Teaching Children to Self-Soothe
Sleep training, or teaching a child to sleep alone, typically begins with newborns and involves one common denominator: having a safe, comfortable place to sleep. Unfortunately, however, thousands of children in foster care and homeless shelters don’t have one available.
In 2012, I founded the Precious Dreams Foundation after witnessing my younger sister experience night terrors that constantly disrupted her sleep. Her personal story sparked my curiosity around the bedtime experience for children in unstable homes or foster care and unfamiliar group settings.
I wondered about those who don’t have a parent, guardian or loved one in the next room to quiet their fears and provide some comfort. I wondered about those uprooted from their comfort zone and forced into foreign territory without learning how to navigate living with strangers. I knew there was a way to help kids like my sister feel safe and comforted at bedtime. I wanted to change the way we approach bedtime for kids living outside of the conventional home model.
Nearly ten years later, our organization employs a strong and constantly improving sleep support formula, closing a critical gap in care. We provide coping tools and host “comfort drops” for youth in congregate care and shelters that guide them through self-expression, self-comfort and stress management activities. We teach them to find the rest they deserve and follow positive dreams.
As humans, we all need to discover healthy ways to self-comfort in order to survive and live well. Here are some of the ways we help children find comfort at bedtime. Try these to reinforce the importance of sleep with your little ones!
- For parents with a newborn baby - Newborn babies need the most attention at bedtime, so it’s nearly a miracle when parents and babies get a full night’s sleep. PDF ensures newborns are warm and cozy at night with new socks and blankets. Try Dreamland Baby’s weighted sleep swaddle for infants, a comforting swaddle designed to help your baby feel calm and sleep longer.
- For parents with young children - Design a pillowcase with your child! Not only does pillowcase decorating remind children of the things that make them happy and bring comfort, but it also ensures that these are the last things they see at bedtime. Another great option is the Dream Weighted Blanket. It’s only 4lbs and a great way to your child some additional comfort and security at bedtime. Sweet dreams!
- For teens - Rest in writing! At PDF we provide children with journaling prompts and creative ways to express their thoughts and feelings. These prompts allow them to evoke positive feelings after a day that might have been stressful. And if it was a really bad day, write about it and rip the paper to release. My Write Here & Tear journal is a great resource for this.
- For all children — Find comfort in using all five (5) senses!
- Let your child cuddle up with plush and soft textures. Stuffed animals never go out of style.
- Determine whether soothing sounds or silence work best for them. For example, if they sleep better on rainy days, try playing rain sounds at bedtime.
- Lavender can be used to promote relaxation. Try lavender scented comfort toys or room spray to help your little ones feel calm.
- Nothing is better than dreaming beneath the stars. Consider decorating your child's ceiling with glow in the dark lights to simulate a clear night sky.
- Soothe the body with warm caffeine-free tea. I recommend a simple chamomile!
- Most importantly, try putting screens away at least an hour before bedtime. While it’s difficult to peel away from our friends on social media, favorite tv shows, and homework, making time to wind down helps to bring intention to bedtime. This is the time to write, read, meditate, or stretch to give your eyes and brain a digital break.
The youth we serve typically come from backgrounds where they’ve endured abuse, neglect, mental health issues, and other adverse experiences that make sleeping soundly a challenge. We recognize that the practices we introduce do not replace professional therapy; however, they are therapeutic techniques that bring comfort and peace—especially when times get tough. Once they’re given support tools, learn to self-comfort, and improve their bedtime routines, they improve their quality of sleep, which is essential for a long, healthy life.
As we move into a new season, comfort and warmth at bedtime are necessary regardless of your age or where you find your rest. Create space for you and your children to unwind from the day and lean into peace before it’s time for sleep. And never forget that somewhere there are children struggling to rest and hoping for a better future.
10,000 children later and I finally feel like Precious Dreams has mastered what it takes to help children get the most incredible night’s rest. I hope these tips help you sleep well too!