Creating a Calm Corner

Creating a Calm Corner

Young children need help to learn self-regulation and to learn how to remain calm at times of temper tantrums.  This can be more challenging for some children than others.  Even if this doesn’t happen often, children can still become overwhelmed by big emotions in their tiny bodies, whether it’s frustration or anger or sadness, or even over-excitement. Big emotions trigger a “fight or flight” response in the brain, at which point, trying to reason with a child becomes a fruitless exercise and often just exacerbates the situation further. 

The basic idea is to create a space for a child to feel safe, which can help to de-escalate big feelings before both the parent and child feel they have lost control. Having a dedicated space gives children an appropriate and safe way of expressing and processing their big feelings, which can so often escalate into yelling, shouting, name calling, lashing out, hitting, biting tantrums. Instead of pushing back against these big feelings, the child can be redirected to their dedicated “calm corner” when they need a bit of support managing strong emotions. 

Once a child feels calm, parents can use this as an opportunity to discuss what happened and reflect on what helped them to feel regulated. Here is also an opportunity to help your child label what they felt/what they are feeling. This can help children to learn how to self-regulate and manage similar feelings in the future. The goal is to engage the logical brain once the child is out of that "fight or flight" mode and they have regained their ability for logic and reason.

There are no such things as “positive” or “negative” emotions. We want children to feel secure in expressing and communicating any emotion they are feeling, and therefore it is highly important that the calm space feels 100% safe and secure for the child in order for them to do just that – this means that it should NEVER be used as punishment, a “naughty corner” for “time out”.

How do I create a calm corner?

Step 1

Choose your space. Work with what already exists within your home and what works best for your family. If you are space-limited, consider creating a box of resources that lives in the same spot but that can be accessed and set up quickly. Where possible, try to make sure the area is quiet and away from “high traffic” areas of the house. You can also use existing walls or other barriers to help separate the space. 

Step 2

Choose your items. It doesn’t need to be fancy or high tech! You know your child and their needs best. Blankets and pillows might be enough. If you need to pull out some of the big guns, vestibular and deep pressure activities have a calming and organising effect on the brain and body. Toys that engage the vestibular system such as a balance board or rocking bridge, and things that give deep pressure such as a weighted blanket or a play couch that they can squish themselves into are great additions to a “calm corner”. 

Step 3

You can also add in other sensory or comfort items such as a favourite soft toy, music or a book. Dummies/pacifiers, chewable toys, crunchy foods or things to suck (eg an ice block, lolly or drinking through a straw) can also provide that calming deep pressure through the joints in the mouth and jaw. 

Other sensory toys can also be a big help here, and having a few things in the “toolkit” means you are always prepared. Here is a very brief list to get you started:

  • Audio: Music, Noise cancelling ear muffs
  • Visual: Blues, Greens, Purples and Greys are typically “calming” colours, Sensory bottles (DIY here), Lights, Silk scarves 
  • Olfactory: Scented toys, creams/moisturisers with calming smells, essential oils in a diffuser
  • Tactile: Fidget toys, Materials of different textures
  • Oral motor: Bubbles, Balloons, Chewy toys, Dummies, drink in a sippy cup
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