Self-soothing and self-soothing are different. Self-soothing enables children to regulate their emotions while self-settling is a useful tool children use to fall back to sleep without assistance from a parent/caregiver.
These are life skills that will continue to develop over time, and every child can learn how to self-soothe and self-settle with the right support – that’s where we come in.
Below, find out everything you need to know about teaching a baby how to self-soothe and self-settle.
What is self-settling and self-soothing?
Self-settling and self-soothing are different.
Self-settling is when a child wakes up and falls back to sleep without assistance from a parent or caregiver. In the first few months, most babies need hands-on assistance, such as shushing, rocking, or holding.
Around the four-to-five-month mark, a baby’s circadian rhythm matures, and you will start to notice a change in their sleep patterns. This is a crucial time to introduce self-settling as it will help your child fall back to sleep without assistance during the night.
Self-soothing is a social-emotional skill that children use to regulate their emotions. It’s a life skill that will continue to develop over time. It tends to be habitual in nature and is considered comforting by the individual.
Self-soothing is closely related to sensory preferences. You can learn more about this on our sensory development blog .
What are the signs of self-soothing?
Self-soothing is comforting and all children can learn how to self-soothe with the right guidance. Below, find common signs that your child is self-soothing.
Infants often self-soothe using the below methods:
- Bringing a hand to their mouth.
- Rocking their head back and forth.
- Stroking their ears or nose.
- Holding their hands together.
Older children often self-soothe using the below methods:
- Looking, listening, or touching preferred stimuli (toys, blanket, pacifier etc.)
At what age do babies learn to self-settle?
From birth to three months old, most children need physical or emotional assistance from a parent/caregiver to fall back to sleep. Rocking, feeding, holding, or offering a pacifier are common ways to achieve this.
At between four to five months old, you will start to notice a change in your child’s sleep patterns. At this stage of development, a child’s circadian rhythm and sleep cycles are maturing. This is a great opportunity to introduce self-settling techniques, particularly before the four-month sleep regression phase.
How to encourage self-settling
It’s important to create a safe sleeping environment, bedtime routine, and avoid overtiredness when trying to encourage self-settling. From timings to safe sleep methods, follow the below steps to ensure your child has the best chance of learning how to self-settle.
Master the timing
On average, children will begin to demonstrate self-soothing behaviours between three to four months old. By this time, their sleep cycles have begun to mature, and they may not be able to fall back to sleep between REM and non-REM stages.
By six months, most infants can sleep for approximately eight hours without needing to feed. Helping your child learn how to self-soothe before separation anxiety kicks in (usually around eight-nine months) will enable them to have a better chance of a good night’s sleep.
Create a safe sleeping environment
Always follow the below steps to ensure your baby has a safe sleeping environment.
- Red Nose Australia recommends sleeping in the same room as your child for the first six-12 months to reduce the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).
- Always remove toys, blankets, and other choking hazards from the baby’s bassinet/cot before sleep.
- Keep the cot/bassinet away from hanging cords such as blinds, curtains, and electrical appliances.
- Always put your child to sleep on their back with the face uncovered.
- Ensure the mattress is clean, flat, dry, and the correct size for the cot.
- Never use electric blankets, hot water bottles or wheat bags.
- Never co-sleep with your child.
Establish a bedtime routine
A calming routine will help your little one to recognise that it’s time to sleep. Close the curtains/blinds, speak in hushed tones, and try to stick to the same bedtime each night.
Your bedtime routine might look like a bath, reading a book, singing a lullaby, baby massage, or white noise. Find what works for you and your family.
Choose a bedtime (and stick to it)
It’s important to stick to a set bedtime each night to help your child recognise when it’s time to sleep. Keep the room dark or dimly lit, stay calm and quiet when your baby wakes, and avoid playtime in the evening.
An overtired child will struggle to regulate their emotions and will find it difficult to fall asleep. Below, find common signs your little one is overtired.
- Crying or fussing.
- Arching their back.
- Difficult to soothe.
- Catnapping often.
- Falling asleep at unusual times i.e., before feeding.
Self-settling techniques for babies
Once you have created a safe sleeping environment, established a routine, and decided on a bedtime, you can begin to introduce self-settling techniques. Find what works for you and your family.
Common settling techniques
Try our Swaddle Up™
Our award-winning SWADDLE UP™ is designed to encourage your little one to safely self-soothe. Its unique wing tips mean your child can sleep in a more natural ARMS-UP™ position while the twin zipper enables easy nappy changes without disturbing sleep.
Once your child start to show signs of rolling over or pulling up onto their hands, you must stop swaddling. Designed to help your little one slowly graduate to arms-free sleep, our Ready To Roll collection features Transition Suits and Bags™ with wings that can be removed one by one.
Keep your child in their cot when they wake
If your baby wakes up in the middle of the night and is struggling to self-soothe, try to avoid taking them out of their cot/bassinet. Instead, quietly comfort them with gentle words, singing, or light pats whilst they remain in their cot/bassinet. In time, this will hopefully encourage them to self-soothe.
Baby self-settling and soothing FAQs
How do I encourage my baby to self-settling?
Every child is different and will need learn to self-settle in their own time. To encourage self-settling, it’s important to establish a consistent bedtime routine, avoid overtiredness, and keep your child in their cot/bassinet when they wake up.
How do I teach my baby to self-soothe without crying it out?
Gentle sleep methods and swaddling will encourage your little one to self-soothe. For example, the ‘pick-up, put-down settling method’ and the ‘shush-pat settling method’ are useful techniques that parents/caregivers can try. Always follow a consistent bedtime routine and follow safe sleep guidelines.
Why isn’t my baby learning how to self-soothe?
There are several reasons why your baby might be struggling to learn how to self-soothe. It’s a matter of trial and error. Always ensure your child has a safe sleep environment, consistent bedtime routine, and avoid overtiredness where possible. Self-soothing might take longer for some children to master than others. If you are concerned, speak to your GP.
What happens if you don’t teach a baby to self-soothe?
Every child is different, and some may take longer than others to learn how to self-soothe. It’s a matter of trial and error. Try moving their bedtime earlier/later or see if your child responds better to different activities at bedtime (for example, massage, bath, reading a book). Our award-winning SWADDLE UP™ is designed to encourage your baby to safely self-soothe with ease.