What a calm corner is & why you should have one in your home
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You’ve probably heard the parenting news that time-outs don’t work. Even if they work in the moment, they don’t work long-term. If you’re like me, when you heard this you thought, “Well, then how the hell am I supposed to get my kid to stop misbehaving and calm down?”.
That’s where the time-in enters. If you want to know what that is and how it’s any different from a time-out, then go read this post and come back to this one. If you already know about time-in’s, then I’d now like to introduce you to the Calm Corner!
I discovered this concept from Generation Mindful (seriously an amazing company that promotes emotional intelligence in kids – definitely check them out). I quickly realized that a Calm Corner is pretty much a must-have. This post will tell you what a Calm Corner is, why you’ll want one, and how to create one.
What is a calming corner?
A Calm Corner (sometimes called a calm down corner) is a safe, comfortable place where our kids can go when their emotions are so big that they’re having trouble handling them.
It’s a great tool to use along with time-ins. A time-in is a positive alternative to a time-out. Time-outs usually involve isolating our kids from us when they’re misbehaving. The problem is when our kids are misbehaving, it’s usually because an underlying need isn’t being met or they just don’t know how to handle what they’re feeling in that moment.
Instead of isolating our kids when they need us most, time-ins give our kids a chance to calm down so that we can teach them how to regulate their big emotions and how to problem solve.
A Calm Corner is a powerful tool that makes time-ins way more effective. This is because it’s a defined area for your child to calm down and it’s set up to facilitate a conversation between you and your child once they’re calm (we’ll get into this more in a bit).
The reason this Calm Corner idea works so well with kids is because it is their little corner in the world that is meant for those moments when they need time alone to cool off. Kids love the idea of having their own space.
I first learned of this “Calm Corner” idea from a Facebook ad. I usually scroll right past those ads, but this one caught my eye. The ad was for the Time-In Toolkit by Generation Mindful. As soon as I looked into it, I bought it.
I knew it was just what my spirited 5 year old needed because it included colorful posters, cards, and games that would teach him about emotions and how to handle them. To be honest, I’m not great at handling my own emotions at times, so I need all the help I can get when it comes to teaching my kids how to do this. This toolkit was just the ticket.
I got the Time-In Toolkit in the mail a few days later, and I immediately got to work on setting up the Calm Corner with my son (he was incredibly excited). I mean seriously, what’s better than having a serene place to go to when you’re feeling out of control? I’m thinking about creating one for myself, too, ha!
Why You Should Have a Calm corner
There are some truly wonderful benefits to setting up a Calm Corner for our kids.
1. It assists us with teaching our kids emotional regulation.
We’re not born knowing how to regulate our emotions. It’s a skill. I think as adults we sometimes forget that, but that’s what we see playing out when our kids throw temper tantrums.
There are going to be times when our kids need our help in figuring out how to handle what they’re feeling. Kids learn best when they feel calm and safe. A Calm Corner helps them get to that, and then we have an excellent opportunity to teach them what they were feeling (labeling their emotions) and why, and how to manage it better next time.
2. It lets our kids know that it’s ok to have unpleasant emotions.
Have you ever said, “Stop crying”, or “It’s not that big of a deal” to your child before? Of course you have! We all have.
But imagine how you would feel if your spouse or friend said that to you when you were angry or disappointed. You’d flip out (I would anyway). The message that’s sending is, “What you’re feeling is wrong and you need to stop feeling that way”.
That’s just crazy talk. Emotions are never wrong. They just… are. We can’t help how we’re feeling. The only thing we can control is how we react. And the best way to react is to work through it in a healthy way. It’s Psychology 101 that stuffing uncomfortable emotions down causes anxiety and depression.
We don’t want our kids stuffing their emotions way down inside.
Instead of sending our kids to time-out, letting them cool off in their Calming Corner lets them know that’s it’s ok to feel how they’re feeling. It then gives us an opportunity to coach them on appropriate reactions to those feelings, and what reactions are not appropriate. For example, “It’s ok to feel angry that your brother has your toy. It’s not ok to hit him. What are some safer ways you can deal with that next time?”.
3. It adds structure to our kids environment.
Structure is really important for kids because it helps them feel secure. Having a designated space to go when they’re feeling angry, jealous, disappointed, or sad is way to add structure to your home.
They know they have a safe place to go when it all gets to be too much.
4. It prevents temper tantrums.
The best way to handle temper tantrums is to prevent them in the first place, am I right? It sucks when our kids tantrum. They’ve gone to the point of no return and it’s a tense game of just waiting it out.
Our kids move into tantrum mode when they’re so upset that they just don’t know what else to do. With a Calming Corner, your kids will learn to head there when they feel those strong emotions bubbling up and they’ll be able to calm down before the emotions get so intense that they just lose it.
5. It promotes self-esteem.
This is a less obvious benefit, but it’s a benefit of the Calm Corner nonetheless. Even though temper tantrums seem like a torture tool our kids use to punish us for not giving into what they want, it’s really kind of torture for them, too. They don’t like feeling out of control (who does?), and they often feel bad for acting out once they’ve calmed down.
When they’re able to regulate their emotions themselves, it gives them a sense of accomplishment. And it really is an accomplishment! It’s not easy to do, and helping our kids recognize that they were able to do this on their own makes them feel capable.
How to Create Your Calm Corner
Your Calming Corner will be a lot of fun to create (I know mine was!). Here’s how to do it.
1. Pick a space.
Have your child help you pick the perfect spot to put their Calm Down Corner.
Here’s a bit of advice from personal experience: Don’t simply ask them where they want to put it. Instead, come up with a list of options together. I asked my son where he wanted his and he chose a corner in our family room, which is like the second busiest room in the house!
If you have a list of options that you both came up with, then you can talk through each one and why certain areas wouldn’t be the best areas.
FYI: I convinced my son to set up our Calming Corner in a quieter area! But sitting down and making that list would have made this step a whole lot easier. Live and learn!
2. Gather some posters and hang them up.
I received 6 posters from Generation Mindful’s Time-In Toolkit to hang up. The posters focus on the names of feelings and calming strategies. Here are some pictures of the posters.
I reviewed each of the posters with my son and refer to them from time to time when I’m talking to him about what happened after he’s calmed down.
It’s definitely working. Last night he was upset about having to take a bath (he was overtired for sure). I scooped him up once he was no longer upset and he said to me, “I feel sad”. I responded, “I know, bud. I’m sorry you feel sad.” And just like that, he got down and went to happily playing with one of his toys.
It was kind of nuts – like Jekyll and Hyde, but I was also pumped that he recognized how he was feeling and felt comfortable enough to tell me. That’s the goal!
3. Make it a place your child wants to go to.
I know this is an obvious point, but I’m throwing it out there anyway. Make the space comfortable and serene. Keep it simple. You don’t want it to be so cluttered and colorful that it overwhelms your child when she goes there.
I included a comfortable chair, an area rug in a light blue, a weighted blanket, and some sensory toys. Here is a snapshot of what our Calming Corner looks like.
4. Make a sensory bin
Speaking of sensory toys, having a bin of them is a great way to get your child focused so that they can calm down. There are a lot of cool little toys on Amazon that you can put in the sensory bin. I bought this little kit that includes a squishy stress ball, a plastic slap bracelet, a stretchy noodle, fidget rings, and a few other things. For the bin, I just used a plastic container I had lying around the house.
Calm corner ideas
Teach your child what they can do in their calm corner to help themselves feel calm again. Here are some ideas.
- Get physical! Go over some exercises they can do that will help them get their energy out and get those endorphins flowing. Raising An Extraordinary Person has a helpful post on exercises that kids can do to help them self-regulate.
- Use their hands (color, draw, clay). You can leave a bucket of clay or play-doh, some crayons, and drawing pads for your kids to use.
- Building blocks. Legos are always a good go-to. Magnet tiles are especially popular with my boys.
- Breathing exercises. You can tell your kids to pretend they are blowing out birthday candles to teach them deep breathing.
- Hug a stuffed animal. Put a few stuffed animals in the room that they can use to hug or squeeze.
- Listen to music.
Tips for your Calm Corner
Here are some helpful tips to make sure your Calm Corner is a success.
- Take the time to introduce it to your child.
Explain what the Calm Corner is for (and what it’s not for) and work with your child to identify some situations when they will want to use it. Show them everything that is in the room, why it’s there, and how to use it.
- Have guidelines or rules.
Set up some rules for the calming corner so it doesn’t just become another space to play. The rules that I set for our calming corner are simple and few. To give you an idea, our rules are toys don’t leave the Calm Corner, other toys don’t go in the Calm Corner, and it must be tidied up when you are done. That’s it and so far my kids are following them.
You can post them in the room if your kids are able to read them.
- Don’t make it a threat or a punishment.
You want to make sure this is a place your child wants to go when they feel upset. The first few times, you may have to guide them there, but eventually they’ll head into their Calm Down Corner on their own.
If we make it a punishment, then it’ll never work. In fact, we’re gonna need to do the opposite and acknowledge our kids when they realize that they need to go to a quiet place by themselves to get their emotions back under control. It’s a really big deal – there are adults that can’t even do that!
- Set it up according to your kids needs.
You know your kids best so set it up in a way that will work for them. For instance, some kids may get easily overwhelmed, so you’ll want to keep it simple. Other kids need a lot of sensory input so you’ll want to make sure you have puzzles and other activities for them.
Calm corner for the classroom
Calming Corners aren’t just for parents to use at home. They are also a great tool for the classroom. If you’re a teacher, you can set up a corner of your classroom as the Calm Corner. Let kids know that it’s a safe place for them to go when they are feeling upset.
A key for success with a Calm Down Corner in the classroom is having a timer. Otherwise, you will find that some students will spend as much time as they can get there, and it’ll be a struggle to get them to leave!
To avoid this from happening, make sure you set clear expectations around how much time is allowed to be spent there (10 minutes?). Teach them how to use the timer and let them know that when the timer is done, it’s time to leave.
Admittedly, I’m not a teacher so here’s a quick, but really informative video by a kindergarten teacher about the Calm Corner that she set up in her classroom. She goes over how and when she uses the calm corner with her students.
Have fun with it!
Your Calm Corner doesn’t need to be anything extravagant. In this case, simple is best! As long as it’s comfortable and a safe place your child will be able to settle down in, then you’re good to go. If you’re interested in getting the Time-In Toolkit that I have to make the set up easier and more effective, you can grab it here.
Here’s to a calmer home!