The development of self-regulation in the first four years of life

Child Dev. Jul-Aug 2001;72(4):1091-111. doi: 10.1111/1467-8624.00336.


This study examined longitudinally the development of self-regulation in 108 young children during the first 4 years of life. Children's committed compliance (when they eagerly embraced maternal agenda) and situational compliance (when they cooperated, but without a sincere commitment) were studied. Both forms of compliance were observed in "Do" contexts, in which the mothers requested that the children sustain unpleasant, tedious behavior, and in "Don't" contexts, in which they requested that the children suppress pleasant, attractive behavior. Children's internalization while alone in the similar contexts was also studied. Parallel assessments were conducted when the children were 14, 22, 33, and 45 months of age. At all ages, the Do context was much more challenging for children than the Don't context. Girls surpassed boys in committed compliance. Both forms of compliance were longitudinally stable, but only within a given context. Children's fearfulness and effortful control, observed and mother reported, correlated positively with committed compliance, but mostly in the Don't context. Committed, but not situational, compliance was linked to children's internalization of maternal rules, observed when the children were alone in the Do and Don't contexts. These links were both concurrent and longitudinal, context specific, and significant even after controlling for maternal power assertion. There was modest preliminary evidence that committed compliance may generalize to interactions with adults other than the mother.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Child Development*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cooperative Behavior*
  • Female
  • Gender Identity
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Internal-External Control*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mother-Child Relations
  • Personality Development
  • Socialization