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Self-Settling, Resettling and Self-Soothing in Children's Sleep


The terms self-settling, resettling, and self-soothing are often misunderstood in the parenting world. These three concepts are distinct, yet many parents confuse them. Misconceptions about these terms can lead to misguided expectations and strategies for improving a child's sleep. In this blog, I clarify what each term means and why understanding their differences is crucial for addressing your child's sleep issues effectively.


a baby sleeping peacefully without sleep training

Self-Soothing


What Is Self-Soothing?

Self-soothing refers to a child's ability to calm themselves down from a state of distress. It is often considered synonymous with self-regulation, which is the ability to manage one's emotions and behaviour in response to stress. While some experts suggest that babies start developing self-soothing skills between 4 to 6 months of age, there is no solid evidence to support this timeline.


The Myth of Self-Soothing

Many parents are told to encourage their children to self-soothe as a solution to sleep problems. This often involves leaving their child to cry until they fall asleep, under the assumption that the child will learn to calm themselves. However, most babies and young children are not able to self-soothe.


When a babies and children stop crying, it isn't because they have learned to self-soothe; it may be because they realise that no one is responding to their cries. And for young babies, this response can lead to a state of self-preservation where the baby stops crying to conserve energy, not because they have learned to manage their distress.


The Importance of Co-Regulation

Babies and young children need co-regulation, which involves a caregiver helping them to calm down. This support is crucial for emotional development and helps children release the appropriate hormones to manage stress. Instead of cry-based methods, in-room techniques where the parent provides presence and gentle support are more effective. These methods do not teach self-soothing but rather help children learn to regulate with the presence and support of their caregivers.


a baby asleep in bed with mum

Self-Settling


What Is Self-Settling?

Self-settling is the ability to fall asleep independently from a calm, awake state. This skill is different from self-soothing as it does not necessarily involve calming down from distress but rather transitioning smoothly into sleep.


Factors Affecting Self-Settling

Every baby and child has the potential to self-settle from birth, provided there are no interruptions to their natural, biological ability to sleep. Additionally, conditions conducive to sleep, such as a comfortable sleep environment and balanced sleep pressure (the natural drive to sleep), are essential. If a child is not overtired, not hungry, and all their physical needs are met, they should be able to self-settle easily.


Addressing Interruptions to Self-Settling

If a child struggles to self-settle, particularly when the conditions are conducive to sleep, it's crucial to identify what might be interrupting their ability to do so. This could be due to physiological, medical, or environmental factors. Addressing these underlying issues is key to helping a child achieve independent sleep without the use of any form of sleep training.


a child self-settling at bedtime

Resettling


What Is Resettling?

Resettling involves a child being able to link their sleep cycles or return to sleep after waking up. This process is more challenging than self-settling because the sleep pressure is lower after an initial period of sleep.


Distinguishing Resettling from Self-Settling

It's important to note that just because a child can self-settle does not mean they can resettle naturally, and vice versa. These are distinct skills that need to be addressed separately. For instance, a child might be able to settle themselves to sleep at nap time but struggle to resettle after a sleep cycle and link their block of sleep, triggering catnapping.


The same concept applies between the initial settling periods at nap time and bedtime, meaning that just because a child can settle for their nap, does not necessarily mean that they will self-settle for their bedtime.  


Interestingly, we can encourage a child to settle and link their blocks of sleep at night, and depending on their age, even encourage sleeping through the night whilst maintaining a level of assistance at the initial settling period.



Conclusion


Understanding the differences between self-soothing, self-settling, and resettling is essential for addressing children's sleep problems effectively. While self-soothing involves calming down from distress, self-settling is about falling asleep from a calm state, and resettling is about returning to sleep after waking up. By identifying and addressing the underlying issues that disrupt these processes, you can help your children achieve better sleep, without the use of sleep training.


If you have concerns about your child's sleep or want to explore any underlying issues, you can review my underlying issues checklist, available for free download.




You can also book in for a free 15 minute Discovery Call to connect. Let's work together to ensure your child gets the restful sleep they need.





Forever bringing sleep to families,


Shereen xx



I'm Shereen Nielsen, a certified Sleep Consultant specialising in infants and children from birth to 15 years old. With over seven years of experience, I've assisted over 4000 families in achieving better sleep. Additionally, I serve as a lecturer and mentor, guiding aspiring sleep consultants on their path to certification through my internationally recognised online Sleep Consultant Course.


Phone: +61419820474

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