If you’re a parent or teacher — or just someone who's witnessed a toddler throw a tantrum in public — you know that children don't always know how to express strong emotions like anger or frustration. Managing emotions is a constant learning process that takes time and patience to master. You may even know adults who have trouble managing their emotions.
That's why learning how to self-regulate emotions at a young age can be extremely beneficial as a child navigates into adulthood. One way to encourage self-regulation that's becoming more and more popular is introducing something called a calm-down corner.
What is a Calm-Down Corner?
A calm-down corner, or calm-down area, is a space in a home or classroom where kids can go to have alone time and calm down. It’s not a time-out or a punishment. It simply provides kids a safe space to regain their composure.
Calm-down corners should include calming activities for kids. These may include:
- Art or drawing tools like coloring books, crayons, and Etch-a-Sketches
- Sensory tools like weighted blankets or cushions and headphones
- Fidget objects like pop-its, silly putty, and puzzles
- Visual stimulation like kaleidoscopes, snow globes, or calm-down jars
How to Use a Calm-Down Corner
Think about the things you do as an adult when you feel stressed out and need a break. You may go for a walk, practice yoga or meditation, or listen to music. Kids need a way to decompress sometimes, too. The trick is to find a way to help them decompress in a way that’s safe and allows you to monitor them while giving them space away from other kids and chaos.
Calm-down corners are not time-outs. They are not punishments. They are meant to be safe and comforting, a way for a child to take deep breaths and let their emotions settle before they become too big for the child to handle. While it’s okay to recommend that a child take a break in the calm-down corner, you shouldn’t force a child to go to their corner.
A few more tips for using a calm-down corner include:
- The calm-down corner should be used for stopping a meltdown before it occurs, not once the child is already in meltdown mode.
- Try to limit distractions when your child is in their calm-down corner. This means ensuring that other children don’t try to bother them and possibly providing headphones to help block out noise.
- Check in with your child periodically and after they seem to have calmed down.
- Provide positive feedback for children who used the calm-down corner to emotionally regulate.
- Make sure the space is accessible for all children who may need it.
Benefits of a Calm-Down Corner
Calm-down corners are an excellent way to stop meltdowns in their tracks, but they offer more benefits than that.
Calm-down corners allow kids to be aware of their own emotions. Kids learn how to identify their emotions so they can better regulate them. Calm-down corners provide a safe space for kids to process these emotions in a vulnerable state without distraction or judgment.
Kids also learn the benefit of communication and relationship skills from calm-down corners. Once they’ve learned how to identify their emotions, they can work on expressing their needs and building stronger relationships.
Calm-Down Corner Rules
While a calm-down corner should provide a safe space for all children who need it, you may need to set some guidelines. Here are some examples:
- Try to avoid letting one child dominate the space so that all children who need it get an equal turn.
- Teach kids who are not in the calm-down corner to give kids in the calm-down corner space.
- Avoid letting kids bring stimulating electronics, like tablets or video games, into the corner. Music is usually okay.
- Some kids may try to use the calm-down corner to avoid chores or classwork. If you feel like this is a recurring issue, try putting a sign-in sheet in the calm-down corner to track when kids seem to use the corner the most. This helps in many ways, but it can identify children who aren’t using the corner productively.
How To Make a Calm-Down Corner
Calm-down corners don’t have to be elaborate. In fact, they’re easy to set up. Here are a few simple steps for setting up a calm-down area in your home or classroom:
1. Choose the right spot. Your calm-down area doesn’t have to be a corner. Try to find a spot that’s quiet but not completely isolated. At home, this could be a nook under the stairs or a closet without doors. In the classroom, this may be an area in the back of the classroom.
2. Add seating and furniture. The amount of furniture you use in your corner will depend on the space you have. Try to add items like cozy floor cushions, a table and chair, or a bookshelf.
3. Hang signs and art. Look for signs that can help guide the child through their time in the calm-down corner, like signs with breathing techniques, yoga poses, or emotional management tips. Mirrors can allow kids to see their expressions as they calm down. Try soothing artwork that brings a sense of calmness.
4. Add calm down tools. If you’re using the calm-down area in a classroom or space with multiple children, you may want a wide variety of tools like sensory and fidget toys, art supplies, and music with headphones. If the space is for one or two children in a home setting, you can personalize the tools to those that are most helpful for those children.
5. Teach and explain the calm-down corner. Be sure all the children know how the calm-down corner works and what their options are so they can utilize it as needed.
You can find unlimited calm-down corner ideas online to help you tailor the calm-down corner to your space and the children you’re working with.