First do no harm: How teachers support or undermine children’s self-regulation (Deborah Phillips et al.)


Deborah A Phillips, Jane Hutchison, Anne Martin, Sherri Castle, Anna D Johnson, Tulsa SEED Study Team

Publication date



Early Childhood Research Quarterly








Growing dissatisfaction with high-stakes uses of global early childhood classroom quality assessments has motivated efforts to identify more specific features of teacher-child interactions that support developmental growth. The current study seeks to identify specific, observable teacher behaviors that, over and above such global assessments, either promote or compromise gains in self-regulation skills across the pre-kindergarten (pre-k) year. We looked specifically at teachers’ scaffolding of peer interaction, frequency of behavior disapprovals, and reliance on punitive behavior management strategies. We also examined whether children’s fall self-regulation scores moderated associations between these teacher behaviors and children’s self-regulation development over the pre-k year. The sample consisted of 1020 low-income 4-year-olds enrolled in a “mixed-delivery” (various program auspices and locations) pre-k program in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Controlling for global pre-k quality, children whose teachers relied to a larger extent on disapproving and punitive behavior management strategies exhibited smaller gains in self-regulation across multiple assessment methods. Modest evidence emerged in support of moderation by initial self-regulation skills. These findings point to the feasibility of identifying practical, observable, and specific teacher behaviors that affect early development and to the need for quality improvement efforts that include an explicit focus on eliminating problematic teacher behaviors.


Phillips, D. A., Hutchison, J., Martin, A., Castle, S., & Johnson, A. D. (2022). First do no harm: How teachers support or undermine children’s self-regulation. Early Childhood Research Quarterly59, 172–185.