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Calm in a Storm: Self-soothing in Childhood

Feb 11, 2022


Relax. It’s all okay! Easier said than done, right? Relaxation without action probably isn’t relaxation at all. When prompted to stay calm, we make bodily or situational changes in order to feel more at ease. This is self-soothing in motion. In an unpredictable world, it’s more important than ever to place a focus on self-soothing behaviors so that we can better cope with problems and troubles that come tumbling into our path. Self-soothing has big benefits when done right! 

Self-Soothing for Babies

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 of age. Keep in mind that your baby is still far from being a master at calm. It is important to always be an advocate of safety and love for your little one so that they can one day take care of themselves in a comfortable, healthy way. Baby self-soothing techniques can include swaddling, rocking, singing a lullaby, using white noise, and providing a low-stimulation environment. You might try a few different techniques to see which is the most relaxing and effective option.


Self-soothing for Kids

How good is your kiddo at self-regulating themselves and their emotions? This ability relates entirely to self-soothing. Just like babies, kids work on developing these skills over time. There may be instances where your child excels at remaining calm and has a total meltdown in others. This is where these self-soothing ideas come into play. The more you can practice and model calm behavior, the better off your little one will be. 

List of Self-soothing Activities:

  • Use Your Imagination

Who doesn’t want a little TLC after a stressful event or day? Teach your little one to imagine a place that they want to be right at that moment. It could be a beach or even 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 they do with 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 in a circle to doing a silly dance. Shaking it out is a great way to improve feelings right at the moment. Of course, physical activity, in general, can have positive effects on emotional regulation. Everything seems a little bit brighter when we get up and move! 

  • Splash Water On 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 that may get a little messy, but that’s okay. Water can be cleaned up, and it’s far better than feeling down in the dumps. 

  • Name Five 

A little gratitude can go a long way to self-soothe. Task your kiddo in naming five things activities that they love or look forward to doing. Listing favorites can self-soothe the mind and generate feelings of gratitude. Present positive emotions in the face of negative emotions and what do you get? A happier you! 


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 that they can turn to helpful and appropriate behaviors when faced with troublesome circumstances. To learn more about emotional regulation, be sure to check out our self-regulation blog here.


From emotional outbursts to underreacting across situations, our occupational therapy team can help make life better for everyone. Contact us today.

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