toddlers arguing due to lack of socialization

Building Young Children’s Emotional Competence and Self-Regulation from Birth: The begin to ECSEL approach 

Published in International Journal of Emotional Education |  November 2018

This pivotal research from lead author Dr. Donna Housman, Founder of Housman Institute, shows the earliest years are a sensitive period for the development of emotional competence—the ability to identify, understand, express and regulate emotion, all foundational to self-regulation. Research suggests optimum teaching of emotional competence and self-regulation skills from birth is through preventive interventions emphasizing co-regulation. Scroll down to learn more.

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This research examined begin to ECSEL, an emotional cognitive and social early learning (ECSEL) approach that promotes emotional competence and self-regulation by teaching emotion knowledge and emotion regulation through causal talk (CT) and causal talk in the emotional experience (CTEE). 



  • Examine growth over one academic year on measures of:
    • Attachment/relationship
    • Initiative
    • Self-regulation
    • Emotion knowledge
    • Emotion regulation and
    • Related constructs involving empathy, prosocial skills, positive reactions to frustration, negative emotions and aggressive behaviors.
  • Examine differences between students receiving education based on ECSEL philosophy and national comparative groups on measures of:
    • Attachment/relationship
    • Initiative
    • Self-regulation and
    • Related constructs involving empathy, prosocial skills, positive reactions to frustration, negative emotions and aggressive behaviors.
Teacher with happy students



Three measures were used:

  • Minnesota Preschool Affect Checklist – Revised/Shortened (MPAC-R/S);
  • Devereux Early Childhood Assessment (DECA); and
  • Affect Knowledge Test (AKT)

Adult assessing toddler



Toddlers being socialized by an ECE teacher

Begin to ECSEL implements a teacher-as-socializer model in the context of co-regulation to promote emotional competence, self-regulation, empathy, and related prosocial skills as being instrumental in early childhood education.

Begin to ECSEL includes teachers' effective management of their own internal feelings and external displays of emotion, which aids in modelling regulation as a method of promoting young children's emotional competence.

Parents, caregivers, and educators have reported over decades that alumni consistently demonstrate: heightened confidence, success in their interactions with others, academic achievement, leadership skills, and resiliency.

Parents have reported that the alumni of begin to ECSEL have become upstanders rather than bystanders during instances of bullying.

"Given that today we live, communicate and interact globally, the ability to be empathetic, take another‘s perspective, and self-regulate is imperative for not only future generations but for our collective society as a whole."
Dr. Donna Housman of Housman Institute

Dr. Donna Housman
Founder and CEO, Housman Institute