What is Self-Soothing? Learn About this Important Social-Emotional Tool
There is no better feeling than being able to relax and let your troubles melt away. This form of personal comfort is called self-soothing, and it is an important, lifelong skill that can help with sleeping, managing emotions, building healthy relationships, and so much more.
For babies and children, self-soothing is being able to calm themselves without the help of another person (usually a parent or other caregiver). In order to learn how to self-soothe, babies and children first need to know how it feels to be soothed, either by their caregivers, by fun and relaxing activities, or by their needs being met.
Self-soothing is a social-emotional tool that babies and children learn to use throughout their lives. We are not suggesting that self-soothing is a parenting technique or a developmental milestone. Learning to calm and control one’s emotions is a constantly changing process, and self-soothing skills may come and go as children age and have new experiences.
Here are some tips to promote self-soothing in babies and children!
Self-soothing for babies
For babies, self-soothing is usually referring to falling asleep on their own or going back to sleep when they wake up in the middle of the night. Babies cry a lot because it is a method of communication for them. When baby first begins to stay asleep throughout the night, it is because they are learning to self-soothe. Babies typically learn to self-soothe around 6 months.
There is no age-related milestone for self-soothing. Rather, learning how to self-soothe is a process (for babies and parents!). Around 6 months, babies typically begin to show signs of sleeping through the night and falling asleep on their own after waking, but every baby is different. What works at one point for baby may not work at another, and that’s ok!
To promote self-soothing for baby, try:
- Meeting baby’s basic needs: This is the first and most important step in helping baby self-soothe. Basic needs are the actions that make up the foundation of baby’s care, and include feeding, bathing, diapering, being comforted when crying, and all of the other steps parents take to help their baby feel loved and safe.
- Swaddling: This early sleeping technique helps baby to feel safe and comforted. The more they associate this feeling with falling asleep, then the easier it will be for them to master self-soothing. Please note: The AAP recommends that baby is transitioned out of swaddling as soon baby begins to show signs of trying to roll over. This can happen as early as 2 months of age.
- Try calming baby while they’re still in their crib: Baby will associate being in their crib with soothing, and soon be able to calm themselves in the same place.
- Keep baby active while awake: Some babies have trouble with self-soothing because they didn’t use up enough energy during their time outside of their crib. Keep baby engaged and active by playing baby games.
Self-soothing for children
For children, self-soothing (also called self-regulation) usually refers to emotional regulation. This doesn’t mean they won’t have emotions—children who are learning how to self-soothe will still cry and get upset. But when they self-soothe, they learn how to recover from strong emotions (anything from sadness, to anxiety, to excitement), or are able to stay calm for long periods of time.
As with babies, self-regulation takes time to develop, and their skills may change as they have new experiences or face new challenges.
To promote self-soothing in children, try:
- Practicing mindfulness: This form of meditation can help children think before they act, and to be more in touch with how they are feeling.
- Engaging in fun activities: Burn off some energy and keep your child moving to help with their emotional regulation.
- Independent play: Not only does play keep them active and engaged, but independent play can help them to learn how to problem solve on their own, an essential self-soothing skill.
- Modeling positive behaviors: Children learn by example. Sometimes the best way to show children how to self-soothe is by staying calm and collected yourself. For example, if your child is nervous because it is storming outside, try to show them how you are staying calm and reassure them everything will be okay.
- Taking naps: Some children get upset because they are tired and do not have enough energy throughout the day. Try incorporating short naps into your child’s daily routine.
- Making a routine: Routines can help reduce feelings of anxiety or tension. Try making a routine with your family and sticking to it to help children know what to expect each day.
What if your child is having trouble with self-soothing?
If you suspect your child has a self-soothing issue or is struggling with their social-emotional skills, speak to a healthcare provider. They can refer you to the right resources to help your child strengthen their skills.