Whether you realize it or not, you most likely have a calming corner or set of activities. For some adults, it might be a casual walk in the woods or a vigorous run across town. For others, it is a favorite drink sitting in a comfortable chair — this strategy you have used consciously or without though to deal with any bumps in the road of life.
Why Teach Self-Regulation?
But your child does not know this technique instinctively. It is a solution you can teach them that could have a lifelong effect – how to self-regulate.
Did you know that many anxious children have difficulty calming themselves down, especially when they are young and untrained? Since “childhood anxiety disorders are very common, affecting one in eight children,” as reported by EffectiveHealthCare website, you are likely dealing with anxious behavior.
By their teenage years, the percentage increases dramatically. “Nearly 32 percent of adolescents in the United States have an anxiety disorder, according to national survey data reported by Kathleen Merikangas, Ph.D., at the National Institute of Mental Health, and colleagues (Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 2010,” from the American Psychological Association.
One effective way to assist your anxious child is to provide a space for calming activities and to train them how to calm themselves.
One prerequisite before using a calming area, you need to think about is how independent your child is. Do they require your attention full time? Are they always aware of where you are and are uncomfortable when they cannot see you? You may need to teach your child how to play independently before using this strategy. Take a look at these ideas in this blog, 3 Powerful Steps to Encourage Independent Child’s Play, to assist you.
The Calming Corner
Select a quiet area in your home so your child can be in a private space away from others. It could be in their bedroom or a corner of the dining room. You can designate the area with a rug or a small tent.
You will likely know best what types of activities are calming to your child. Some traditional comforting tools are fidgets, favorite stuffed characters. You could also try sensory activities such as scented items, quiet music, or playdough. Some kids find coloring calming. You may want to provide a particular coloring book for that purpose.
Make sure that the activities do engage your child. You may want to rotate the choices to keep them fresh.
You will also want to add calming cards or coloring book you have introduced that shows how to calm yourself. The book will remind your child how to breathe, think positively, or sit for relaxation.
How to Introduce your Child to the Concept
Indeed, one tricky area will be how to introduce the entire concept of this specialized are for your child. One approach may work better than others for you, or you may need to use a combination of methods. But one consistent piece of advice is to introduce the area when you and your child are calm and can enjoy the activities within the area.
Modeling: You might model the process for your child by setting up your own calming area. Here you will have a favorite activity or 2 of yours, be it a book to read, some handcraft, or even an adult coloring book. You can explain to your child that sometimes parents get upset and need their own space. Have your child investigate your special area. Over the next week, make reference to this area for your child. You might say, “I am getting frustrated with learning how to work on the computer. I can feel myself breathing hard, and I am starting to have a headache. I need to take a break.” Go to your special space to engage in an activity. Spend a short amount of time, and when you leave the space, you can say. “Now, I feel calm, and I am ready to finish working on my project.”
Storybook: You can broach the subject of a calming corner through a storybook. Read the book as if it were any other type of storybook. If you do read at bedtime, that would be a perfect introduction. Do not attempt to explain your intentions after the first reading of the book. Your child will need tome to absorb the ideas and will need to hear the book over and over as if it were a favorite story. When you think your child is ready, you can introduce the idea of his or her unique space.
Surprise: Just set up the calming area as a surprise for your child. And when they ask about the new arrangement of activities or the new structure, you can surprise them with the purpose of the area.
Practice Over and Over going to the Spot – in a No Stress Time
Once you have established the spot, you can practice having your child try the chill-out area, just for fun. You can both go to your special areas and then come out when you are ready. Or you can set a timer and come out when the timer goes off. Increase the amount of time on the timer to achieve 20 minutes in the calm area. Research shows that it takes at least 20 minutes to reach a peaceful state, which is also true for adults. To make this even more enticing, you may want to add a surprise to your child’s area.
Start in a time of no stress – Let’s go to our special spot. I’m going to Mommy’s Hangout and you go to __
Name it carefully – Calm Down is not going to work My Space, Trevon’s Tent, Charla’s Corner, Holly’s Hideaway, Darrel’s District, Sam’s Station, Jasmine’s Joint Be creative with the name. If your child is old enough, they can help you name it. It could be the name of your child’s favorite location, such as Disney World, The Zoo, the Farm.
When to Use the Calm Down Technique
- At the beginning of a tantrum
- If your child is hitting, spitting or kicking
- For squabbling siblings
- When you notice your child is getting red in the face with emotion, shaking, talking loudly, or any other sign of emotional upset
In a Time of Stress
First time: Start early in the temper tantrum. Suggest that you both need your special spot and announce that you are going to Mommy’s hideaway, so it’s time for your child to head for his or her special spot. If you are using the timer, start the timer and proceed to your place.
Signal or Key Word
You may want to add a hand signal or a keyword that you will use time after time during a temper tantrum. Perhaps it will be a simple as saying something like this, “Trisha’s Tent Time.” Make the keyword short. The hand signal can be as simple as pointing to the area or a silly one you make up, just for this type of occasion.
When you give the signal or keywords, you should expect that your child knows what to do. Turn your back on your child and go to your mommy spot. Make yourself unavailable. Do not back down as this will interfere with your success.
“Out of the House” Calm Down Corner
Preparation: You may want to note what type of activity calms your child the best. Is it listening to music, coloring, or using a fidget toy? You may want to carry an identical item or two with you when you are not in your home.
Practice: Again, you will need to practice the steps when there is no sign of an emotional outburst or temper tantrum. Approach the calming activity as you would in your home but explain that you will find a quiet space for your child. Set the timer and then move a short distance from your child. Do not make eye contact with them. Use the particular objects you have provided for them. Set a timer to indicate that the activity is over, but if your child wants to continue, let them decide when they will join you. If you are visiting another home, you may need to find a quiet location in this home for your child.
The Real Thing: When you see the first signs of a temper tantrum, stop whatever you are doing, and find an isolated space. Provide the special item to your child and use the keyword or signal. Then, move some distance away to give your child space and set the timer. On your first few times, you will probably need to set it for a shorter time. Watch your child to determine what will work best.
Describe the unacceptable behavior that happened during the temper tantrum and explain why it is inappropriate. But approach the discussion as a mistake that can be easily corrected.
Next Time: Talk about acceptable alternatives that your child could try. For example, if your child was angry that her sibling was playing with a toy she wanted, she could say, “When you are finished playing with __, please give it to me.”
Reward Your Child
When your child successfully uses the calm down techniques, reward them after the session has finished. You can use your words as praise or use physical rewards such as stickers or a treat. This is a behavior you want to reinforce.
A Year of Educational Quiet Bins: This book is perfect for the busy mom who does not have the time or energy to think of these ideas for herself but wants to provide quiet and educational activities that will engage her children. In the book, you will discover strategic moments for using these bins.
Positive Parenting: Learn more positive strategies to use with your children. Turn your relationship around from constant conflict into negotiation for better behavior. “Filled with practical, solution-oriented advice, this is an empowering guide for any parent who longs to end the yelling, power struggles, and a downward spiral of acting out, punishment, resentment, and shame–and instead foster an emotional connection that helps kids learn self-discipline, feel confident, and create lasting, loving bonds.”
Related Information for More Support
Kids seem to express their emotional distress as a tantrum. You can help them through this stage. How to Handle Temper Tantrums
Help your child gain control over their emotions. 5 Tips and Tricks for Using Storybooks to Alleviate Emotional Distress