Introduction Link
Appendix A
Local Contacts and Services
Supporting All Children

Supporting Self-Regulation     • Cultural Sensitivity     • Observation, Screening and Assessment

On Track - Section 6 in PDF

This section will answer commonly asked questions from professionals, and provide some additional resources for both professionals and parents. We cannot underestimate the profound effects of parents and the home environment for the children in our care. If we want to improve a child’s developmental trajectory we must engage and support the parents. The information below will give you tools and resources to support parents which will ultimately benefit the child.

Supporting Self-regulation

Q Why is self-regulation so important?

Self-regulation is a learned process that is evident in every developmental domain. When we think of self-regulation we often think of emotional or cognitive self-regulation. But here is another example:
  • A child gains bladder control and is able to regulate when she attends to her bathroom needs through increasing physical development. Although physical maturation is the predominant ability in bladder control, social, emotional, cognitive and language functions are also involved, so she can recognize her need and ask to go, even in an unfamiliar environment.

  • The process of self-regulation is well described in an article by Blair and Diamond (2008). It is foremost a function of the pre-frontal cortex in the brain where executive functions (e.g., decision making, problem solving) are made. Self-regulation has several functions:

    • Control of inhibitions
    • Working memory
    • Mental flexibility

  • Control of inhibition means the child is able to resist temptations or habits, suppress disruptive emotions and control distractions. This allows the child to pay attention, control behaviour and allow positive emotions and cognitive skills such as motivation, curiosity and interest to flourish.

  • Working memory allows the child to hold information in her mind while working with it. This skill can be observed in dramatic play where the child has to act in character while responding to the changes in plot.

  • Mental flexibility is the ability to adjust to change.

  • It had been demonstrated that these skills are critical for learning and success in school. Success in school is not so much achieved through memorization of curricular content but through:

    • Perseverance at tasks
    • Skills to focus and sustain attention
    • Ability to hold information in mind and relate one idea to another
    • Motivation to learn and explore
    • Good self-esteem

A child who exhibits good self-regulation, receives praise more often, enjoys school more and puts more effort into her school work. At the same time, a child with poor self-regulation finds it more difficult to pay attention in school, has difficulty meeting demands and expectations, has less fun in school and puts less effort into her work. Over time, teachers expect less self-control and poorer work habits. Finally, the child sees herself as a poor student, holds a negative view of herself and has less self-confidence and lower self-esteem. These children may only exhibit a small difference in learning readiness in the early years, but through a positive or negative feedback loop, the gap widens and their trajectories can be expected to diverge more and more each year (Blair and Diamond, 2008; Thompson, 2009).

QHow I can support the family to promote self-regulation?

A child’s development occurs foremost through the reciprocal interactions with a trusted adult. Usually parents set the foundation for good self-regulation by providing an environment that is warm, nurturing and encourages trust. Parents and later, service providers model the process of self-regulation and provide opportunities to discuss and practice the process. Disruptions in the parent-child relationship through stress from factors such as poverty, poor mental or physical health or maltreatment can adversely affect the development of self-regulation.

  • To promote a child’s self-regulation, professionals can:
  • Promote access to programs and services to support parents and caregivers who are challenged by poverty, physical or mental illness, divorce, separation or abuse
  • Promote the availability of evidence-based parenting programs, resources or strategies (e.g., Watch, Wait and Wonder that promote attachment, parent-child interaction and healthy child development in your community
  • Promote preschool programs where children learn in a fun and age-appropriate environment
  • Promote the use of resources and strategies (e.g., Tools of the Mind to support the development of self-regulation in preschool and kindergarten
  • Promptly address parent concerns or observations that indicate a delay in the development of the child’s self-regulation.

Cultural Sensitivity

Q How can I increase my understanding of the child?

Newcomers to Canada may experience tremendous stress and isolation in their attempts to adjust to a new culture, language, and environment. The National Association for the Education of Young Children recommends that professionals need to "recognize the feeling of loneliness, fear, and abandonment children may feel when they are thrust into settings that isolate them from their home community and language" (1995, p. 2). Issues such as unemployment, underemployment, language barriers, or lack of a social support system may be realities for these newcomer families.

  • First of all, becoming culturally aware involves the ability to stand back and become aware of one's own cultural values, beliefs and perceptions (Quappe and Cantatore, 2005). Other components of cultural sensitivity include:
    • Valuing and recognizing the importance of one's own culture
    • Valuing diversity
    • Being willing to learn about the traditions and characteristics of other cultures
      (Stafford et al. as cited in Mavropoulos, 2008)
Here are some strategies that will increase your understanding of the family and child and increase your efforts to support her development:
  • Establish a solid rapport with families from the outset, so that there is a strong level of trust between families and the service providers.

  • Invite participation and involvement from all members of an extended family, including grand-parents, aunts and uncles, etc.

  • Show respect for the family's culture at all times. Staff in daycares or kindergarten classrooms can post pictures or display items representing different cultures. In this way, families may feel more welcomed upon entry into this setting.

  • Use translators or multilingual staff for meetings or conferences with the family. If possible, have important resources translated into the family's home language.

  • Try to learn a few words in the language spoken by the family to help make a connection with them. For professionals working in daycare centres or kindergarten classrooms, teach the children in your classroom a few words in the family's home language.

  • When possible, ask parents to explain cultural practices that are observed and that may not be understood.

  • Respect differences in personal interactions or body language (e.g., lack of eye contact is a sign of respect in certain cultures).

  • If possible, enrol staff in cultural sensitivity training sessions.

Q How can I discuss cultural concerns with the family?

Parenting and feeding practices, sleeping arrangements, and attitudes towards education, play, or work may differ from the accepted norms here in Canada or your own beliefs. Sometimes cultural practices may even conflict with Canadian law (e.g., female genital mutilation), and may require direct consultation with child protection services (see section 5 Maltreatment). Many practices do no harm and may in fact benefit the child.

Here are some strategies to address cultural practices:
  • Ask non-judgemental questions that will help you understand the cultural practice in context
  • Ask yourself what your own beliefs and practices are and if the practice contradicts these
  • Ask yourself the following questions:
    • Does the practice follow or contradict current evidence?
    • Does the practice promote the child's well-being?
    • Does the practice put the child at risk?
    • Can you provide evidence-based information to the family to support your point of view?
Always support cultural practices that do not put the child at risk, and promote evidence-informed practices in a non-judgemental way.

Observation, Screening and Assessment

QHow I can learn about a child's development?

Of all the tools currently available to learn more about a child, observation is the most developmentally appropriate one to use with young children. Children can be observed in brief snapshots which may yield only a limited amount of information. The information provided by the caregiver can give a professional a more complete picture. A better picture of the child can be captured by observing her in play over time. This is the approach most often used by early childhood educators and kindergarten teachers.

  • Benefits of Play Observation
  • All areas of a child's development can be assessed, as play can provide a unique window into a child's developmental abilities.
  • When play is observed in a natural environment, such as a classroom or playground, children are relaxed and spontaneous. Their behaviours and abilities can be observed repeatedly without their awareness that they are being evaluated.
  • Observation can provide early years professionals and parents with a rich, accurate, and comprehensive source of information, as patterns or trends in children's development emerge over time.
  • Observation is an inclusive way to assess all children.

Today, one of the most widely used play assessments used is the Transdisciplinary Play-Based Assessment (TPBA2), revised by Toni Linder in 2008. This resource is especially helpful when there are concerns about a child and a team of professionals is involved. It includes tips and guidelines on how to observe a child's play with a parent. Four areas of development are assessed – sensorimotor, social/emotional, language/communication, and cognition. If sessions are videotaped, they can then be analyzed by the child's parents and a team of professionals. If available, this may include an occupational or physical therapist, speech/language pathologist, educator, social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist, and vision specialist. From there, the team offers suggestions and recommendations based on the child's observed play behaviours, and a plan for next steps is created.

Q What is screening?

Screening is usually a non-invasive procedure done with groups of people or a population. Screening is the process of identifying characteristics known to be associated with a certain populations or age groups. In children 0 - 6 years old, the purpose of screening is to identify those who may need further support or assessment to verify the presence of developmental or health risks. It is important to ensure that the child or family who is identified by a positive screen is followed up with further assessment to confirm or exclude the suspected delay or condition. Further assessment will also specify the sources of difficulty and lead to appropriate support and intervention (Snow & Van Hemel, 2008).

Section 8 offers a number of screening tools that are used either throughout Ontario or in some areas of Ontario. The most common tool is the Nipissing District Developmental Screen (NDDS) which can be used by parents and professionals working with children. When indicated, a child needs to be referred to the appropriate professionals and programs for further screening and assessment.

Q What happens after screening?

Screening is only a first step in identifying "red flags" and informing whether a more thorough assessment is advisable. Screening helps ensure that children and families who need a full assessment receive one, and if necessary, are referred to skilled professionals who are best able to provide service and/or intervention. A list of resources associated with specific areas of development is accessible in section 7 of this guide.

It is also intended, regardless of the results of screening, that children and families are assisted in accessing appropriate community supports, resources and education.

Q What screening tests are used in Ontario?

A number of screening tools are used in Ontario. Some are tools for parents, some are tools for professionals. Some are used universally; others are used in specific situation. Screening tools assist in early identification, but no screening tool can substitute for the full assessment by a qualified professional. A list of commonly used screening tools in Ontario is provided in Section 8.