Instructional Science

, Volume 47, Issue 4, pp 373–398 | Cite as

Examining Chinese kindergarten children’s psychological needs satisfaction in problem solving: A self-determination theory perspective

  • Heyi ZhangEmail author
  • David Whitebread
Original Research


This study examined whether kindergarten children’s psychological needs satisfaction would mediate the relationships between parental scaffolding and children’s use of self-regulated learning (SRL) strategic behaviours. One hundred and thirty Chinese kindergarten children and their parents participated in the study. Parental scaffolding and children’s SRL strategic behaviours were respectively observed in parent–child interaction tasks and child-alone tasks. Drawing on self-determination theory (SDT), children’s satisfaction of three basic needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness was assessed using both behavioural observation and self-report measures. Among the three aspects of observed needs satisfaction, children’s observed satisfaction of the need for competence was particularly important, mediating all the relationships between three aspects of parental scaffolding and three aspects of children’s SRL strategic behaviours. Children’s perceived needs satisfaction, despite having some correlations with parental scaffolding and children’s SRL, did not mediate any relationships between parental scaffolding and children’s SRL strategic behaviours, which further revealed limitations associated with using self-report measures with young children. The study provides preliminary evidence of the mediating role of psychological needs satisfaction in the relationships between parental scaffolding and children’s SRL in problem-solving situations.


Self-regulated learning Self-determination theory Basic psychological needs Parental scaffolding Chinese kindergarten children 



This work was funded by 2019 Comprehensive Discipline Construction Fund of Faculty of Education, Beijing Normal University.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

11251_2019_9490_MOESM1_ESM.doc (164 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 164 kb)
11251_2019_9490_MOESM2_ESM.doc (77 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (DOC 77 kb)


  1. Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  2. Bernier, A., Carlson, S. M., & Whipple, N. (2010). From external regulation to self-regulation: Early parenting precursors of young children’s executive functioning. Child Development, 81(1), 326–339.Google Scholar
  3. Borgers, N., De Leeuw, E., & Hox, J. (2000). Children as respondents in survey research: Cognitive development and response quality. Bulletin de methodologie Sociologique, 66(1), 60–75.Google Scholar
  4. Bronson, M. (2000). Self-regulation in early childhood: Nature and nurture. New York: The Guilford.Google Scholar
  5. Carlson, S. M. (2005). Developmentally sensitive measures of executive function in preschool children. Developmental Neuropsychology, 28(2), 595–616. Scholar
  6. Clark, K. E., & Ladd, G. W. (2000). Connectedness and autonomy support in parent-child relationships: Links to children’s socioemotional orientation and peer relationships. Developmental Psychology, 36(4), 485. Scholar
  7. Clark, R., Menna, R., & Manel, W. S. (2013). Maternal scaffolding and children’s social skills: A comparison between aggressive preschoolers and non-aggressive preschoolers. Early Child Development and Care, 183(5), 707–725. Scholar
  8. Cornoldi, C. (2010). Metacognition, intelligence, and academic performance. In H. Salatas Waters & W. Schneider (Eds.), Metacognition, Strategy Use, and Instruction (pp. 257–277). New York: The Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  9. Deci, E. L. (1992). On the nature and functions of motivation theories. Psychological Science, 3(3), 167–171.Google Scholar
  10. Deci, E. L., Eghrari, H., Patrick, B. C., & Leone, D. R. (1994). Facilitating internalization: The self-determination theory perspective. Journal of Personality, 62(1), 119–142.Google Scholar
  11. Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. London: Plenum Press.Google Scholar
  12. Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The ‘what’ and ‘why’ of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11, 227–268.Google Scholar
  13. Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2008). Self-determination theory: A macrotheory of human motivation, development, and health. Canadian Psychology, 49(3), 182–185. Scholar
  14. Deci, E. L., Vallerand, R. J., Pelletier, L. G., & Ryan, R. M. (1991). Motivation and education: The self-determination perspective. Educational Psychologist, 26(3–4), 325–346.Google Scholar
  15. Dermitzaki, I., Leondari, A., & Goudas, M. (2009). Relations between young students’ strategic behaviours, domain-specific self-concept, and performance in a problem solving situation. Learning and Instruction, 19(2), 144–157. Scholar
  16. Diener, M. L., Isabella, R. A., Behunin, M. G., & Wong, M. S. (2008). Attachment to mothers and fathers during middle childhood: Associations with child gender, grade, and competence. Social Development, 17(1), 84–101. Scholar
  17. Dinsmore, D. L., Alexander, P. A., & Loughlin, S. M. (2008). Focusing the conceptual lens on metacognition, self-regulation, and self-regulated learning. Educational Psychology Review, 20(4), 391–409.Google Scholar
  18. Efklides, A. (2011). Interactions of metacognition with motivation and affect in self-regulated learning: The MASRL model. Educational Psychologist, 46(1), 6–25. Scholar
  19. Feldman, R. (2012). Bio-behavioral synchrony: A model for integrating biological and behavioural processes in the study of parenting. Parenting: Science and Practice, 12, 154–164. Scholar
  20. Froiland, J. M. (2015). Parents’ weekly descriptions of autonomy supportive communication: Promoting children’s motivation to learn and positive emotions. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 24(1), 117–126. Scholar
  21. Fulmer, S. M., & Frijters, J. C. (2009). A review of self-report and alternative approaches in the measurement of student motivation. Educational Psychology Review, 21, 219–246. Scholar
  22. Furrer, C., & Skinner, E. (2003). Sense of relatedness as a factor in children’s academic engagement and performance. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95(1), 148–162. Scholar
  23. Goudas, M., Dermitzaki, I., & Bagiatis, K. (2000). Predictors of students’ intrinsic motivation in school physical education. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 15(3), 271–280.Google Scholar
  24. Grolnick, W. S., Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1997). Internalization within the family: The self-determination perspective. In J. E. Grusec & L. Kuczynski (Eds.), Parenting and children’s internalization of values: A handbook of contemporary theory (pp. 135–161). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  25. Grolnick, W. S., Gurland, S. T., DeCourcey, W., & Jacob, K. (2002). Antecedents and consequences of mothers’ autonomy support: An experimental investigation. Developmental Psychology, 38(1), 143–155. Scholar
  26. Grolnick, W. S., Kurowski, C. O., & Gurland, S. T. (1999). Family processes and the development of children’s self-regulation. Educational Psychologist, 34(1), 3–14.Google Scholar
  27. Grolnick, W. S., & Ryan, R. M. (1987). Autonomy in children’s learning: An experimental and individual difference investigation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52(5), 890.Google Scholar
  28. Grolnick, W. S., Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (1991). Inner resources for school achievement: Motivational mediators of children’s perceptions of their parents. Journal of Educational Psychology, 83(4), 508–517.Google Scholar
  29. Grolnick, W. S., & Slowiaczek, M. L. (1994). Parents’ involvement in children’s schooling: A multidimensional conceptualization and motivational model. Child Development, 65(1), 237–252.Google Scholar
  30. Guay, F., Ratelle, C. F., & Chanal, J. (2008). Optimal learning in optimal contexts: The role of self-determination in education. Canadian Psychology, 49(3), 233. Scholar
  31. Hamre, B. K., & Pianta, R. C. (2005). Can instructional and emotional support in the first-grade classroom make a difference for children at risk of school failure? Child Development, 76(5), 949–967.Google Scholar
  32. Hane, A. A., Cheah, C., Rubin, K. H., & Fox, N. A. (2008). The role of maternal behavior in the relation between shyness and social reticence in early childhood and social withdrawal in middle childhood. Social Development, 17(4), 795–811. Scholar
  33. Hayes, A. F. (2013). Introduction to mediation, moderation, and conditional process analysis: A regression-based approach. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  34. Hillman, C. H., Rosengren, K. S., & Smith, D. P. (2004). Emotion and motivated behavior: postural adjustments to affective picture viewing. Biological Psychology, 66(1), 51–62. Scholar
  35. Hoover-Dempsey, K. V., Battiato, A. C., Walker, J. M., Reed, R. P., DeJong, J. M., & Jones, K. P. (2001). Parental involvement in homework. Educational Psychologist, 36(3), 195–209.Google Scholar
  36. Hui, E. K., Sun, R. C., Chow, S. S. Y., & Chu, M. H. T. (2011). Explaining Chinese students’ academic motivation: Filial piety and self-determination. Educational Psychology, 31(3), 377–392. Scholar
  37. Iyengar, S. S., & Lepper, M. R. (1999). Rethinking the value of choice: A cultural perspective on intrinsic motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76(3), 349.Google Scholar
  38. Joussemet, M., Landry, R., & Koestner, R. (2008). A self-determination theory perspective on parenting. Canadian Psychology, 49(3), 194. Scholar
  39. Klassen, R. M., Perry, N. E., & Frenzel, A. C. (2012). Teachers’ relatedness with students: An underemphasized component of teachers’ basic psychological needs. Journal of Educational Psychology, 104(1), 150–165. Scholar
  40. Lengua, L. J., Honorado, E., & Bush, N. (2007). Cumulative risk and parenting as predictors of effortful control and social competence in preschool children. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 28, 40–55.Google Scholar
  41. McClelland, M. M., Acock, A. C., Piccinin, A., Rhea, S. A., & Stallings, M. C. (2013). Relations between preschool attention span-persistence and age 25 educational outcomes. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 28(2), 314–324. Scholar
  42. McClelland, M. M., Morrison, F. J., & Holmes, D. L. (2000). Children at-risk for early academic problems: The role of learning-related social skills. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 15, 307–329.Google Scholar
  43. Miserandino, M. (1996). Children who do well in school: Individual differences in perceived competence and autonomy in above-average children. Journal of Educational Psychology, 88(2), 203–214.Google Scholar
  44. Morrison, E. F., Rimm-Kauffman, S., & Pianta, R. C. (2003). A longitudinal study of mother–child interactions at school entry and social and academic outcomes in middle school. Journal of School Psychology, 41(3), 185–200. Scholar
  45. Neitzel, C. L., & Stright, A. D. (2003). Mothers’ scaffolding of children’s problem solving: Establishing a foundation of academic self-regulatory competence. Journal of Family Psychology, 17, 147–159. Scholar
  46. Pino-Pasternak, D. (2014). Applying an observational lens to identify parental behaviours associated with children’s homework motivation. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 84(3), 352–375. Scholar
  47. Pino-Pasternak, D., & Whitebread, D. (2010). The role of parenting in children’s self-regulated learning. Educational Research Review., 5, 220–242. Scholar
  48. Pino-Pasternak, D., Whitebread, D., & Tolmie, A. (2010). A multidimensional analysis of parent–child interactions during academic tasks and their relationships with children’s self-regulated learning. Cognition and Instruction, 28(3), 219–272. Scholar
  49. Pratt, M. W., Green, D., MacVicar, J., & Bountrogianni, M. (1992). The mathematical parent: Parental scaffolding, parenting style, and learning outcomes in long-division mathematics homework. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 13, 17–34.Google Scholar
  50. Pratt, M. W., & Savoy-Levine, K. M. (1998). Contingent tutoring of long-division skills in fourth and fifth graders: Experimental tests of some hypotheses about scaffolding. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 19(2), 287–304.Google Scholar
  51. Preacher, K. J., & Hayes, A. F. (2008a). Asymptotic and resampling strategies for assessing and comparing indirect effects in multiple mediator models. Behavior Research Methods, 40(3), 879–891. Scholar
  52. Preacher, K. J., & Hayes, A. F. (2008b). Contemporary approaches to assessing mediation in communication research. In A. F. Hayes, M. D. Slater, & L. B. Snyder (Eds.), The Sage sourcebook of advanced data analysis methods for communication research (pp. 13–54). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  53. Preacher, K. J., & Kelley, K. (2011). Effect size measures for mediation models: Quantitative strategies for communicating indirect effects. Psychological Methods, 16(2), 93–115. Scholar
  54. Raftery-Helmer, J. N., & Grolnick, W. S. (2015). Children’s coping with academic failure: Relations with contextual and motivational resources supporting competence. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 36(8), 1017–1041. Scholar
  55. Robinson, J. B., Burns, B. M., & Davis, D. W. (2009). Maternal scaffolding and attention regulation in children living in poverty. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 30, 82–91. Scholar
  56. Robson, S. (2010). Self-regulation and metacognition in young children’s self-initiated play and reflective dialogue. International Journal of Early Years Education, 18(3), 227–241.Google Scholar
  57. Roebers, C. M., Cimeli, P., Röthlisberger, M., & Neuenschwander, R. (2012). Executive functioning, metacognition, and self-perceived competence in elementary school children: an explorative study on their interrelations and their role for school achievement. Metacognition and Learning, 7(3), 151–173. Scholar
  58. Rogoff, B. (1990). Apprenticeship in thinking: Cognitive development in social context. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  59. Rubin, K. H., Dwyer, K. M., Booth-LaForce, C., Kim, A. H., Burgess, K. B., & Rose-Krasnor, L. (2004). Attachment, friendship, and psychosocial functioning in early adolescence. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 24(4), 326–356. Scholar
  60. Ryan, R. M. (1982). Intrinsic Motivation Inventory. Retrieved from
  61. Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68–78.Google Scholar
  62. Ryan, R. M., & Powelson, C. L. (1991). Autonomy and relatedness as fundamental to motivation and education. The Journal of Experimental Education, 60(1), 49–66.Google Scholar
  63. Ryan, R. M., Stiller, J. D., & Lynch, J. H. (1994). Representations of relationships to teachers, parents, and friends as predictors of academic motivation and self-esteem. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 14(2), 226–249.Google Scholar
  64. Schunk, D. H. (1991). Self-efficacy and academic motivation. Educational Psychologist, 26(3–4), 207–231.Google Scholar
  65. Schunk, D. H. (2001). Social cognitive theory and self-regulated Learning. In B. J. Zimmerman & D. H. Schunk (Eds.), Self-regulated learning and academic achievement: Theoretical perspectives (2nd ed., pp. 125–151). Oxon: Routledge.Google Scholar
  66. Schunk, D. H. (2008). Metacognition, self-regulation, and self-regulated learning: Research recommendations. Educational Psychology Review, 20(4), 463–467.Google Scholar
  67. Stevenson, M., & Crnic, K. (2012). Intrusive fathering, children’s self-regulation and social skills: a mediation analysis. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 57(6), 500–512. Scholar
  68. Suchodoletz, A. V., Trommsdorff, G., & Heikamp, T. (2011). Linking maternal warmth and responsiveness to children’s self-regulation. Social Development, 20(3), 486–503.Google Scholar
  69. Sun, J., & Rao, N. (2011). Scaffolding preschool children’s problem solving: A comparison between Chinese mothers and teachers across multiple tasks. Journal of Early Childhood Research, 10(3), 246–266. Scholar
  70. Switzky, H. N., & Haywood, H. C. (1992). Self-reinforcement schedules in young children: effects of motivational orientation and instructional demands. Learning and Individual Differences, 4(1), 59–71.Google Scholar
  71. Vandercruysse, S., Vandewaetere, M., Cornillie, F., & Clarebout, G. (2013). Competition and students’ perceptions in a game-based language learning environment. Educational Technology Research and Development, 61(6), 927–950. Scholar
  72. Vansteenkiste, M., Niemiec, C. P., & Soenens, B. (2010). The development of the five mini-theories of self-determination theory: A historical overview, emerging trends, and future direction. Theoretical Perspectives on Motivation and Achievement Advances in Motivation and Achievement, 16A, 105–165. Scholar
  73. Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  74. Wagner, B. M., & Phillips, D. A. (1992). Beyond beliefs: Parent and child behaviors and children’s perceived academic competence. Child Development, 63(6), 1380–1391.Google Scholar
  75. Whitebread, D., & Basilio, M. (2012). The emergence and early development of self-regulation in young children. Profesorado, 16(1), 15–33.Google Scholar
  76. Winne, P. H. (2017). Cognition and metacognition within self-regulated learning. In D. H. Schunk & J. A. Greene (Eds.), Handbook of self-regulation of learning and performance (2nd ed.) (pp. 36–48). Retrieved from
  77. Wood, D., Bruner, J., & Ross, G. (1976). The role of tutoring in problem solving. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 17, 89–100.Google Scholar
  78. Wood, D., & Middleton, D. (1975). A study of assisted problem-solving. British Journal of Psychology, 66, 181–191.Google Scholar
  79. Zhang, H., & Whitebread, D. (2017). Linking parental scaffolding with self-regulated learning in Chinese kindergarten children. Learning and Instruction, 49, 121–130.Google Scholar
  80. Zhou, M., Ma, W. J., & Deci, E. L. (2009). The importance of autonomy for rural Chinese children’s motivation for learning. Learning and Individual Differences, 19(4), 492–498. Scholar
  81. Zimmerman, B. J. (2001). Theories of self-regulated learning and academic achievement: An overview and analysis. In B. J. Zimmerman & D. H. Schunk (Eds.), Self-regulated learning and academic achievement: theoretical perspectives (2nd ed., pp. 1–37). Oxon: Routledge.Google Scholar
  82. Zimmerman, B. J. (2013). From cognitive modeling to self-regulation: A social cognitive career path. Educational Psychologist, 48(3), 135–147. Scholar
  83. Zimmerman, B. J., & Schunk, D. H. (1989). Self-regulated learning and academic achievement: Theory, research and practice. New York: Springer.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute (Department) of Early Childhood Education, Faculty of EducationBeijing Normal UniversityBeijingChina
  2. 2.Faculty of EducationUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK

Personalised recommendations