What’s the difference between self-soothing and self-settling?


There are two very different things but often cause a lot of confusion for parents.

Self-settling is simply settling yourself to sleep. It means going from being awake to asleep without someone else helping you.

Self-soothing is something entirely different. This is the ability to become calm after feeling stressed and is actually quite an advanced skill. It involves regulating our emotions and this skill comes from the most mature part of our brain which carries on developing until we are about 25 years old.

Some people will say that you can teach a child to self-soothe by leaving them to cry. However, if we do this, all we are teaching them is that when they cry, nobody comes and so eventually they will give up and stop crying. When a child cries, they need our help and support to calm down. We cannot expect a child to self-soothe but they can fall asleep.

When we help a toddler calm down from a tantrum, we are helping them understand what frustration feels like and teaching them how to regulate this emotion. This is an important part of growing up and becoming emotionally capable adults. Every difficult situation we support our child through is an opportunity for their brain and body to learn about emotion regulation.

Self-soothing is hard and even as adults we need help every now and again to calm ourselves down. Adults have the ability to rationalise the situation, take a few deep breaths or talk it though with someone else. Young children do not have this ability and need a calm and caring adult to help them in their distress. Children learn to self-soothe by being soothed.

But how does sleep coaching fit in to all of this? Well gentle sleep coaching is not about leaving a baby to cry alone, it is about responding to their needs every step of the way. It’s about supporting a baby or child to self-settle (just falling asleep) so that both baby or child and parent get better sleep so they can function better and have more energy in the day.

If you are struggling with sleep and would like help to support your little one to settle at bedtime and throughout the night (which is just connecting sleep cycles), book a free 15 minute call here to find out more.

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