HOW TO HELP A CHILD BEGIN TO SELF-SOOTHE
Helping a child learn to self-soothe is an important skill for their emotional development.
Teach Calming Techniques:
- Teach the child age-appropriate techniques like taking deep breaths, counting to ten, or using a calming phrase or word.
- Provide Comfort Objects: A soft toy, a security blanket, or a special stuffed animal can be comforting for a child. Encourage the child to use these items when they feel upset.
- Create a Safe Space: Set up a designated calm and safe area where the child can go when they need to soothe themselves. Ensure it’s a quiet, comfortable, and inviting space.
- Positive Reinforcement: Praise and reinforce the child’s efforts when they successfully self-soothe. This positive feedback encourages them to continue these behaviors.
- Encourage Independence: Give the child opportunities to make choices and solve small problems on their own. This can boost their confidence in self-soothing.
- Establish a Consistent Bedtime Routine: A consistent bedtime routine helps children relax and prepare for sleep. It might include activities like reading a book, taking a warm bath, or listening to calming music.
- Teach Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques: Depending on the child’s age, you can introduce simple mindfulness exercises or progressive muscle relaxation techniques.
- Model Self-Soothing: Children often learn by watching adults. If they see you using healthy ways to manage stress or frustration, they may emulate those behaviors.
- Be Patient and Supportive: Recognize that self-soothing is a skill that develops over time. Be patient and offer support when the child needs it.
- Consistent Boundaries: Set clear and consistent boundaries, so the child knows what is expected of them. This alone can reduce anxiety and help them feel secure.
Helping a child learn to self-soothe is a gradual process, and the strategies you use may need to be adjusted based on the child’s age and individual needs. It’s important to create a supportive and nurturing environment for them to develop these skills and remember that using them will ebb and flow, in the moment it may be difficult for the child to access these skills but the more they practice the more they can use them from memory.
Here are ten additional techniques that may be useful for parents or caregivers dealing with children:
- Stay Calm Yourself: It’s essential to remain composed and not get agitated. Children can often pick up on your emotions.
- Identify the Cause: Try to figure out why the child is upset. Are they hungry, tired, in pain, or just needing attention?
- Provide Comfort: While offering a comforting item like a favorite toy, blanket, or stuffed animal, you can say “Sometimes we all need a hug to feel better” or say “Let’s get your favorite rabbit” so that in the future they learn to reach for those items when they start to feel distressed.
- Use a Soothing Voice: Speak in a soft and soothing tone. Reassure the child that you are there to help not judge, scream or yell at them.
- Distraction: Sometimes, redirecting their attention to something else, like a colorful book or a gentle song, can be effective. Take a walk, open the window, change the scenery somehow.
- Hold and Rock: For younger children, holding and gently rocking them can provide comfort.
- Create a Quiet Environment: Dim the lights and reduce noise to create a calming atmosphere.
- Deep Breathing: Teach the child to take deep breaths. This can help them calm down and regulate their emotions.
- Offer a Snack: For some children, a small, healthy snack can help if hunger is the cause of their distress.
- Set a Routine: Having a consistent daily routine can help children feel secure, as they know what to expect.
All children are individuals just like adults, so finding the best calming strategy for a particular child may take some trial and error but in the long run, it is worth working on these positive coping strategies as soon as possible (and at the age-appropriate level) so that your child will have these skills to use for life.