Calm in a Storm: Self-Soothing in Childhood

by Jodi Gilray-Szostak PT, DPT, C/NDT, NTMTC Jodi Gilray Pediatric Therapy

Even our wee little ones are learning how to self-soothe.

You may notice that as time goes on, your child cries less frequently, can sleep through the night without major fuss and can fall to sleep all by themselves. This means that your baby is self-soothing. Parents will typically begin to notice these changes as early as 6 months.

Baby self-soothing techniques can include swaddling, rocking, singing a lullaby, using white noise and providing a low-stimulation environment.

Just like babies, kids work on developing self-soothing skills over time. There may be instances when your child excels at remaining calm and has a total meltdown in others. This is where these self-soothing ideas come into play.

Use your imagination. Who doesn’t want a little TLC after a stressful event or day? Teach your child to imagine a favorite place. It could be a beach or their favorite place at home. Whenever they feel angered, saddened or distressed, remind them to check in with their happy place. 

Find a quick move. Some kids do better with movement than visualizations. If difficult emotions or situations appear, have them do their “quick move” to get the heart pumping and to dislodge some negative emotions.

A quick move could be anything from spinning around to doing a silly dance. Shaking it out is a great way to improve feelings right at the moment. Physical activity, in general, can have positive effects on emotional regulation.

Splash your face. Sometimes in times of stress, altering our sensory experience is enough to turn our emotions around. Splashing water on the face is a handy self-soothing technique.

Name five. A little gratitude can go a long way to self-soothe. Task your kiddo in naming five things and/or activities they love or look forward to doing. Listing favorites can self-soothe the mind and generate feelings of gratitude.

Trouble in paradise. From problems big to small, we all develop ways to cope and manage the situation at hand. However, we don’t always learn appropriate and helpful ways to overcome some of life’s greatest conundrums.

Some problematic self-soothing techniques include thumb-sucking, skin-picking, hair-pulling or substance abuse. It’s important to help your child identify calming techniques as early as possible so they can turn to helpful and appropriate behaviors when faced with troublesome circumstances.