It's About Them

Young People … Our Greatest Resource

Helping a Troubled Child Self-soothe (Part One)

The information in the serial posting comes from psychologist Dr. James Sutton’s current work-in-progress, The Changing Behavior Book: a fresh approach to the difficult child. One of the chapters is on teaching troubled youngsters the skills of soothing themselves in times of difficulty. To read Dr. Sutton’s comments on this new book (which will also be available in e-book format), including a description of its 20 chapters, click here.


Helping a Troubled Child Self-soothe (Part One)

The issue of self-soothing is a huge area of concern, as many youngsters simply cannot soothe themselves adequately in times of stress and difficulty. They rely on others to soothe them, and seek soothing in food, toys, or activities of distraction. (Could today’s concern about childhood obesity be connected to problems with self-soothing?)

These youngsters run the clear risk of carrying their self-soothing deficiencies into adulthood, where the stakes become even higher: broken relationships, bouts of unemployment, and overdependency on pills, alcohol, and whatever new gadget catches their eye today.

Efforts spent on teaching youngsters skills of self-soothing can pay off today … and way into tomorrow.

Tough Shoes to Fill

If you want to get a glimpse of the value of self-soothing, put yourself in this person’s shoes for a moment:

He was shot out of the sky over North Vietnam in the winter of 1966, sustaining serious injuries. The enemy literally tossed him into solitary confinment in a prison that earned the name of “The Hanoi Hilton”. In addition to being sick, cold, hurt and hungry, he was tortured for information and a confession to war crimes. He remained a prisoner there, separated from home and loved ones, for over seven years.

Try our your self-soothing skills on that scenario. This is from the real-life account of my friend, retired Navy Captain Jerry Coffee. (You can read his whole story his his book, Beyond Survival, published by Putnam.) He shares he survived that experience on the strength of his spiritual faith and the relationships he had built in his life. They continually helped him affirm and reaffirm to himself that he was MUCH more than the painful experiences of the moment. In fact, he’s quick to credit high school literature teachers for stressing that he memorize poems for class. These classic poems, as well as Bible verses he had memorized, pulled him through some incredibly tough times. Jerry is gracious to share that he was not at all unique; many folks could have done the same.

Young children, however, don’t have a deep well of experiences from which to draw soothing. They often don’t have a reference for knowing that the problem of the moment isn’t a catastrophe, or even that they will survive it. Older children have a better perspective simply because they’ve experienced difficulty in the past and know the world didn’t end there. Still, they sometimes struggle anyway.

Even adults struggle with self-soothing.

A youngster who can’t self-soothe goes into a “Someone PLEASE soothe me” mode, where they turn to relationships, activities, and things to comfort them. Their needs are desperate, and their behaviors match their needs.

Not all young people are this desperate in their need for self-soothing, of course, but most of them can benefit from simple ideas and strategies that focus on self-soothing in times of difficulty.

(watch for Part Two: Breathing on the Square)


Dr. James Sutton, Psychologist


July 28, 2008 - Posted by | adversity, Counselors, Difficult Child, Educators, family, Inspirational, Parents, Self-esteem | , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Oh, Thanks! Really interesting. Greets.


    Comment by BigBan | August 16, 2008 | Reply

  2. […] Helping a Troubled Child Self-soothe (Part One) July 2008 1 comment 4 […]


    Pingback by 2010 in review « It’s About Them | January 2, 2011 | Reply

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