to 6 years of age in the foundational domains of (1) self-regulation, (2) language & communication, (3) social & emotional development, (4) numeracy & early STEM, and (5) physical development (initially fine motor skills). The tools are being developed in close consultation with educators and are designed to be playful, brief, valid and reliable in educators’ hands, and provide actionable information about children’s development, while at the same time being freely and easily available.