Most people think of “self-soothing” as something that a baby or child does. But think again.
“If you’re bored, I can find something for you to do.”
This is the magic offering that sends many a kid into an about face with an over-the-shoulder comment, “I’m not bored.” Or, “I just remembered I have to . . . .”
Anything is preferable to having a parent chose an activity to reduce a child’s need for stimulation. Yes, self-soothing and self-stimulation are often close relatives.
An infant or young child will often fuss and be cranky until she is rocked or able to hold a favorite cloth or bury her nose in the scent of her mother’s neck. (Watch what happens if you should decide to cut your very long hair when you have a child who is less than 18 months old. You may not have realized it, but that infant/child relied upon the stabilizing, familiar feel of that long hair. Or go to clean shaven from a beard.) Comfort and soothing are sometimes totally beyond the parental recognition of such until the infant/child responds with displeasure.
When does a child begin to learn how to self-sooth? To meet his own needs for comfort and self-satisfaction?
As soon as the infant can fuss to have a pacifier in his mouth, he is learning to self-soothe.
Self-soothing can come in many forms. Sometimes it is a way to relax and feel comforted, and at other times it is a way in which to stimulate and promote interest and excitation. We want our children to look to themselves for this skill. With the advent of electronics, we have been able to “plug-in and tune out” as a way to self soothe. But what happens when the battery pack dies? The power goes out? The signal is weak? The DSL slow? How much do our children rely upon electronics to self-soothe? How much do parents rely on electronics to provide soothing?
How does a person learn to self-sooth while relying upon others to provide the creativity, in any form?
It may sound old-fashioned (did someone just say cruel?), to provide a child with an environment devoid of electronics for a long enough period of time that they are reduced to PLAYING. How do children stimulate and self-soothe who have no electricity? What in the environment promotes the PRACTICING of creativity? Crawling infants give us many clues as to the ingenuity of the young brain. Look what they can do with a drawer full of pots and pans.
When was the last time you built forts or houses with sheets and chairs? Who did the building? Who had the imaginary processes for the roles that were to be played? The story lines to be followed?
(One of my favorite memories is driving cross-country with our children singing made-up operas. The Iowa farm land has forever taken on a whole new persona since that time.)
Teach self-soothing by providing the learning environment for the child and then having the expectation that the child can create the same type of soothing for herself. Then have the expectation that the child can provide his own soothing, either calming or stimulation.
The ability to self-soothe is a lifelong achievement. If we practice, practice, practice in our childhood, we can survive the bruises of adolescence and adulthood with healthy expectations and endeavors borne out childhood creativity.