Sometimes, despite your best efforts to express understanding, your child gets emotionally dysregulated. When you realize that your child is getting to that dangerously over-wrought place, suggest that the two of you take some “cozy time”—snuggle up and read a book. Often the connection and the shift to his “thinking brain” will help your child re-regulate.
But sometimes your child is too far gone for a book. They lash out and hit someone or throws themselves on the floor and howls.
You might be inclined to put your kid in their room until they can calm down. But that’s giving them the message that their emotions are shameful — not allowed in your house. What you really want is for them to learn that emotions are just part of being human, that they can notice and accept them — and learn to express them in constructive ways.
Being able to calm yourself when emotions run high – or self-regulate – is a learned skill. Like how a child is taught to tie their shoe once they have the fine motor skills to do so. Once a child’s brain is developmentally ready to self-regulate, they can learn different strategies and ways that work well for them.
Think about what worked well for you the last time you felt angry, unheard, anxious or any other negative feeling. Did you go outside to get fresh air? Did you practice yoga or meditation? Take 10 deep breaths? Go to your favorite room in your home and read? We all have different coping mechanisms we’ve learned to use to regulate our emotions and return to a more neutral or positive space. Kids are no different!
As caregivers, we can teach about emotional regulation to help children work through big behaviors, and ultimately reduce stressful challenges in the home. One way to help children learn how to self-regulate is by providing them with calm down corners.
What is a Calm Corner?
A calm down corner is a designated space in a home with the sole intent of being a safe space for a child to go to when they feel their emotions are running too high and they need to regain their emotional and physical control. These spaces are equipped with comforting objects and soothing materials that can promote mindfulness, breathing and reflection.
When to Use the Calm Corner
When your child has or is showing signs of big feelings like anger, frustration, or dysregulation, a trip to the calm corner might be in order. But remember: the calm corner isn’t a punishment! It’s a space for your child to take a break and regulate and a great way for us to remind kids that it’s okay to step away from a situation to calm our bodies and minds before we move on.
Step 1: Have your child help with the planning. Listen to their calm-down corner ideas. This is a great way to ensure the space works for your child’s individual needs.
Try designating a corner in a typically quiet room in your home as your child’s new calm down corner. You can decide where you want to locate your cozy corner, but then get your child to participate in adding elements that they will find soothing.
What to Include in Your Calm Corner
- Fill the space with a soft rug or mat, bean bag chair, or other plush options for sitting or lying down, and with some of your child’s favorite books, stuffed animals, or quiet toys.
- If your child is older, you can utilize short bookcases to help block the space out to provide your child with some privacy.
- Some children find calming music to be helpful in regaining control of their emotions.
- Try out a basket with sensory play objects. For many kids, using and exploring sensory play can help them deescalate when they’re feeling overstimulated.
- Add artwork to your space – some ideas that may work well for your children include nature and landscapes.
- A photo of your family. Research shows that when children see a photo of their trusted adult, it helps calm them.
- Stuffed animals
- A chart showing faces with different emotions
- Books about emotions
- A small jar of glitter to shake
- Bubbles (because blowing shifts us into deeper, slower breathing)
- Calming activities like small figures or sensory bags or boxes.
- Bubble wrap
- Stress ball
- Fidget spinners
- Pinwheel or visual image for breathing
- A list of “mindful minute” activities
- A journal (for older children)
- Art materials
- Noise-canceling headphones
- Sound machine with soothing noises
- Sequin pillows or animals
- Weighted lap animals
- Water or gel drips
- It’s also helpful for children to be able to play audios that take them through a guided meditation for children, which is a great soothing habit to begin in the early years. You could also make a short audio of your voice telling them how much you love them and singing a special song.
You definitely don’t need all of these items, but you may find something your own child really gravitates to and likes to use to regulate. Stock your corner with calming activities they like!
Step 2: Teach your child how to use everything you’ve included. Don’t set expectations based on assumptions; instead, set your child up for success in their new space.
How to Use the Calm Corner
To start, visit the calm corner together. Start by identifying how you and your child are feeling. Use a feelings chart if you have one. Then try out some of the things you have in your calm corner. Sit quietly and use the sensory items, watch a water or gel drip timer, color, or just listen to the sound machine. Choose an activity and do it together or independently for a few minutes. Then, describe how you’re feeling after you try it. Feeling better? Move on. Not feeling better yet? Try another activity in the calm corner.
Step 3: Be consistent. It’ll take some getting used to for both of you, but with consistency and firm but gentle guidance on when it’s time to use the calm-down corner, your little one will eventually catch on and begin to use it properly.
Go with your child, so she develops positive associations to the Cozy Corner. In fact, don’t wait until your child is upset. Go to the cozy corner for quiet times, so your child gets used to this space as a soothing place to be, where the activities feel calming.
Then, when YOU get upset, model going to the cozy corner to calm down! Of course, your child can come with you.
You’ll notice that once your child gets used to going to the cozy corner with you and savoring the comfort of a time-in there, they’ll begin to head there on their own when they’re upset.
Step 4: Work together to create a set of rules for the space. Allowing your child to take part in setting the rules will provide them with a much-needed sense of control.
- Only one child should be in the Comfort Corner at a time.
- Children must be with an adult.
- Be safe and follow directions.
- Complete an emotional check-in and check-out (using emoji pictures or thermometer to label feelings).
- Items in the Comfort Corner must stay in the Comfort Corner.
- Clean up before leaving.
Don’t think of it as a “time out” or punishment – there shouldn’t be any stigma associated with the calm down corner. Although you may encourage a child to spend some time in the space when you feel they’re starting to become distressed, the goal is that eventually the child will recognize when they want to be there and will go there on their own in order to self-regulate and calm down.
Step 5: Process the feelings with your child. Afterward, spend some time processing what happened and what went well.
What To Do After Your Child Uses the Calm Corner
Having these conversations will normalize the experience of having big feelings and remind your child that it’s okay to feel and to take time to manage those feelings! It will also help to solidify to your child that when they have big feelings, they know and can use strategies to help themselves feel calm again.
- How were you feeling before you went to the calm corner? What happened right before that?
- What did you try in the calm corner that helped you feel better?
- How does your body feel now?
- What can we do next time before you feel that way?