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The development of self-regulation as seen in a struggle over a tricycle

writer: HIROSE, Shohei (College of Comprehensive Psychology, Assistant) published: 2017-9

About a tricycle

A child walked up to another child riding a tricycle and said, “Let me have a turn!” This kind of interaction often occurs concerning various objects, not only tricycles, in group settings such as kindergarten or daycare. The interaction over a tricycle I observed at a kindergarten on this occasion left a particular impression on me, and got me thinking about children’s development.

A war of attrition in the struggle over the tricycle.

This episode occurred in December, past the halfway point of the second term. When “Hajime” (not his real name), a child in the class for three year olds, was riding the tricycle, “Susumu” (also a pseudonym), a child in the same class, went up to him. Susumu grabbed the tricycle while saying, “Let me have a turn.” Unable to get him to remove his hand, Hajime became upset and started to cry. Seeing this, a teacher went over and said to Susumu, “[He’s] telling you to let go. Why don’t you let him give you a turn later?” But in response Susumu said, “No!” While understanding Susumu’s feelings – “You want to ride too, don’t you?” – the teacher told him, “He’s telling you to let go.” Even after this intervention, however, the back-and-forth of “Let go!” and “No!” between the two children continued. After this had been going on for a while longer, Hajime pushed Susumu who then fell over and started crying. Hajime sped off on the tricycle. A tearful Susumu was consoled by the teacher. They looked for another tricycle but they were all being used, so they gave up and started playing with a ball. But Susumu was unable to completely give up on the tricycle, and started chasing Hajime again. They began repeating their “I want to ride” — “No!” interaction once more. This interaction ended with Susumu being pushed by Hajime, falling over, and being consoled by the teacher. It had lasted about fifteen minutes before reaching this conclusion. I observed children in this grade for the whole year, but this kind of long struggle over an object was seen mainly around the middle of the second term, and almost never observed in either the first or third terms.

The development of self-regulation as seen in a struggle over a tricycle

One approach to thinking about this episode is to consider the development of self-regulation. The capacity for self-regulation refers to both a self-assertion aspect of clearly having your own will and desires and expressing them in front of another person or in a group, and a self-control aspect of controlling this self-assertion when your own desires or behavior must be suppressed or held back in a group setting (Kashiwagi, 1988). Differences in the timing of the development of these two aspects of the self-regulatory capacity have been demonstrated. It has been shown that the self-assertion aspect develops earlier than the self-control aspect, reaching its peak at around four and a half to five years of age, and the self-control aspect then gradually develops after the self-assertion aspect has peaked (Kashiwagi, 1988; Matsunaga, 2008). The long struggle over the tricycle described above can perhaps been seen as a phenomenon owing to the difference in the timing of the development of these aspects of the self-regulation. The middle of the second term may be a period during which a wide gap has opened up between the development of the self-assertion and the self-control. In other words, the self-assertion has largely developed, and both children clearly possess and assert their own will (“I want to ride!” “No!”) no matter what the other child or the teacher says. But since the self-control, on the other hand, is still at an undeveloped stage, it is difficult for them to suppress their own desires. As a result, Susumu keeps trying to get hold of the tricycle, and Hajime keeps waiting for Susumu to give up, and both children stubbornly continue to assert themselves without folding; particularly in Susumu’s case, his desire to ride the tricycle wins out and he continues to assert even though he tries to control it by giving up and playing with something else.
A clue to understanding children’s development is hidden within this ordinary, everyday episode. Going forward, I hope to deepen my study of this development by observing children in everyday situations and thinking about the causal factors that underlie them.


  • Kashiwagi, Keiko (1988). Youjiki ni okeru jiko no hattatsu (Development of “self” in infant), Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press.
  • Matsunaga, Aekemi(2008). Development of self-regulation (self-assertion and self-control) in preschool children : Analysis of longitudinal data on parent's and teacher's evaluation. Annual report of the Faculty of Education, Gunma University. Cultural science series, 57, 169-181.


Ritsumeikan Journal of Human Sciences


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Institute of Ars Vivendi. Ritsumeikan Univ.