Factors Associated with Self-regulation in a Nationally Representative Sample of Children Ages 3–5 Years: United States, 2016



The aim of the present study was to describe self-regulation (the ability to influence or control one’s thoughts or behavior in response to situational demands and social norms) in children ages 3–5 years using a nationally representative sample and examine risk and protective factors to identify opportunities to support children and families.


Using a cross-sectional design, we examined data from a parent-reported pilot measure of self-regulation from the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH). We compared U.S. children aged 3–5 years who were described by parents as “on track” with self-regulation development with children who were not. In addition, we described how health care and developmental services, community, family, and child health and development factors are associated with children’s self-regulation.


The majority of children (4 of 5) were described by their parents to be developmentally on track with self-regulation. Compared to children described as not on track, children described as on track more often lived in financially and socially advantaged environments and less often experienced family adversity. They also had other positive health and development indicators, whether or not they were receiving developmental services. However, only half of children not on track received developmental surveillance, and only 1 in 4 children described as not on track received educational, mental health, or developmental services.


The findings are a step towards using self-regulation as an indicator of healthy child development and as a potential strategy to identify groups of children who may need additional support.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policies of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the Health Resources and Services Administration, nor does mention of the department or agency names imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

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Correspondence to Angelika H. Claussen.

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Claussen, A.H., Robinson, L.R., Kaminski, J.W. et al. Factors Associated with Self-regulation in a Nationally Representative Sample of Children Ages 3–5 Years: United States, 2016. Matern Child Health J 25, 27–37 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10995-020-03039-6

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  • Self-regulation
  • Child health and development
  • National Survey of Children’s Health
  • National and state estimates