Teaching Children How to Self-Soothe

Teaching Children How to Self-Soothe

Teaching is a challenging job. Creating an environment where children can develop comes with a range of obstacles.

As educators, the best-case scenario is to recruit the children, in the long run, to help in their own education. Where it is appropriate, it’s not only valuable to help children take ownership of their own education, it is a mark of successful education.

Self-soothing is a particularly important area to give children tools to take care of themselves. Teachers and parents won’t be present every time a child feels worried or anxious. In the long run, it would not be helpful to a child’s development if they came to rely on the adults in their lives to fix their problems. To ensure balance in development, it’s essential for children to learn how to self-soothe.

Teaching Children How To Self-Soothe

girl with stickers on face

What is Self Soothing?

People instinctively try to soothe their own stress. In children, this instinct to self-soothe can often look like fidgeting. Thumb-sucking, biting fingernails, and sucking on clothes, are all examples of potential self-soothing habits that children sometimes use to help them cope with stressful situations. Children might develop many other habits and behaviors to self-soothe as they grow. As a result, their instinctive behaviors might evolve or change.

Self-soothing can take many forms. Not all of them are clear and external, and not all of them are healthy or helpful. In fact, some children have trouble developing mechanisms for soothing their own stressful emotions. As children age, it becomes more important to teach children how to self-soothe, since some of the behaviors that small children use to self-soothe grow less socially appropriate.

In cases where children have developed potentially unhelpful self-soothing methods, or in situations where they have trouble developing self-soothing strategies of any kind, it might be prudent to teach better self-soothing techniques.

How to Teach an Older Child to Self-Soothe

how to teach an older child to self-soothe

Because coping with stress is the goal of self-soothing, children might instinctively resist learning new or different self-soothing strategies. An attempt to teach alternative self-soothing habits might look to children like taking away their coping mechanisms. As a result, educators must approach teaching new techniques with delicacy.


At the same time, it can be important to help children learn better self-soothing strategies as they grow. Stressors increase as children age. The self-soothing techniques that may have come instinctively to children may grow insufficient as they age.


The self-soothing techniques might also contribute to the stress and anxiety of the child if the technique attracts ridicule from other children. This might end up sabotaging their technique because a child might grow self-conscious about their instinctive technique, try not to use it, and then grow more and more agitated. Therefore, they need to replace the self-soothing technique with another soothing strategy.


When deciding how to teach an older child to self-soothe, there are two stages an educator should go through.


The first stage of teaching a new strategy for self-soothing is identifying any self-soothing techniques a child might already have a habit of using to cope with stress. For example:

  • Biting nails
  • Thumb sucking
  • Picking at cuticles
  • Sucking on clothing
  • General fidgeting

This is far from an exhaustive list. Educators and parents need to get to know their children’s habits. Once they do, it will become possible to identify which behaviors manifest to cope with stress. Identifying the self-soothing habits adopted by children will also mean gaining an idea of what causes them stress and gives them a need to use self-soothing strategies.


After working with the child to learn more about their self-soothing habits, then it’s possible to help them learn other self-soothing techniques. Some self-soothing techniques that might be useful to suggest include:

  • Changing their environment or something about their environment
  • Doing some stretches
  • Imagining soothing imagery
  • Focused breathing or counting breaths
  • Butterfly hugs–or the practice of gently patting themself on the chest with their hands crossed and telling themself they are safe

These self-soothing techniques are valuable tools to add to an educator’s or parent’s toolbox. There are a lot of legitimate and valuable self-soothing techniques out there. When deciding how to teach an older child to self-soothe, there are several options. Teaching these techniques prepares them for strong childhood development and long-term success in life.


Soul Shoppe provides social emotional learning programs and can help you learn how to create a safe space in the classroom or at home. Soul Shoppe encourages empathy and emotional awareness in children. Click for more information on SEL Programs for Elementary Schools. Click to learn how to create a peace corner for self-soothing.


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