Desiree Murray. (Photo by Aaron Keck.)

“Self-regulation” is the ability that allows us to manage our thoughts and feelings, control our impulses, and problem-solve – something we could all stand to learn a little better.

Now, a new report from researchers at UNC and Duke is urging schools to teach “self-regulation” skills – asserting that those skills can “increase opportunities for (long-term) student success” in a variety of ways.

Published in November, the report is the fourth in a series on “Self-Regulation and Toxic Stress” from the Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

Desiree Murray of UNC’s Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute is the lead author of the report, along with Christina Christopoulos and Katie D. Rosanbalm of Duke’s Center for Child and Family Policy.

Dr. Murray discussed the report on WCHL with Aaron Keck.


The report finds that self-regulation can be taught in the same way as literacy – beginning with simple skills and building from there. Murray says there are two critical development periods – early childhood and early adolescence – when it’s particularly vital to teach self-regulation skills, especially to kids who are struggling to develop them. (Many factors – from genetics to poverty – can affect a child’s ability to develop self-regulation skills.)

Why teach self-regulation? “Self-regulation affects wellbeing across the lifespan,” says Murray, “from mental health and emotional wellbeing to academic achievement, physical health, and socioeconomic success.” (The report finds those positive benefits across the economic spectrum.) The new report urges schools to focus more heavily on helping students develop those skills – including giving teachers and school staff additional training to help them teach self-regulation in class.

Read the report here.