Tantrums are a real thing when dealing with young children. If you have a child with atypical needs like Autism or ADHD then you may also be dealing with violence and self harm. One of the ways that I help children who are having trouble calming down is by setting up a "Calm Corner." This is something that can be easily done in any space, no matter how small and once your child gets used to using it, can be a tool they will choose to use independently, before tantrums even happen! In this article we are going to discuss how to set one up in any space.
Choose a Location, as far Away from Distraction and Noise as Possible.
For many of our kids noise is overwhelming, especially if they are already in a heightened emotional state. When choosing a location for a calm corner pick a place that is as far away from additional noises and other people as possible, like televisions. Be mindful that there are some things that make noise that we generally do not think about, like florescent lights, which make a constant buzzing noise or the fridge which hums. These are noises that most adults are able to drown out but to someone with auditory sensory issues or a young child who is upset they are very loud and annoying and can hinder them being able to calm down. Pick a spot that is in a calm quiet location already. Ideally this will be a location that the child wants to go. It's important that this spot not feel like a "time out" location or a punishment. Instead what we are trying to create is a safe place that they feel comfortable in and will choose to use on their own.
Get a Calm Corner Kit
I have one available on Etsy however you can also make your own. The purpose of a calm corner is to teach children about their emotions and help them learn to regulate them. In order to do this we will need to first teach them what those emotions feel like and how to calm each one of them. This is hard work, even for adults. My calm corner kits contain: a list of emotions with images of those emotions, a list of activities the child can choose from in order to calm down with pictures, interactive breathing exercises and interactive body checks so that the children are able to assess themselves if they are in a calm state. These are vitally important to a calm corner because this is not a "time out" space, it is a teaching space. Through the direct teaching this space provides children become able to express what emotion they are feeling and how it is affecting their body and In time, become able to use these tools on their own to regulate their emotions.
Place Everything they Need in this Area.
Once you have picked a location place everything they will need in this area. Here is a list of everything I put in my areas.
Calm Corner Kits Materials (I usually laminate them)
Teddy bear (a big huggable one)
Small Fidget Toys
Something to play calm music
Calm coloring sheets (Free when you subscribe at the bottom!)
These things will always always fit in a basket and can be tucked into a comfortable location. Although some people have room for something bigger like the tent in the top picture (which children always seem to love) that isn't necessary. Any corner with the materials and a comfortable place to sit will work for this space.
Use guided Teaching
Here is the hard part. We are now going to need to start teaching our children how to use this area and materials. That means we are going to start introducing it while they are calm. Bring them to the space let them play with the materials, get a sense of them, do some beep breathing practice and explain how each thing works. Practice identifying how they are feeling and do a calm body check. Children who are not in a calm headspace can not learn something new, so that is not the time to introduce this area. We want them to already know about it when they really need it. For a while make this part of your daily routine. Pick a time when your little one is usually alert and ready to listen and then bring them to the space. Explain how each emotion feels in our body and let them talk about emotions with you. If you are struggling with the explanation of emotions there are some great books about emotions by Trace Moroney on Amazon you can check out and read together.
Next you are going to want to show your child how it's done. Next time they are feeling really emotional bring them, calmly again this is not time out, to the calm corner. You will need to sit with them and help them through the process, but you practiced this so chances are your little one remembers. Go through each step together and do each step with them. If they choose listen to music to calm down, you listen to music too. It will take a while before they can do this independently however, keep practicing while they are calm. They will get the hang of this.
Kids learn from what they see. The best way that you can teach your child to use a calm corner is by using the calm corner materials yourself. Next time you are feeling frustrated verbalize your feelings and go through the same steps you would expect your child to go though. It is fine to show your kids emotion, in fact it's healthy for them to understand that adults have emotions too. Let them see you work through that emotion step by step to calm yourself down in a healthy way and what helper tools you choose to use to do it. This may take thought and practice on your end as well since we want to show them healthy habits (sorry half pack of frustration cookies, you do not make the cut.) In the long run however that modeling is what will help kids the most.
Finally, Be Patient
Remember to be patient when teaching kids to use a calm corner. Emotional regulation is a hard skill to learn (some adults still haven't) so remember this could take years to master. Calm corners are just one tool in our tool box of how to teach children about emotions so it's okay if it takes them a while. They still have lots of time to learn.