From Stickers to Self-Regulation…

By Ali McClure

29th March 2019

Photo Credit: Patrice Alsteen

Ali McClure - Prize or Price

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Prize or Price?

The sun was rising, frost was on the ground and I was looking forward to my early morning walk. I had got the dogs out of the car then realised… I had parked slap-bang in the middle of a two-car parking bay. No-one would know it was me, my dogs and I would be up the hill in a blink. However, I knew. I knew that those spaces are in high demand with parents dropping children at the nearby school and my careless parking would inconvenience at least one busy family.

Disgruntled dogs…

So what did I do? Did I carry on my mission with no consideration for my fellow road users? No, I have far too much of a guilty conscience for that. Instead, I put the disgruntled dogs back in the car, reversed it carefully to take up exactly my fair share of the parking bay then started again, off to walk my dogs.

So what on earth has my dog walk got to do with our children in Early Years settings?

The answer is PRIZE AND PRICE – the ability to think through one’s actions to figure out how they will impact others.

In my situation, leaving the car where it was would have gotten me on my walk sooner, and saved time. This would have been my PRIZE. Instead the PRICE was that I had to put the dogs back in the car, and re-park it.

Imagining the Impact

My decision was swung by imagining how frustrating it would be for a busy parent seeing a parking space blocked by an inconsiderate driver. Their PRIZE would be a free space, their PRICE would be inconvenience.

Playing the movie of my actions

As an adult I am used to ‘playing the movie’ of how my actions will impact on others. Some call this respect, others self-regulation. These do seem to be buzz words of how we want to encourage our children to behave. We talk to them about thinking of others, about being kind, about saying sorry but do we weigh up just what a complex skill weighing up PRIZE AND PRICE really is?

We can certainly model and encourage this, but young children’s brains will need much more life experience before they get this right – some of us adults could still do with some practice!

What can we do to promote self-regulation and respect for others?

When they are very little, modelling is always the best strategy; however, when your children get a little older you could try the following…

Counting Kindnesses

Catching the children behaving thoughtfully to others shows them that those behaviours are valued – I call this COUNTING KINDNESSES. Talk through with children who has been kind to them and how they have been kind to others.

Dealing with Difficulties

The opposite of this, which we often neglect, is talking through with children how they coped when things went wrong – DEALING WITH DIFFICULTIES. How did they cope when they both wanted the same truck? What did they say when Maisie took too long on the climbing frame? How did they feel when Sanjay and Eric wouldn’t play with them?

Helping children deal with their own difficulties (within safe boundaries) rather than diving in and imposing adult solutions or sanctions, helps children on the journey to self-regulation. Adult-imposed responses to behaviour whether positive or negative can take away a child’s own feelings of control and stop them learning to think for themselves. It can stunt a growth mindset, steering them to think that making mistakes is always wrong, rather than a way to learn and move forward.

If you would like to know more, these are just two of the practical tools you can use to help children to move ‘FROM STICKERS TO SELF REGULATION’.

We all need to respect each other, we all need to learn. Just remember:

Every interaction with a child should be based on respect… it is an opportunity to learn – for them and for us! 

Ali McClure’s highly-acclaimed course ‘FROM STICKERS TO SELF REGULATION – The secret of successfully managing behaviour’ is running at a range of venues across the country. A previous Early Years Teacher on this full day training said, ‘This course will change the way you think’.

Find out more at or if you would like a training course brought to you, email Jackie at

Photo Credit: Patrice Alsteen

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