By Dr. Nancy Buck
Recently I have been fortunate to spend grandma time taking care of my grandchildren, ranging in age from 9-months to 4-years, with an 18-month old in between. And if you’ve ever spent time with children you know that their days and lives are filled with moments of great joy and glee as well as moments of upset and sorrow. No one needs to be an emotionally intelligent genius to guess what emotional state a child is experiencing.
During those moments of sadness, upset and crying, I do my best to offer comfort, alleviating and relieving the source of the pain. I also add the extra grand-ma love, hugs and soothing.
What I also get to observe is how each child is learning to provide his own strategies to relax, pacify and self-soothe.
One searches for her pacifier and snuggle bunny to help ease her pain. Another squeezes his eyes shut tight until Mama comes and picks him up. The eldest now makes his grumble grouch face as he stomps about. This same boy use to grab his baby doll Jeffrey, throw himself in his bed and comfort Jeff as he comforted himself.
Learning self-regulation and self-soothing is an essential skill for good mental health and happiness. Some of us are lucky and learned how to do it early in our lives.
And some of us turned to other self-destructive strategies instead. These destructive and failed attempts toward self-regulation include drinking, drugging, over-eating or nutritional deprivation, sexing, gambling, just to name a few. Just like every other person on the planet, these folks experience pain, sadness, anger and suffering. But rather than learning how to successfully deal with the feelings to enable creative and thoughtful explorations of better strategies to get what is wanted and meet their needs satisfactorily, they choose behaviors that suppress, mask, or cover the negative feelings.
What are your self-soothing, self-regulatory strategies? Are they serving you well? Do you feel calmer, more peaceful and better able to face your problems and look for better solutions?
Or have you escaped the pain, dulled and zoned yourself out with your self-soothing choices? Are you now faced with worry and concern about your choices, adding to more woes and self-hatred?
Now is a great time to learn and add new, more effective and responsible soothing strategies. Start making a list of the strategies you know that work and give you strength and comfort. Get curious and ask family and friends what strategies they use.
Just to get you started let me give you a couple: prayer, meditation, slow and deep deliberate breaths, humming a calming song, hugging a friend, or a dog or a tree.
Your turn. . .