Self-soothing (self-regulation or grounding) is the ability to manage intense feelings or emotions (positive or negative), sensations and thoughts. It is a very important skill for all of us to have, but children are not born with this skill.
Why is this an important skill for children to have? The ability to self-sooth (self-regulate) has a significant impact on the following aspect of child development:
- Improved emotional intelligence (EQ)
- Ability to cope with stress
- Improved learning outcomes in studies
- Being more independent
- Improved relationships with others (children and adults)
- Development of self-discipline
- Better impulse control
- Staying focused on objectives
- Adjusting to changes in the environment
“Self-regulation [self-soothing] is a better indicator of success than intelligence or talent.” – Laurence D. Steinberg
The development of effective self-regulation is recognized as fundamental to an individual’s functioning, with development during early childhood often considered an early marker for later life successes” (Montroy, Janelle J et al. 2016).
Studies show that children who are taught to self-sooth (self-regulate or ground) have higher academic success, better physical health, lower divorce rates, and are less likely to suffer addictions as adults.
It is vital to remember that this skill is not something that your child will miraculously learn one day, it is something we all need to work on daily. Under “normal” family circumstances self-soothing (self-regulation or grounding) is modelled by adult family members because a large part of self-soothing (self-regulation or grounding) training starts with co-regulation.
Where children have experienced trauma and/or are removed from a family setup or do not have adults around them that can model self-soothing (self-regulation or grounding), these children need external input to assist them with the development of this skill.
Our kids are bombarded with stresses, and sensory overload, at home, on the playground and in the classroom – life has become a fast moving, always changing set of circumstances that force children to adapt or be left behind.
If children have to face these stressors without the ability or example or self-soothing (self-regulation or grounding) they can struggle with numerous challenges including some of the following:
- Poor emotional adjustment
- Poor impulse control
- Difficulty focusing/refocusing on tasks
- Difficulty regulating strong emotions such as anger, frustration, embarrassment, and excitement
- Difficulty calming down after something exciting or upsetting
- Difficulty regulating their moods
- Withdrawn and has trouble interacting with others
- Difficulty with communication skills or social skills for their age
- Behave in dangerous ways to themselves or others
- Difficulty with self-soothing
- Do not tolerate changes well
- Challenges with sleep, eating, sensory processing
These “symptoms” are often identified as a child being lazy or naughty or daydreaming which unfortunately makes the situation worse and often isolates a child and labels them as “problem children”.
Self-soothing (self-regulation or grounding) is an ongoing developmental skill for every human being, experiencing trauma makes the challenge even harder. For children who suffered trauma and battle post-trauma signs self- soothing (self-regulation or grounding) is a mammoth challenge.
Self-soothing (self-regulation or grounding) is crucial to trauma treatment, because almost all trauma survivors have to deal with constant emotional reactions to things that remind them of the past (triggers) and with a heightened response to stress that usually follows trauma. After trauma, survivors suffer from strong stress reactions and sensations that are unpredictable and disordered. They feel that life is “out of control” and something bad is about to happen.
Trauma brings fear and a sense of anxious unpredictability into our experience of all these systems. The result is that many survivors feel “on edge” and overwhelmed, with all their inner resources consumed in the struggle to cope with the sense of constant vulnerability they carry.
A child’s self-soothing (self-regulation or grounding) system after trauma can respond by either over-reacting and being loudly verbal in response to stimuli or shut down into a place of numbness and silence.
While those who experience extreme trauma would always benefit from receiving treatment from a registered mental health professional such as a psychologist or psychiatrist, South Africa currently has a serious shortage of these professionals able to assist everyone who needs support.
This is why H.E.L.P – Four Stages for Supporting Traumatised Children was developed.
This programme is not meant to replace or replicate psychological mental health treatment. Rather, it is a training programme aimed at educating parents, teachers, caregivers or anyone working with children so that they are better able to support and empower children experiencing trauma.
Our toolkits contain various different toys, sensory objects and tools which a child can use to help self-sooth and stimulate their senses when they are in distress. During the H.E.L.P training we teach participants how to use these tools and how to empower children to use their toolkits as healthy coping skills to deal with trauma and unpleasant feelings.
We can all benefit from learning how to more effectively help children, help themselves in combating the effects of trauma as well as the bombardment of stresses in today’s world and develop a strong ability to self-sooth (self-regulate or ground).