Inside: How to create a dream calm-down corner using printable tools. Emotions can be big and scary for kids. Giving kids concrete tools to help identify and work through emotions helps them gain the skills to regulate emotions in a healthy way.
One of children’s biggest challenges is learning to regulate big emotions and impulses. This means that teaching our kids how to handle their emotions is one of our biggest challenges as a parent too.
Creating a safe place your child can use when they have big emotions provides a space to actually feel those emotions and something to do with all that emotional energy.
Imagine giving your child the gift of having strategies for how to work through feelings of frustration, sadness, anger, and worry — and then how to come out on the other side, all the stronger for having truly felt and faced their feelings.
Why Does Your Child Need a Calm-Down Corner?
The brain systems which underlie self-regulation abilities develop across all childhood and teenage years. While your teen probably won’t use that same calm-down area, they will use those foundational skills they learned there.
A calm-down space will grow with your child — they can use this for years. The part of the brain underlying the self-regulation system becomes online and entirely organized at about the age of three. Rapid development continues in that system until about the age of 5. The system matures between the ages of 5 and 7, with girls a little ahead of boys.
This is why I call learning self-regulation skills and strategies — The Most Important Skill to Teach Children.
While it may take a long time to see the fruit of your efforts in helping your child learn to self-regulate, you are teaching them skills they will use for their whole life.
Secondly, emotions are abstract and complex to understand for children. Even as adults, we struggle to put words to our feelings and to authentically express them.
Because of the abstract nature of emotion, children may not realize that what they are feeling –– is actually an emotion. They simply feel a lot of something, and then they act on it — often impulsively.
Children also don’t realize that emotions come and go — that they will not feel this big emotion forever.
Putting together a physical calm-down corner or space in your home or classroom helps make abstract emotions more concrete — something they can see and name. As they learn to name that feeling, they are also acknowledging it. This isn’t just a cute space. Having a physical space to go when you have big emotions can be surprisingly powerful for kids.
Visual cues with names of emotions and images of emotions can help children orient themselves in what can feel like a storm inside their bodies. Think of your calm down corner as a port in the storm — a place to literally hold space for your child’s emotions — not just in your home, but also in your heart.
How To Create a Calm Down Corner: Help Your Child Regulate Big Emotions
There are really just two things you need in a calm-down corner:
- Tools to help identify emotions (posters, cards, stuffies with emotion faces, books).
- Tools to help children mindfully work through their emotions and calm their body (pinwheel to encourage deep breathing, sensory items like non-sticky putty and fidgets, stress balls, stuffie for belly breathing, favorite books, favorite music, bean bag chair, or blanket).
Experiencing emotions means we are aware of our emotions, name them, and feel them. Being mindful of our feelings leads to being able to respond rather than react.
This is the heart of emotion regulation — flexible responding rather than automatic reacting.
You do not need a big space for a calming corner. You can create a corner like I have in the pictures on this page, but you can also do a basket or simply have a calm-down kit that you bring out when needed. For younger children, putting images of emotion on the wall can be helpful and provide powerful visual cues. But you can do this in a small corner and have a basket rather than taking up a whole area.
A basket is great for older kids who still like having the tools but don’t need a lot of visual reminders.
Choose a place in your home or classroom to put your corner that will give children less stimulation and the opportunity to pause and be with their emotions.
The C.A.L.M. Method to Handle Tantrums
Just like you only need two things in your Mindful Feelings space, there are a few steps to helping your child through their big emotions. Read more about the C.A.L.M. method.
- Calm body, breaths
- Accept and Acknowledge Emotions
- Let Your Child Make a choice: Comfort, Space, or Silliness
- Move through it and move on
Some children want comfort when they are upset and seek connection. In the midst of a tantrum, these children may be soothed by a simple hug.
Other children need space to feel the emotion. They need a break. They are easily over-stimulated and need to process that emotion.
And some children, usually highly spirited children, need a stress release. They need to vent their feelings of anger and frustration inside. This is where silliness and playfulness can be a good choice.
The printable Mindful Emotion Toolkit™ is a great resource that helps to introduce children to these two steps. The toolkit includes several tools to help children name and feel their emotions. There are 10 emotion cards and 21 regulation cards divided into Comfort, Space, or Silliness™.
Tools For Your Mindful Feelings Space
Calm-Down Corner FAQs
What is a calm-down corner?
A calm-down corner is a physical place in your home that has tools to help young children calm down and process emotions. This space does not have to be large, it can even be a basket! Young children are gaining emotion regulation skills as they develop and a designated calm-down corner can be a helpful tool to support healthy emotion habits for mental well-being.
Why does my child need a calm-down corner?
Visual cues with names of emotions and images of emotions can help children orient themselves in what can feel like a storm inside their bodies. Think of your calm-down corner as a port in the storm — a place to literally hold space for your child’s emotions — not just in your home, but also in your heart.
What do you include in a calm-down corner?
The most important thing to include is visual cues to help children name their emotions and learn about emotions. Cards like these, with faces and descriptions of emotions, are very useful and you can just print them out at home. Other tools like feeling thermometers and feelings wheels can help children learn about the intensity of emotions.
It is also important to include tools for children to use to help process or regulate their emotions, like these regulation cards which have suggestions children can do anywhere — hug yourself, do belly breathing, stomp like a dinosaur, and so on. You can also include mindful and sensory tools like the ones listed above to help children recenter.
Do calm-down corners really work?
The short answer is yes! While it may take a long time to see the fruit of your efforts in helping your child learn to self-regulate — the truth is you are teaching them skills they will use for their whole life.
Secondly, having a place in your home where you physically make space for emotions also teaches your children that emotions are not bad and that they need space to work through them sometimes. Rather than trying to control emotions, you can now acknowledge them and that alone diffuses the intensity of emotions, tantrums, and meltdowns — half of a child’s upset is that they don’t understand what they are feeling and they don’t feel understood by others.
When you purposefully create space just for feeling, you are saying — it is okay to have feelings and you are giving them tools to help them regulate those feelings.
What to do next…
1. Get advice from Dr. Ashley Soderlund sent right to your inbox. ❤︎
2. Emotional and mental wellness begins at home.
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