Psychological Development Across the Lifespan

Preschool Years (3–5)

In what ways does self-control improve in the preschool years?

One of the critical developmental challenges of the preschool years involves the mastery of emotions and impulses. Although seeds of this process are evident in the toddler years, we do not expect much in the way of self-control in a child under the age of three. In the preschool years, however, self-control dramatically improves. Children this age master various strategies for controlling their impulses and emotions. In the face of negative emotions, they learn to distract themselves or to change their goals (for example, abandoning a contested toy in favor of a new, available toy). They also use speech to regulate their actions, reminding themselves out loud how they are supposed to behave. Likewise, their understanding of their own emotions and the emotions of others increases. They use more feeling words and better understand how emotion motivates behavior. These developments have significant social implications.


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