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What's the story with self-soothing
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Hello! I recently listened to S3 E32 “Everything you need to know about discipline.” I am confused slightly about a concept, particularly the self-soothing. Please correct me if I am wrong, but in your sleep episodes I thought we were advised that one option is to start to teach our babies how to self-soothe back to sleep. But in this episode the conversation was against any self-soothing for babies/toddlers. Am I getting concepts mixed up? Would really love any insight! Thanks for another incredible episode!
Thank you SO much for this great question. It IS confusing, and you are right to wonder what to do. The problem with the idea of self-soothing is that it gives the impression that we do it all on our own, and in the absence of other people. That just isn’t how humans work. We soothe with, and off of, others. This concept is known as co-regulation, and it starts at birth (and even in utero!). As infants, we learn to be soothed through sensitive caregiving behaviors. As toddlers, we learn through a calm and responsive adult while we tantrum. As children we learn from moments of thoughtful conversation and validation when we make mistakes and face failure. We learn to calm ourselves from, and with, those around us.
When we talk about babies learning to fall asleep on their own, we are talking about them getting used to doing the last 10% of the work it takes for them to sleep. That doesn’t mean that parents don’t support the other 90% of the process - with our voice, our touch, our love and attention - but instead, the 90% we do allows our children to figure out how to do some of the soothing, too. It’s a YES/AND not a YES/BUT. It means you know that you're committed to helping your little one learn to sleep on their own AND you are aware that sometimes that may mean you are not going to stay up all night to do so. Finally, with sleep, there are some circumstances where if you don’t give space for your little one to self-soothe, you may not have your own capacity to function for the majority of the time you are available. This type of sleep learning is a short-term challenge, and an important means to a restful end.
In the episode on discipline from last week, we were talking about helping our children to learn from their mistakes, or understanding their emotions and reactions, but responding to them sensitively. Instead of using punishments and yelling that attempts to elicit shame or fear in order to motivate behavior, working through hard feelings and moments with your child can actually make more meaningful change. Being supportive when they are at their worst can help them to learn to manage big feelings and hard choices on their own…eventually. And again, you’re not going anywhere. You are right there with them. That does not mean that they won’t have to do things they don’t want to do, or be disappointed in your response or decisions. It means that they know your love is consistent and that you are there for them even when you are not budging! (There are some parallels with that “self-soothing” to sleep) You are generally there and available, AND you also are tolerating that they are uncomfortable with a decision you have made for bigger picture well-being.
Thank you for the question, and keep them coming.
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