Among the skills that children learn in high-quality early education and care programs is self-control or self-regulation. Learning such seemingly simple skills as waiting one’s turn, sharing and managing frustration are all critical components of a child’s healthy social and emotional development. Now, Science Daily reports, researchers find “that children who scored lower on measures of self-control as young as age 3 were more likely to have health problems, substance dependence, financial troubles and a criminal record by the time they reached age 32.”
Researchers looked at 1,000 children in New Zealand. Teachers, parents, observers and the children assessed such measures as “low frustration tolerance, lacks persistence in reaching goals, difficulty sticking with a task, over-active, acts before thinking, has difficulty waiting turn, restless, not conscientious.”
Adults who had scored lowest on self-control, Science Daily reports “scored highest for things like breathing problems, gum disease, sexually transmitted disease, inflammation, overweight, and high cholesterol and blood pressure, according to an international research team led by Duke University psychologists Terrie Moffitt and Avshalom Caspi.”
The study was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The researchers also looked at 500 pairs of British fraternal twins. “The sibling with lower self-control scores at age 5,” Science Daily reports, “was more likely than their sibling to begin smoking, perform poorly in school and engage in antisocial behaviors at age 12.”
Researchers also found that adults whose self-control improved over the years also fared better than those who had more trouble mastering self-control. “Self-control,” Science Daily reports, “is something that can be taught, the researchers say, and doing so could save taxpayers a pile of money on health care, criminal justice and substance abuse problems down the road….
“’The good news is that self-control can change. People can change,’ said Alexis Piquero, a professor of criminology at Florida State University who was not involved in the research….’Identifying low self-control as early as possible and doing prevention and intervention is so much cheaper’ than dealing with prisons, drug programs and personal economic failures, Piquero said. ‘If you’re just making a dollars-and-cents decision, it’s a no-brainer.’”