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  • Gina

The Ultimate Guide to Calm Down Corners

This BLOG post will teach you what a calm down corner is, how to incorporate them into your home or classroom and how to troubleshoot common concerns.

All of this information, including the visuals can be purchased as a digital download HERE.

What is a Calm Down Corner?

  • A Calm Down Corner is a safe space that you create in your home where a child can go whenever they are having big emotions, when they need to regain control, or when they just need a break.

  • This is NOT a punishment; it is a space to self-regulate and gain healthy coping skills.

  • It can be something as elaborate as an actual corner/fort/closet space that is dedicated to self-regulation, or it can be something as simple as a cozy pillow & a basket of sensory activities.

  • No room for a Calm Down Corner? You can create a Calm Down Kit that is small, portable, and moves with your child wherever they are. In order for a calm down corner or any type of self-regulation technique to be effective, we must first teach children to recognize and label their emotions. They need to understand what it means to be mad, sad, happy, confused, etc & how their bodies & brains react to each emotion.

How do you create a Calm Down Corner?

First: Choose a specific, designated spot and make it cozy.

  • A good space will be somewhere quiet and safe, away from the common areas.

  • Add blankets, pillows, bean bags, or stuffed animals to make it cozy!

Then: Add tools that will benefit the child.

  • You know your child best, so add tools that are in line with their individual likes and needs.

Important: Teach the child how to use each of the tools.

  • When a child is calm, happy, and receptive (aka before they need the Calm Down Corner), teach them how to use each of the tools in the space. We can't expect them to know what to do once they're in there and having their big emotions unless they are taught.

Model, teach, reinforce, and repeat!

Where to begin:

In order for a calm down corner or any type of self-regulation technique to be effective, we must first teach children to recognize and label their emotions. They need to understand what it means to be mad, sad, happy, confused, etc & how their bodies & brains react to each emotion. This is teaching mindfulness to children.

Emotions are more than just a label though; it is about how your face changes, how it feels inside your tummy, the way your heartbeat changes, how your hands may shake or clench tightly together.  Your actions, body language & words that you say are all a big part of feeling an emotion.

When you practice mindfulness, you learn to put space between yourself and emotions such as sadness, anger & disappointment. This doesn't mean you ignore or escape those emotions! It brings you to a place of calm where you can do just that!!! We can't properly process our emotions or brainstorm strategies/solutions when we are in a heightened sense of emotion.

So how do we teach this?  Here are a few simple tips to start: 

Important Note:  The below should be done when you and the child are CALM.  Teach, reinforce & practice when everyone is in control of their emotions.  A dysregulated adult cannot support a dysregulated child.  A dysregulated child can not reflect on their current state of emotions & make adjustments.

  • It is often difficult for children to label their emotions. We can help verbalize for them, starting from when they are babies! It is important to be simple and direct when labeling the emotion, and do not attach any of your own feelings to it. Do this with happy feelings as well!

  • This may sound like: "You are angry because you cannot have more candy." "You are happy because you saw a dog!" "You are sad because Mommy can't pick you up right now."

  • You can also label your own emotions: "I am frustrated right now because you yelled while I was on the phone." "I am excited because we are walking to the park together!“

  • Look through the Feelings Chart.  Ask questions such as, “How does their face look?”  “How do you think they are feeling right now?”  “What are some things that may happen that could make you feel that way?”  “Have you ever felt that way?”

  • Be silly with it!  Act out each emotion, over exaggerating what it looks like, sounds like & feels like.  Look in a mirror & make your face match the emotions on the Feelings Chart.

  • Read books about emotions.  Point out how characters respond to their emotions, both positive & negative.

  • Using the play dough “How Are You Feeling Today” mats, create faces to represent each emotion.

  • It is important for kids to know that it's okay to have big feelings. But when they do have those big emotions, it is NOT okay to be unsafe or hurt others. Once they begin to have an understanding of this, the next step is teaching what to do when those emotions occur.

All Feelings are VALID. The behaviors that are associated with those behaviors are what may or may not need to be adjusted.

Sometimes we have to reframe our thoughts: Anger is OK. Hitting someone is not.

Anger is OK. Hitting a pillow when you are angry is OK.

How to Introduce a Calm Down Corner:

Here are my BEST tips for introducing a Calm Down Corner that a child will want to use.

Let them be involved: Search together for the perfect spot.  Create the space together & allow them to voice their opinions on the tools you include inside of it.  Let them try each fidget, play with the timer, touch the posters etc.  This is their space.  They should love it, own it & feel a sense of achievement from helping create it.

Keep a positive attitude: If you are excited, positive & motivated, that energy will transfer to the child.  Learning something new takes time.  Undoing old habits takes time.  This will be a process but one that has immense benefits if implemented consistently.  Will it always work perfectly?  No, but it will provide opportunities for emotional growth for the entire family or classroom.

Model, Teach, Reinforce & Repeat: My favorite teaching method is the “I Do, We Do, You Do” method & it looks like this:

  • I pretend to be upset.  I act out an emotion & say something like, “I am so angry right now.  I think I need to calm my body down.”

  • I walk over to the Calm Down Corner or open my Calm Down Kit. 

  • Once there, I model what to do, how to utilize the breathing techniques & the calming strategies.

  • After a few times of modeling it myself, I use the same steps but do it together with the child. 

  • Choose an emotion together, act it out & practice using the tools & strategies to regulate your body & brain.

  • Lastly, have them practice independently!

  • Don’t forget to reinforce the child as they are learning.  Verbal praise, hugs, high-fives, cheers, etc will go a long way in creating positive habits.  This could be something as simple as saying, “I noticed you chose your favorite fidget right away.  That was great!”

Be consistent: This may not work the first few times & that is OK.  Or it may work at first & then the newness dies down & you need to readjust.  That is also OK.  Stay consistent & you will see long term results for both yourself & the child.

When should you go to the Calm Down Corner?

You want to guide a child to the calm down corner before emotions begin to escalate.  Look for signs of dysregulation.  These are different for every child but may include:

  • Arguing

  • Clenched fists

  • Throwing things

  • Whining

  • Obsessive or repetitive behaviors

  • Moving rapidly

  • Flushed cheeks

The Calm Down Corner should always be open & always be a choice. It should never be taken away from a child as a punishment.  It is our job as adults to monitor the tools that are inside of the Calm Down Corner.  If they are being misused, if they are dangerous or if they are causing more dysregulation then we are responsible for readjusting.

You can help guide them by saying something like this, “I can see that your fists are clenched by your side.  Why don’t we walk together to the Calm Down Corner or grab your Calm Down Kit.”

How long should you stay in the Calm Down Corner?

This is completely dependent on the individual child, their level of dysregulation & your goals for the space.

I allow children to stay in the Calm Down Corner until they feel their body and/or brains are ready to return.  To me, the goal is for the child to recognize when they are calm & not for me to tell them that they are.

That being said, when you are first starting out it can be beneficial to use a timer to help set expectations.

“When this timer runs out, we can brainstorm ways you can use your words when something is frustrating you.”

If they want to sit and read a book or explore sensory tools for extended periods of time, that is amazing!  If it doesn’t affect your schedule, I suggest allowing them to spend as much time as possible in there.  This way, it will become a space of comfort & calm & they will begin to automatically gravitate toward it.

When a calm down corner/kit or tool is first introduced, it is normal for kids to want to use it frequently, let them! Lots of good is happening during that time. They are practicing, finding out how to use the tools, learning expectations and figuring out what they like and what they don't. Eventually, the novelty will wear off and they will use the space more often when they need it for big emotions.

Can you go to the Calm Down Corner when you are happy?

YES!  How amazing would that be?  A cozy, safe space to celebrate all emotions in.  A space free of judgment & full of tools to support you throughout your day.

Can this be done with multiple children?

YES!  The tools & strategies that work for one child may not work for another, so be mindful of individual interests, needs & developmental stages.

Should they be in the Calm Down Corner at the same time?

That’s up to you!  It can be an amazing way to work on empathy.  It can also be a distraction & source of increased dysregulation. 

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are they exploring the materials in a safe & respectful way when they are together?

  • Are their individual needs being met when they are in there together?

  • Are they fighting & arguing or co-existing peacefully?

What to do if a child resists:

A child is too reactive when emotions are heightened. Their brain is unable to receive the information, process their emotions & make a rational choice during a dysregulated state. They need to be calm in order to do those things.  During a meltdown, the child is operating on a stress response: fight, flight or freeze.  During moments of big emotions, almost anything you say or do can be met with negativity because they are not ready to receive it. 

As adults, we must be the calm & the constant for them.  We must guide them & remind them of the process until they are developmentally able to do so on their own.

Remember that learning emotional intelligence takes time & practice.  A child may act out when they are overstimulated & they do not yet have the skills to calm down.  Our goal as adults is to be proactive & not reactive.  We can be proactive by modeling & implementing the strategies outlined in this guide.

“If you want your child to learn more constructive ways to self-regulate during big emotions, start by offering a calm & non-threatening environment for them to do so in.”

If a child is resisting?  That’s OK.  That is normal.  That is to be expected.

So, what can we do?

Be sure to Model, Teach, Reinforce & Repeat (over & over & over) the calming strategies & labeling of emotions.  The more a child understands expectations in the Calm Down Corner/Kit, the higher the success rate will be.

Expect resistance.  Resistance is a normal & very developmentally appropriate part of childhood.

When they are in a moment of a big emotion, reduce the number of verbal commands.  There is power in the quiet, in just showing that you are there for them.

Empathize with them & validate their feelings.  “I see that you are upset.  You really wanted that toy.”

Make your presence known but in a calm & non-threatening manner.  Get down on their level, put your bodies close together, make eye-contact (if they aren’t opposed to that), reduce your language & prepare yourself to be a calming present instead of reacting.

Hold your boundary.  When a child resists, it is normal, but when you give in to that resistance, they quickly learn that the more they elevate the quicker they will get their way.  You don’t want to reinforce the negative behaviors.

How to introduce Calm Down Strategies:

  • Teach, reinforce & practice when everyone is calm and in control of their emotions.

  • Be silly with it!  Pick a calm down strategy & act it out together. 

  • Practice going to the Calm Down Corner/Kit, looking through the list & choosing one.

  • Practice what each strategy looks like & where to find the materials for each before you expect a child to use the Calm Down Corner/Kit independently.

  • You do not need to use every strategy on the poster.  Use what works for your family & the ones that are of interest to the child & leave the rest.

  • If a child does not like a strategy, cover it with a post it note or cut it out from the list. 

  • If a child gets overwhelmed with too many choices, remove that as a distraction.  Take 2-3 strategies & put them out.  Use those until you feel they are ready to incorporate another one in.

Is this considered a reward for negative behavior?

No. Don’t think of it that way!  A Calm Down Corner is a safe space.  It is a place to learn how to identify emotions, how to self-regulate & how to carry out those strategies independently.

Through utilizing a Calm Down Corner/Kit approach, a child will:

  • Learn to advocate for themselves.

  • Gain independent self-regulation skills.

  • Develop positive associations.

  • Learn to label their emotions.

  • Increase confidence & positive self-image.

  • Increase language & communication skills.

  • Learn healthy coping skills.

  • Practice mindfulness.

  • Develop emotional intelligence.

  • Develop self-regulation skills.

  • Reduce feelings of anxiety & stress.

  • Increase cooperation.

  • Decrease resistance & impulsivity.

  • Be able to express themselves.

When to use deep breathing strategies:

Taking deep breaths is a great way to help calm down during big emotions. Teaching proper technique will help kids begin to do this independently! Once they understand the concept, you can simply point to the below visual or point to your nose as a cue to start taking deep breaths.

  • Use deep breathing strategies during times of big emotions: anger, sadness, overwhelm, nervous, overstimulated, etc.

  • Suggest that you do deep breathing together before engaging in high-energy activities: entering a playdate, a birthday party, a classroom.

  • You can also suggest doing deep breathing at the dinner table, in the car, before bed, etc.

  • Why do I suggest repeating each breathing activity 3 times?

  • Research shows that it takes 3 deep breaths to reset the brain, calm the body & get your emotions back to center. 

At what age should you start self-regulation techniques?

It is recommended that you begin reinforcing these strategies around 18 months old.  Before then, you can still continue to verbalize & label emotions & model strategies for the child to see.

At 18 months, you may begin slowly teaching & incorporating the strategies listed.

What to do if the child is using the tools inappropriately:

First, you as the caregiver set the rules & boundaries for your home.  Decide what you are comfortable with & what you are not. 

Here are a few tips:

  • If a child is endangering themselves or others, immediately remove the item(s).  It is OK to hold the safety boundary.  This may sound like, “It is OK to be angry.  I will not let you hit your brother with the fidget.”  Then, remove the items & return them when you feel it is safe.

  • If your child is releasing big emotions & punching a pillow for instance, that may be a safe & supportive way to calm themselves down.  If you are comfortable, allow it.

  • If your child is destroying property (ripping signs down, breaking objects) this may be a sign that they are too overstimulated by the items in the Calm Down Corner.  Support them in a way that you feel is best.  Perhaps their calm down space should only have comfy pillows & nothing else.

  • If a child is kicking, remove their shoes.  Move away anything that they could hurt themselves with. This may sound like, “I see you want to kick.  Here is a beanbag that you can kick safely.”

  • If a child is throwing, offer them an alternative.  This may sound like, “I can see that you want to throw something.  Here is a soft ball you can throw against the wall.”

What happens after they are calm?

Once the child has utilized the Calm Down Corner/Kit it is time to reconnect with them.  If you need to discuss what happened before, now is the time.  Remember to praise them (hug, high-five, verbal reinforcer) for using their strategies & techniques to work through their emotions.  Remind them that it is OK to have those emotions.  This will encourage them to head to the Calm Down Corner the next time.

The next steps will look differently, depending on the original reason for causing the dysregulation & your family rules. 

The child may:

  • Go back to the activity they were doing (homework, watching TV, playing etc.)

  • Clean up the mess that they made during their tantrum.

  • Finish an uncompleted task (homework, bathing etc).

  • Pivot completely & begin a new task/activity.

  • Do a preferred activity.

It is important to note that using the Calm Down Corner/Kit & utilizing the strategies that are in it are not meant to be an escape from a non-preferred activity.  A child may use it to take a break, calm down or re-center, but after they do so, it is important for them to follow through with the activity/task/demand that is required of them.

This deep breathing visual is a FREE download!

Head to our Instagram page to see more ways to learn & play at home or in the classroom! We love to see you play & share the joy of hands-on crafts & activities at home. Be sure to tag @aplayfilledlife on Instagram or Facebook if you try any of our ideas!!

XO Gina


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