Supporting Self-Soothing Strategies
Naturally, when your child is upset, all you want to do is calm him down. Even better, however, is teaching your child to calm himself.
What You Need to Know
Playing pretend is essential to your child's emotional development and mastering fear of uncomfortable situations. Playing pretend allows your child to:
- enjoy the powerful position being in charge of himself and his environment – the opposite of his position when overcome by feelings in everyday life
- transform reality and practice mastery over its tough situations
- experience feelings in a way that he can control, practicing emotions through play
- externalize inner conflicts symbolically and work through them to relieve pressures
- act as if his ideas are true to not only revisit the past, but also project into the future
- become sophisticated at expressing feelings by gaining communication skills, practicing negotiation and cooperation both on a pretend level to employ in real life
- free himself from the here and now of the concrete world
How You Can Help
As uncomfortable as fear is, it is useful in that it protects children and helps keep them out of danger. However, they can also get in the way of a child's fully experiencing the world, limiting exploration and discouraging healthy risk taking. Helping children deal with fear involves:
- Taking it seriously – Hear your child out when he expresses any fear. Express that you understand why the fear's source might be daunting, but that you can work together to practice getting him to understand that he can overcome it.
- Modeling – Tell your child about fears you've overcome and how you came to find them bearable. Show your child how to visualize himself feeling brave in situations that scare him.
- Playing out fears - Encourage small, graduated steps toward facing fears full on. One child overcame fear of the dentist by pretending to be a doctor with another child as a patient; then pretending to be a patient while another child is the doctor; then allowing an adult “doctor” to pretend to prod and inspect inside his mouth with dental instruments, then finally feeling ready to face the real thing.
Letting your child know you care is important, but equally important is resisting the urge to jump in to soothe each and every groan of frustration. Timing your intervention is important and also tricky:
- Ideally, you want to create a gap in response that's just long enough to allow your child to discover a way to meet his own needs.
- Waiting too long, however, could make your child feel neglected.
- Sometimes helping soothe your child is simply a matter of being present and allowing your child to pick up your calm rhythms.
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