What’s inside this article: A look at how a calming corner benefits your child’s social-emotional development, what to put in your calming space, how to use the calming corner & what to do if your child refuses to use it.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.
A calming corner (or space, it doesn’t have to be a corner) is a comfortable and calming space for children to go when they need some space, to calm down their bodies, and to take a time-in to process their big feelings.
It is a positive and non-punitive alternative to time-outs that helps children develop emotional regulation, provides structure, and leaves them feeling safe and secure.
The words positive & non-punitive do not mean permissive.
Why Should You Create a Calming Corner?
Children don’t misbehave because they want to. They misbehave because they don’t possess the necessary skills required to manage and control their behaviors when they’re in distress.
A calm down corner provides teaching moments so you can help your child develop these lacking skills.
There are multitudinous benefits to using a calm down corner, as opposed to traditional “discipline” or punishments like time-outs or removing privileges.
Here is a look at some of those benefits:
1. Builds Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize our feelings, and the feelings of others (empathy), and to use that information to guide how you think and behave.
Early development of emotional intelligence begins with identifying core emotions, such as happy, sad, mad, tired. Later, we develop the ability to recognize more complex feelings, such as annoyed vs furious.
Finally, we learn to use this emotional information to guide behavior and manage emotions through self-regulation.
Your calm down corner will contain all the tools you need to help your child learn and practice these skills.
2. Teaches Children that Unpleasant Emotions are Normal
Everyone feels mad, sad, jealous, etc. from time to time. These emotions are unpleasant to experience but they are normal.
We often tell kids “it’s okay, you don’t need to be sad/mad”, or we isolate them when they feel this way, sending the message that these feelings should be shunned and hidden.
Children should never feel ashamed of their emotions or feel like they’re being punished for feeling a certain way. It’s important to let them know that the way they are feeling is okay.
Instead, unpleasant emotions can be a learning experience.
Your calm down corner will help your child learn that their feelings are valid but certain reactions to those feelings are not.
That knowledge will come through frequent practice and mutual emotional regulation opportunities.
My personal favorite phrase is “It makes sense that you’re feeling ____________, because __________________”. When kids feel validated, they begin learning better ways to communicate emotions.
That learning opportunity is lost if your child is isolated in their bedroom when experiencing big emotions.
3. Calming Corners Provide Structure
Children need structure. They thrive when their lives are consistent and predictable.
This is true for all children but especially important for kids who struggle with rigid thinking.
One of the many ways to add structure to your child’s life is by structuring your home.
Setting up different areas in your home for different parts of the day, activities, or routines helps your child feel safe and secure in their own home.
The calming corner gives your child a safe place to go when they have strong emotions.
A calm down corner, a homework station, a craft center, etc are all ways to add this structure to your home.
4. They Help Children Learn from Their Mistakes
First of all, your child should know that everyone makes mistakes. It’s okay to make mistakes, but we need to learn from those mistakes.
Explain to your child that making a mistake can make you feel bad for a little while, but it doesn’t mean that you are bad.
Understanding this helps children tolerate unpleasant emotions better. This “frustration tolerance” (that’s what they call it) is something my own child is working on in therapy.
Continue to reassure your child that their feelings are normal and valid.
But, once they’re calm, explain the impact their actions have on others. Understanding how their behavior affects the way other people feel is an important part of developing emotional intelligence.
Encourage your child to make things right once they’ve had time to calm down.
My family’s experience:
Once we set up the calming corner in our home, I was so surprised by the way my kids naturally gravitated towards it.
I wish I’d found the time-in tool kit sooner. We’ve had it up in our home for almost a year now, and my kids still use it all the time and without being told to.
I often find my two youngest (4, and 6) looking at the calming strategies, placing their fingers on the different ones, etc.
The biggest perk? The reduced stress around the house during times of high-emotion, which happens more often that I wish it did, with three kids around.
What’s inside the time-in tool kit?
The Works Bundle comes with:
- 5 faux-framed posters for a Calming Corner
- PeaceMakers Mindfulness Cards
- My Feelings Card Deck featuring 32 different feelings
- “What Can I Do” Activity Mat with 12 calming strategies
- Meet The PeaceMakers Activity Mat with Reusable Clings
- Digital Teacher’s Manual with reproducibles
- 18 National Standards Aligned SEL Lessons Plans (Digital & Printed)
- Heart’s Treasure Hunt Children’s Book
- Set of 7 SnuggleBuddies with play instructions•
- My Feelings Calendar (7)
- The Time-In Toolkit from Generation Mindful
- Bean bag chair
- Soft mat or rug
- Medium storage container
Choose Your Space
The first step to creating a calm down corner is choosing the right spot. If you can, involve your child in picking the perfect calm down spot.
It doesn't technically need to be a corner, but I prefer using a corner.
The space you use should be somewhere in the general living area of your home. Your calm down corner will not be used for time-out or punishment, so it shouldn't isolate your child.
We started with an empty corner - actually it wasn't empty at first. My desk, chair, computers, etc. were there. I moved them to another room to create an ideal area for the kids.
This corner is in the back of our dining room. It's on the main level of our open concept home, so it's not isolating but it does offer a bit of privacy from the living room where siblings often are playing.
Make it Comfortable
When your child takes a time-in in their calm down corner, they need to be able to get comfortable.
Use a soft mat or interlinking foam flooring, and seating such as a bean bag chair so your child has a comfortable spot to sit or lay.
I purchased this stuffed toy storage chair from Amazon. Then I filled it up with multiple items, it holds a lot. So, I stuffed it with plush toys, old blankets, and old clothes that the kids don't wear.
It's comfortable and quite heavy so the kids can't lug it all over the house.
Hang Your Posters & Decorate
The time-in toolkit comes with six posters to include in your calm down corner.
Their guide will offer several different recommended layouts for the posters. We changed ours just slightly from their recommended corner layout so I could incorporate some deep breathing prompts as well.
The time-in tool kit comes with double-sided tape so you can easily hang them without damaging the wall. They can also be framed and hung.
However, the posters are all nicely laminated and high quality if you aren't ready to invest in frames.
I decorated the corner with some extra wall decals I purchased from our local dollar store. You can decorate any way you like to make the area inviting to your child.
Set up a Calm Down Kit
A calm down kit is just a container containing small activities and fidgets that your child can use in the corner to help them self-regulate.
I made sure there were items in the kit that my kids could use that match the ideas on the "My Calming Strategies" poster.
These included things like scented markets, stress ball, squishy toys, puzzles, coloring pages, books, and a kaleidoscope.
The time in toolkit even includes a printable "Time-In Tools" label for your container.
Check out my list of 27 ideas for a calm down kit here to get some inspiration.
Your calm down corner is complete and you're now ready to begin introducing the activities and the concept of time-in to your child.
Need Design Inspiration?
Look at all the different ways you can use the time-in tool kit to create a safe, calming space for your child.
Introduce the Calming Corner to your Child
Once your calm down corner is completed, it’s important to spend time in the corner with your child. Children need to learn and practice calming strategies regularly.
You can’t teach children how to calm down when they’re already upset. Once your child’s feelings are escalating, they can no longer learn.
This must be practiced together many, many times when calm before your child will successfully use these strategies independently.
Some ideas as you introduce your new calming corner:
- Spend time relaxing in the corner with your child.
- Take time to look at the posters together. Read the different emotions on the feelings chart to familiarize your child with different emotive words.
- Do the calming activities together, like coloring, stretching, hugging a toy, etc.
- Play the Peacemakers game from Generation Mindful, which is included in the Time-In toolkit. My 8-year old, who struggles significantly with his feelings, really enjoyed this game and it provided him with a new way to think about his feelings.
The digital manual included with the Time-In Toolkit from Generation Mindful also has tons of printables, coloring sheets, extra posters, and activity ideas that help teach children ways to regulate.
It’s going to be an incredible resource as you learn to use your new time-in corner together.
Although it may seem like a playful area at first, this should evolve over time.
Ultimately, this calm down corner is a space for calming down rather than playing. (Although play-based activities are always an important part of taking a time-in)
What if your child refuses to use the calm-down corner?
A common obstacle you may encounter, especially at first, is that when your child is dysregulated, and \ you suggest they use the calming corner, their reply will be a big, fat, “NO!”. (Charming, isn’t it?)
When your child’s in this state, they’re using their hind brain (see the image below) and won’t be responsive to direction. You’ll need to de-escalate the situation first.
Ideally, you want to get your child in the calming corner before this happens but sometimes that’s inevitable, no matter how preventative we try to be.
Try some of these 18 de-escalation strategies when your child is struggling to help defuse the situation first, then guide your child to the calm down and help them with mutual regulation strategies.
What Should You Put in Your Calming Corner?
Along with having the right posters, you need to also have the right tools in the calming corner.
Snuggle Buddies are another product from Generation Mindful that are a must-have with the Time-In toolkit.
Think of these guys as the “cherry on top” of your calm down corner.
These plush toys each have a pocket in the back that has four emojis attached with ribbon. The emojis are red, blue, yellow, and green to match the emotions on the feelings chart. (They also match up with the Zones of Regulation if your child already uses that program)
Kids can take their snuggle buddies with them anywhere and use them as a way to learn about and express their feelings.
They also come with a monthly feelings chart (shown in the video below).
This really helps reinforce the ideas around emotional intelligence to children. You can use your snuggle buddy as a tool to talk about feelings with your child anywhere and at any time.
My daughter will often take out the emoji that tells us how she’s feeling while she holds her snuggle buddy (she has the owl), and then we know how she’s doing without needing to ask.
We even added to our daily visual routine for morning and evening to complete the feelings chart. So, my kids are now thinking about their feelings and recording them on the chart three times a day.
The more they practice, the better they’ll be at identifying their feelings.
You might want to add a couple other posters in your corner – but make sure it’s not too overwhelming visually.
We’ve added some deep breathing posters, so my children have a few different visual guides when they are practicing their deep breathing.
Calm Down Box
Another great idea is to keep a calm down box in your calming corner. Include sensory items and fidget toys, calming items like a glitter jar, your snuggle buddies, etc. Get some ideas here.
You can also print out these free brain break cards, laminate them, and stick them on a key-ring for your child to do while they’re in the calming corner.
I’ve had a couple teachers reach out and tell me their kids gravitate towards these cards anytime they take a break.
Model Appropriate Behavior
When your child is upset, or in crisis-mode having a meltdown, do you get upset too?
Think about how you react in these situations.
Remember that it’s perfectly normal and expected to feel distressed when your child is emotional. But, what’s important to remember and display in the moment is that your emotions don’t control your behavior — you do.
You need to model this behavior for your child by staying calm. Remember, they don’t want to act this way, they’re just lacking the skills they need to emotionally regulate.
Staying calm and compassionate (parental regulation) when your child is upset teaches them that their feelings are okay. Plus, it models the very same calming strategies that you’re trying to teach.
Stress can be contagious but so can calmness. Make sure you practice your own calming strategies to successfully stay calm, even when your child isn’t.