Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
Inside: How to create a dream calm-down space 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 the biggest challenges young children face is learning to regulate big emotions and impulses. Which means that teaching our kids how to handle their emotions is one of our biggest challenges as a parent too.
Creating a calm-down space or toolkit that your child can use when they have big emotions provides a space for them to actually feel those emotions and also something to do with all of 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 Space?
The brain systems that underlie self-regulation abilities are developing across all of childhood and in the teenage years as well. While your teen probably won’t use that same calm-down space, they will use those foundational skills they learned there.
A calm-down space is something that can grow with your child — they can use this for years. The part of the brain underlying the self-regulation system becomes online and fully organized at about the age of three. Rapid development continues in that systems until about the age of 5. The system matures between the ages of 5 to 7, with girls being 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 — the truth is you are teaching them skills they will use for their whole life.
Secondly, emotions are abstract and hard to understand for children. Even for adults, we struggle to put words to our emotions 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 space helps make abstract emotions something 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.
That space gives your child a place to go when they know they have big feelings. And a place for you to lead them to so you have the tools to help them with their big feelings.
Visual cues with names of emotions and images of emotions can help children orient themselves in what can feel like a storm inside their body. Think of your Mindful Feeling Space 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 Mindful Feeling Space: Help Your Child Regulate Big Emotions
There are really just two things you need in a calm-down space:
- Tools to help identify emotions (posters, cards, stuffies with emotion faces, books).
- Tools to help children mindfully work through their emotions (pinwheel to encourage deep breathing, sensory items like non-sticky putty, stuffie for belly breathing, favorite books, favorite music, fluffy chair, or blanket).
Mindfully experiencing emotions means we are aware of our emotions, we name them, and we experience 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. I like to call this space in your home the Mindful Feeling Space instead of a calm-down space.
‘Calm-down’ suggests you should get rid of the emotion. Mindful Feeling suggests you should be aware and notice the emotion and that is exactly what this space is designed to do.
You do not need a big space for a mindful feeling space. You can create a space like I have in the pictures on this page, but you can also do a basket. For younger children, putting some 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.
The Two-Step Mindful Emotions System: Handle Tantrums and Meltdowns With Love
Just like you only really need two things in your Mindful Feelings space, there are two steps. Help your child identify the emotion and then hold space for that emotion with e flexible choice.
- Name it. How do I feel?
- Feel it. What do I want to do? Comfort, Space, or Silliness™?
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 the feelings of anger and frustration inside. This is where silliness and playfulness can be a good choice.
The printable Mindful Emotion Toolkit™ helps to introduce children to these two steps. Included in the toolkit are several tools to help children name and to feel their emotions. There are 10 emotion cards and 21 regulation cards divided into the categories of Comfort, Space, or Silliness™.
Tools For Your Mindful Feelings Space