Creating a Calming Corner at Home for Kids
Teaching kids how to manage their emotions is an important part of building their resilience (the ability to handle life’s ups and downs). Building resilience is a process that begins when we are young and continues throughout our entire lives. All kids need opportunities to practice managing their emotions; one way you can help your child do this is by creating a calming corner in your home.
What is a calming corner?
A calming corner is a safe, dedicated spot in your home your child can visit to pause and reset whenever they are experiencing strong emotions or just need a break. These spaces offer an opportunity for children to practice managing their emotions in healthy ways.
Why is a calming corner helpful?
Whenever we feel upset or stressed, our brains have a difficult time thinking clearly or solving problems. In these times, when we feel overwhelmed with emotion, it is helpful to pause and reset by calming our bodies and minds.
When kids use a calming corner, they learn:
- It’s OK and normal to use healthy coping skills to cope with their emotions and manage stress.
- Resetting allows them to get back to having fun and enjoying what they were doing.
- They can handle challenges that come their way.
How to create an effective calming corner
There are many different ways to create a calming corner. Here are some general tips to keep in mind as you create one for your child:
- Team up with your child to decide how to create a space that will work best for them and what to name it (it could be as simple as the calming corner, the reset space or the chill-out zone). The more input your child has in designing the space, the more likely they are to use it.
- Pick a comfortable location where your child feels safe using coping strategies without distractions. When you’re selecting a spot, choose one that works for everyone in the home, so it’s not in anyone’s way.
- Provide structure and clear expectations (they help kids feel safe). Work with your child to establish clear guidelines for how the space should be used. It’s important that kids understand that the calming corner is not an excuse to escape chores or other responsibilities but rather a place to take a break and reset.
Make agreements to determine:
- How long should your child stay in their calming corner? (You may want to put a sand timer in the space and have your child practice using it ahead of time so that they know how to start and end their time independently.)
- How should your child let you know if they need more time in the space?
- What behaviors are safe or unsafe in the space?
- Teach coping skills. A strategy that works one day may not work the next, so teach your child lots of different coping skills. According to licensed therapist Jody Baumstein, LCSW, “You want your child to have multiple coping tools to choose from, but you also don’t want to overwhelm them with too many options all at once. Try introducing a few tools at a time and then building their toolbox as you go.” It is difficult to learn something new when we are anxious, angry or distracted, so teach and practice new coping skills when everyone is calm rather than in the heat of the moment.
- Practice coping skills regularly. Practice using each item or tool in the calming corner with your child before they use the space on their own. Whether it is practicing yoga poses, belly breathing or squeezing a pillow, make sure your child knows how to confidently use the different coping strategies on their own.
How should the calming corner be used?
It should be up to your child to decide how and when to use the calming corner. Keep these tips in mind as you start creating your child’s space.
- Set a positive tone for the space. Make sure the space is not used for punishment so that your child does not feel any shame or hesitation about using the space.
- Encourage independence. There may be times when you feel your child does not need to use the calming corner or is using it to avoid chores or other activities. In these instances, remember that the goal of the space is for your child to be able to use it independently. Allowing your child to decide when and how to use their space shows trust and gives them the ability to identify (on their own) when they need a break or to use coping strategies.
- Try not to push the space too hard. If you think your child would benefit from the calming corner but isn’t using it, try encouraging them instead of forcing or persuading them. Baumstein suggests saying something like, “I wonder if you might feel better if you hung out in your calming corner for a little bit. What do you think?”
- Adjust as needed. If you notice that your child rarely wants to use the calming corner, something may not be working. Have an open conversation with your child (listening patiently, calmly and without judgment) about why they’re not using the space. Do they not feel comfortable in the space? Do they need help or practice with a coping skill?
What should I put in my child’s calming corner?
Once you and your child have found the right place in your home for their calming corner, you can decide together which items to include in the area.
Some ideas may include:
- Comfort items. Whether it’s a soft bath mat, blanket, pillow or beanbag, create a comfortable and cozy place to sit. Offer another comfort item, such as a stuffed animal, for them to hold.
- Glitter jar. Combine clear glue, water and glitter to create a glitter jar representing how emotions can feel in our bodies (settled glitter represents calm and shaken glitter represents big emotions). When your child is feeling strong emotions, they can shake the bottle and concentrate on slowly breathing in and out as the glitter settles.
- Visual reminders of feelings and coping skills. Whether it’s pictures of friends and family expressing different emotions and practicing coping skills, or sticky notes with the words written on them, sometimes it helps to have a visual reminder of what your child can do in their calming corner.
- Pinwheels or bubbles. Pinwheels and bubbles can be used to help your child focus on breathing in and out in a slow, relaxing way. Encourage them to inhale in through their nose and then exhale out their mouth as they blow on the pinwheel or blow bubbles.
- Coloring pages. This is a great tool for kids of all ages (and adults, too). Some kids find the rhythmic motion of coloring to be soothing, and others use it as a form of self-expression.
- Yoga poses or stretches. Yoga and stretching can help release tension and stress.
- Stress balls. Having something to squeeze can help your child work out any tension in their body.
- Play-Doh. Playing with Play-Doh can be calming for children because it allows them to shift their focus, express themselves and release tension.