This resource outlines some strategies to embed the development of executive function and self-regulation in your early childhood education and care setting.

Engage in sustained shared conversations with children

One way to develop executive function and self-regulation in children is to engage in ‘sustained shared conversations’. The Early Years Learning Framework states that sustained shared conversations are an important strategy for educators and teachers to employ. By asking children questions, educators can prompt children to explore their ideas in more depth. Educators can extend children’s thinking by working together to solve a problem, clarify an issue, evaluate learning experiences or extend a narrative. Opportunities for engaging in sustained shared conversations can occur throughout the day during routines, transitions, planned and spontaneous experiences.

Strategies for engaging in sustained shared conversations with children aged 3-5 years are outlined in the following table. For examples of sustained shared conversations that develop children’s literacy and executive function and self-regulation skills, see AERO's literacy and numeracy resources.

Strategies for sustained shared conversations

Question stems to encourage conversations

  • ‘How did you know…?’
  • ‘Why does this…?’
  • ‘Why do you think…?’
  • ‘Why can’t we…?’
  • ‘What happens next?’

Examples

‘I can see that you are a bit tired! Why do you think we yawn when we are tired? What else can you feel when you are tired?’’

Question stems to encourage conversations

  • ‘I wonder what would happen if…?’
  • ‘What is another way we could try…?’

Examples

‘I can see you have tried to glue these two pieces together. They keep falling apart! What else can we use?’
     [child’s response]
‘I like that idea. Let’s see if it is going to be strong enough.’

Question stems to encourage conversations

  • ‘I really want to know more about…’
  • ‘So, you think that…’

Examples

‘Tell me more about what you did on the weekend.’ 
     [child’s response]
‘Why was that your favourite part?’

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‘I can see how excited you are. I’d like to know more about your dance class. Tell me more.’
     [child’s response]
‘That is fascinating! What are they called? What other moves did you practice?’

Question stems to encourage conversations

  • ‘Could we try doing it this way…?’
  • ‘What if you…?’
  • ‘I find it useful when…’
  • ‘Have you thought about trying…?’

Examples

‘I see that you’re playing with the dinosaur in the sandpit. Do you think he is getting hot?’
     [child’s response]
‘Do you have any ideas to help the dinosaur cool down?’
     [child’s response]
‘A swim would cool me down. Where can the dinosaur have a swim?’

Question stems to encourage conversations

  • ‘I have to think hard about…’
  • ‘I need to…’
  • ‘First I will ... and then I will … and then I can...’

Examples

‘I know things can get frustrating when they don’t go your way. When I get stuck, I like to take a big breath and then come back to it later.’

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‘Oh dear, I can see that the kite is stuck in the tree. How do we get it back?’
     [child’s response]
‘I don’t think that you are tall enough. How about we go to the shed to see if we have something that can reach that far.’

Question stems to encourage conversations

  • ‘That’s an interesting idea!’ 
  • ‘I like what you have done.’ 
  • ‘You have thought really hard about … what can you do next?’

Examples

‘I think your sister is really going to like this card you made for her birthday!’
     [child’s response]
‘What could we write in her card to wish her a happy day?’

Developing executive function and self-regulation throughout the day

Here are some examples of when you might build opportunities to develop executive function and self-regulation into different learning experiences and interactions throughout the day for children aged 3-5. These examples show how you may start a conversation and illustrate a pause where the child can engage and steer the conversation 

Moments in the day

Example of how to build in executive function and self-regulation

Greet children and show an interest in their lives.

What this might sound like with children

‘Hi Freya! It’s nice to see you today. We missed you yesterday! I heard that you had fun at the zoo.’ 
     [child’s response]
‘Tell me what you saw!’

Example of how to build in executive function and self-regulation

Use this time to assist children with morning transition and separation from their family.

What this might sound like with children

‘I can see you are upset today, would you like to tell me what happened?’
     [child’s response]
‘Oh, I am sad to hear that your favorite truck broke on the way to the centre. Let’s see if we can find another one.’
     [child’s response]
‘I know that Thanh is going to be arriving shortly; do you think you and he might like to play in the sandpit today?’ 

Example of how to build in executive function and self-regulation

Use mealtimes as opportunities for children to show their self-regulation skills.

What this might sound like with children

‘I can see we are super hungry today! Let’s all go inside and wash our hands, and then we can set the tables for lunch.’

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‘When we are eating, we need to sit properly on our chair. Remember you fell the other day and hurt your arm? That was quite painful wasn’t it?’

Example of how to build in executive function and self-regulation

Help children name and understand feelings through stories and events.

What this might sound like with children

‘Damien’s dog ran away. How is he feeling?’
     [child’s response]
‘Yes, you can see that he is feeling sad! Lots of people cry when they are feeling sad, just like this boy. What do you do when you are feeling sad?’
     [child’s response]
‘What do you think might help him feel better?’

Example of how to build in executive function and self-regulation

Join in interactions to help children practice the skills and strategies they have been learning.

What this might sound like with children

‘Sure, I can be the child! If I am the child, who are you?’ 
     [child’s response]
‘Ok! What would you like me to do to get ready?

Example of how to build in executive function and self-regulation

Assist children in managing conflict or difficult situations and build their self-regulation skills.

What this might sound like with children

‘I would be angry too, if someone hid my shoes. How about you tell Luca how you feel. What could you say?’ 
     [child’s response]
‘Perhaps you can say, “It makes me feel angry not knowing where my shoes are”.’

Example of how to build in executive function and self-regulation

Ensure children have access to spaces to help them self-regulate – such as a quiet space, cubby or tent.

What this might sound like with children

‘I noticed you came into the tent to get some quiet time. It’s great that you felt comfortable doing that.’ 

Example of how to build in executive function and self-regulation

Acknowledge children’s ability and effort.

What this might sound like with children

‘You have worked so hard building that sandcastle! I wonder what you are going to do next?’

Example of how to build in executive function and self-regulation

Provide opportunities for children to understand time and limits and how it may influence their feelings.

What this might sound like with children

‘Remember, this experience is for four children only, that is why we have four chairs set up.’
     [child’s response]
‘I can see how patiently you are waiting for your turn! Look, I have written down your name on the board, so when someone is finished they will come and get you.’

Example of how to build in executive function and self-regulation

Support and role model strategies to help children overcome challenges. 

What this might sound like with children

‘I can see that you are trying really hard to make your marble run. It is really frustrating when something doesn’t work isn’t it?’ 
     [child’s response]
‘I know you don’t want to give up. What would you like to do? Did you want to have another go, or have a little break?’ 

Example of how to build in executive function and self-regulation

Provide check-in with parents and primary caregivers highlighting the skills their child is developing.

What this might sound like with children

‘Oscar, tell mummy how you solved that tricky puzzle!’
     [child’s response]
‘And what did you do next?’ 


Keywords: ECEC, child development, practice implementation