Self-soothing may be the most important thing you can teach your children. The key to maximizing happiness is the ability to calm yourself and control your thoughts and emotions.
What Is Self-Soothing?
Self-soothing is the skill of emotional control. It is calming yourself down, all by yourself. It is thinking, feeling and doing things that nudge and force you to be calm and relax. Sometimes a nudge is enough. Sometimes brute force is required to gain emotional equilibrium.
Self-soothing is often mentioned in developmental psychology. Parents are encouraged to help their babies to learn calm themselves, instead of crying themselves to sleep. Crying yourself to sleep is no fun for anyone. Learning how to get to sleep is a win-win.
Why Teach Self-Soothing?
Babies don’t come with the ability to control their emotions. They have to be taught how to go from high gear to coasting. They have to learn how to settle down. They don’t know how to handle too much excitement or how to prevent becoming overly tired. They get wound up but have to learn how to unwind.
Self-soothing is most noticed at night but needs to be learned in the day time. Some parents rush their baby around all day and then expect her to calmly go to sleep at night. They don’t realize that it is their responsibility to teach their child how to calm down.
How Teach Self-Soothing?
The first step is to lengthen the amount of time between fussing and picking up. If your baby is playing by himself and gets upset, talk to him. Say “Oh, wow. That toy hit you in the nose, didn’t it.? Be up-beat. Give them a moment to handle things on their own. As they progress, give them more time for self control.
Parenting is the constant process of letting your children need you less. So start when they are young. Give them a little time to orient themselves. Gradually, give them more time to control themselves and their environment. The trick is to give them enough time to succeed but not enough time to fail.
The second step is to create a routine for nap time. Don’t just plop them down and expect a nap. Naps should be multi-step routines. Infants love set routines. Parents get bored by them but not kids. For children, routines are like seasonal markers or family traditions, on a much smaller scale. Traditions and routines are predictable and comforting.
Do the same things you’d do for bedtime. Read a story, sing a song, whatever. What you do is less important than how. As long as the activities are calming and done in the same order every time, a nap routine will be a hit.
The third step is to gradually introduce it at bedtime. Get the day schedule set and then work on the night shift.
It’s okay to take your time. You have to wait for their brains and tummies to grow. Typically, babies don’t sleep through the night until they are three months old or weigh 12 pounds, whichever comes first. The weight is an indicator that they have enough food stores to make it through the night. Newborns can’t store enough food to last more than 3-4 hours, which is why they need constant feeding. The three months is so the brain has enough time to develop stable sleep patterns. Learning to self-sooth and sleep through the night takes time and routines.
When you are setting up a routine for an infant, make sure it makes sense. They are just like you but with fewer words. Use your experience to help design their own morning and evening routines.
Have a routine for getting up, a routine for getting breakfast, and a routine for getting dressed. Use a checklist to make sure all the steps have been taken. And practice it every day (weekends too), in the same order, every time.
Establish routines for after school, for getting ready for dinner and for getting ready for bed. Have a time for studying, music, art, turning off electronic screens, reading, relaxing, and getting sleepy. Make a logical progression from busy to calm. Create and maintain a de-activation routine.
NOTE: The same process will work for you. Set up get going in the morning and disengagement after work routines. Be nice to yourself. Learn to calm yourself.