Why Every Home Needs a Calm-Down Corner
Sometimes, despite your best efforts to express understanding, your child gets emotionally dysregulated. When you realize that your child is getting to that dangerous over-wrought place, suggest that the two of you take some “cozy time”—snuggle up and read a book. Often the connection and the shift to his “thinking brain” will help your child re-regulate.
But sometimes your child is too far gone for a book. He lashes out and hits someone, or throws himself on the floor and howls.
You might be inclined to put your kid in her room until she can calm down. But that's giving her a message that her emotions are shameful -- not allowed in your house. What you really want is for her to learn that emotions are just part of being human, that she can notice and accept them -- and learn to express them in constructive ways.
That's not an easy thing to learn. Indeed, most adults aren't exactly constructive in how they express emotions. That's because most of us learned that our feelings were unacceptable, and we worked hard to repress them. So we still use food or screens to stuff them. But stuffed emotions don't stay stuffed -- they're always bubbling up to get healed. They're easily triggered -- and then they explode. That's when we adults have our own little temper tantrums.
If you want to teach your child more constructive ways to self-regulate, start by offering calm understanding when they show you those big emotions. Give them the message that they're safe, you love them even when they're upset, that you want to help them through this moment and then support them to solve whatever problem they're having. This approach is the foundation for your child accepting and then learning to manage their emotions.
This approach of soothing your upset child also helps them build the neural circuits to calm themselves more readily. Every time you soothe your upset child, her body releases soothing hormones and neurotransmitters, which strengthens those self-soothing neural networks. So your child is gaining the capacity to calm herself.
Finally, loving your child through his upset builds trust and strengthens your relationship with your child, so he's more cooperative.
So you can see that when kids get dysregulated, they need a calm, warm adult to soothe them and help them feel safe. That's why I recommend using “time-in” which simply means that you stay with your child and help them calm down by loving them through their upset. For more info on how to convert your time-outs to time-ins: More Effective Than Time-Out: Time-In.
But there are times when you can't take that time with your child. And over time, your child is capable of learning to calm herself. That's why every home (and classroom) needs a “cozy corner” or a "comfort corner" where children can take themselves to calm down. Your child gets used to your calming her in this cozy place, and begins using it when she needs to calm herself.
A calming corner is simply a comforting place where people in your home go to calm down. It can have a big easy chair, a stuffed beanbag chair, or simply a fluffy rug. I recommend:
- Stuffed animals
- A chart showing faces with different emotions
- Books about emotions
- A small jar of glitter to shake
- Bubbles (because blowing shifts us into deeper, slower breathing)
- Calming activities like small figures or sensory bags or boxes.
It’s also helpful for children to be able to play audios that take them through a guided meditation.
But here's the most important thing to know about a Calm-Down Corner. If you send your child there, it feels like banishment, and your child will react just as she would to a "Naughty Step." No child wants to be sent away to calm down. That feels like a rejection.
So always go with your child, so she develops positive associations to the Cozy Corner. In fact, don't wait until your child is upset. Go to the cozy corner for quiet times so your child gets used to this space as a soothing place to be, where the activities feel calming.
Then, when you get upset, model going to the cozy corner to calm down! Of course, your child can come with you.
You'll notice that once your child gets used to going to the cozy corner with you and savoring the comfort of a time-in there, she’ll begin to head there on her own when she's upset. And when you're busy calming her brother, you can actually give her hug and tell her you'll meet her in the cozy corner in a few minutes, and she'll go.
A miracle! But one that you've created.
Can you take two children at once to the cozy corner? Sure. Just be sure there are two separate beanbag chairs or other cozy places, so they don’t fight over who sits where. Then, insist that the rule in the cozy corner is only soft voices.