Self-Regulation in Preschool Children’s Everyday Life: Exploring Day-to-Day Variability and the Within- and Between-Person Structure
Objective: Self-regulation - the ability to regulate one’s own behavior, emotions, and cognition - is fundamental for achieving personal goals and successful socio-emotional adaptation. Individual differences in self-regulation and associations with correlates important in early childhood (e.g. school readiness) are well studied at a between-person level. This is the first study investigating intra-individual variation in self-regulation in the everyday life of a sample of preschool children using an intensive longitudinal design. Moreover, the study explores the dimensionality of self-regulation at both the between- and within-person level. Method: Over a period of seven consecutive days including weekend days, 106 parents (84.3% mothers) rated their preschool children’s self-regulation every evening either by an online questionnaire or via a phone interview. Results: Preschoolers’ self-regulation varied substantially within persons over the measurement period as indicated by intra-individual standard deviations and intraclass correlation coefficients. Multilevel confirmatory factor analyses revealed best model fit for a model with three correlated but empirically distinct factors at both the within- and between-person level that can be labeled as “emotional self-regulation”, “behavioral self-regulation”, and “attentional self-regulation”. Conclusion: The study is the first demonstrating that self-regulation varies within, and not only between, individuals from day to day in a sample of healthy preschool children. Preschoolers’ self-regulation can be described by three related but distinct factors at the within- and between-person level, supporting the conceptualization of self-regulation as a construct with multiple interrelated but separable facets.