Sometimes, children can have emotions that are just too powerful and big for them to express. Developmentally they may not know how to process these emotions, so often, those emotions become something that they have a hard time trying to control. The result can be tantrums, outbursts, meltdowns, etc. A calm down area cam be a great intervention to support these emotions and children’s social-emotional development.
A calm down area is not a timeout. The calm down area is often used whenever a young one’s emotions are starting to spiral or they are getting too anxious or stressed. Young children often don’t know how to properly manage and control their stress. A calming space offers a brief moment of respite, with enough distractions that won’t feed the overstimulation. Some simple toys that are not too physically demanding but are still distracting, some comforts like pillows and blankets, or some activities that remind them to breathe and be mindful are all great additions to the calm down area.
A calm down area is most effective when it is introduced casually and comfortably. Have the child help with building out the area. Let them tell you about what they want in the area. This is a great bonding moment with the child and will help them feel safe and secure whenever they use it. Having the child involved in the planning and building of the calm down area will also help them feel like they can truly make it their own, and this feeling will keep them coming back to the area.
A calm down area has the most benefits when used before things escalate too far. Emotions are often quick to erupt and get out of control. A calm down area is a great intermediate step before things get too stressful for the child. Look for signs that the child is starting to feel overwhelmed. These could range from balled up fists and clenched jaw, to having a louder voice becoming more sharp with their actions. Keep an eye out for signs that let you know they are feeling a little overwhelmed or anxious. Being able to intervene early will allow a calm down area to potentially take some of the stress off of the child, and allow them a space to comfortably process those feelings. In time, they may be able to see these signs in themselves, and will know they can go to their calm down space to help.
After a child has spent a little time in the calm down area, and you can see that their emotions have diffused some, talk to them about their feelings. Let them know that it is okay to feel those feelings, and provide strategies for dealing with them. Sit and talk with them about feelings that led them to using the calm down space, as well as ways that you help manage your stress or anxiety when you start to get overwhelmed.