Also known as the holy grail of all things children’s sleep; “self soothing” or “self settling” is often confused with sleep training methodologies such as cry it out, controlled crying, responsive settling – or at worst, neglect. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Teaching a child to self settle, in it’s simplest form, translates to teaching them that they are capable of falling asleep on their own.
True self settling empowers your child by enabling them to develop his/her own individual coping strategy naturally, without the dependence on a caregiver to do so.
As parents, we cannot ‘force’ self setting through sleep training. Children will learn self settle according to their own inborn timeline, when we provide a loving, supportive, and responsive presence for them to do so.
In my experience, a baby’s ability to self settle (or self soothe), depends on a few factors; their temperament, age, and our level of involvement when putting them to sleep. Whilst some babies can self settle from birth, for others, this is an acquired skill which they become more competent at doing the older they become (usually more consistently after the first trimester – four months plus).
Ways we can encourage our child’s capability to fall asleep independently are:
- Establishing consistent and positive sleep associations; incorporate a relaxing and predictable sleep time routine which signals to your child that it is time for sleep e.g. massage, swaddle/sleeping bag, white noise, dark room, reading a book, comforter etc.
- Tune into your baby’s unique temperament, needs, and capabilities – e.g. a sensitive or high needs child may require more parental intervention at sleep times (especially in the first 3 months), therefore making their ability to fall asleep independently much more challenging
- Trust in your child’s natural ability to develop their own coping strategies at times of frustration, upset, or overwhelm
- Be reactive, not proactive to your baby’s needs; allow them space at sleep times to find their lovey, thumb, or other comfort source (without rushing in at the first sign of struggle or frustration)
- Limit your intervention to soothe them through methods such as rocking, patting, holding, or offering the dummy; these actions quickly become our habits and our baby’s sleep needs – and can become more difficult to break as your child gets older
- Acknowledge the role of crying as a natural stress relief/healing process for our babies; provided we have addressed all of their primary needs such as hunger, discomfort, pain, hot/cold. It’s not our job to stop the crying; it’s our job to tune into what our baby is trying to communicate at the time, and respond accordingly. Not every cry is a call out for us to place a dummy (or breast) in their mouth, drive them around the block, rock, shush, or pat them.
“ Supporting a baby to self-soothe can mean listening to her complaints for a minute or two while she finds her thumb, rather than immediately giving her a pacifier. It can be about remembering to offer two teethers and allowing the baby to choose one and grasp it herself rather than automatically placing something in her mouth. It might mean allowing our baby to cry in our arms to release her feelings at bedtime instead of rocking, patting, or jiggling her, etc” – Janet Lansbury
Being patient can sometimes be the most challenging part for parents with our “want it now” mentality; but if we trust in our baby’s capability to develop these skills in his/her own time, we will reap the benefits of having to do less at sleep times ongoing.
If you need any help with teaching your child to fall asleep independently at bedtimes, or sleep better overall, please get in touch with me for a consultation.