“Arrggghhhh! I’m so stupid! I just can’t do this anymore!” Our little one was overwhelmed again, and frustration was oozing out of her tiny body with every breath. Before she grabbed her paper and ripped it, like I knew she wanted to, I calmly suggested she head to our calm down area to take a break.
A calm down area — or safe space — is a place for any kiddo to go so they have a chance to self-regulate their emotions. It’s especially helpful for kids with special needs — gifted, twice-exceptional, or those with sensory processing disorder (SPD) or overexcitabilities. It’s easy to pull one together yourself.
Why should you make a calm down area?
Self-regulation is an important skill for children to learn. When humans get angry, we experience an “amygdala hijack” and the primitive part of our brain is activated. This is the fight, flight, or freeze response.
There’s some super smart science to explain to your kiddos.
When the primitive part of our brain is activated, we aren’t able to logic and reason well. We become quicker to react. We become impulsive. We say and do things we normally wouldn’t. We don’t think clearly.
Photo by Donnie Ray Jones
When a child has a calm down area to retreat to, he has a chance to get out of fight or flight, and get the thinking part of the brain working again. Until the rush has subsided, a sensitive, intense, or emotional kiddo can’t be reasoned with enough to help them understand what they should have chosen to do in the situation instead.
Your calm down area will be a soothing space full of things that relax and refocus your kiddo, helping to pull them back so that the thinking part of the brain is able to take over again.
When should you use your calm down area?
Your calm down area is a designated safe space for your child to go when he or she is feeling any type of overwhelming emotion. You can ask your kiddo to head there…
- when she is melting down.
- if he is having a tantrum.
- if she is being aggressive.
- when he feels out of control.
- when a child is fighting with siblings.
- when you can tell their emotions are mounting.
We use our calm down area during other times of the day, too. Our kiddos take turns in there to read silently, take a break from the chaos that is large family living, and for our child who sees an occupational therapist and does listening therapy, she uses the space a few times a day to do her therapies.
What should be in your calm down area?
Your calm down area will look a little different than ours, because you need to tailor it to your own family. The key is to stock it full of things to soothe and relax your kiddo when he needs it most.
There are some key characteristics, though, that every great calm down area needs:
A calm down area needs to be comforting.
It’s really important that a calm down area is a place that’s comfortable to be. Our favorite component of our calm down area is a super-soft lounger filled with nontoxic polyurethane and gel memory foam from Brentwood Home. It feels like a cozy hug — which is exactly what your sensory kiddo needs in the midst of an emotional meltdown. — Make sure you read to the end of the post because the folks at Brentwood Home have been generous enough to offer a Kids Space Bundle for one lucky reader. That includes the amazing lounger we are in love with and a comfy kapok-filled, organic-covered kids’ pillow, too.
Honestly, if that’s all we had, stuck in a corner, my SPD-er would be in heaven. In fact, I find her curled up with a book often in the lounger in the calm down area. She feels safe there.
We also have a rug, a few stuffed animals, the Feeling Buddies, and a curtain to pull across and close in the space for when one of the kids needs a little space.
A calm down area needs to soothe and calm sensory overload.
We have an aresenal of tools to help soothe sensory overload and calm meltdowns thanks to the occupational therapy my daughter started last summer. We’ve been able to put a few choices in there for our kids when they need to soothe intense emotions. Here are some of the things we keep in our calm down area:
- lavendar and Roman chamomile oil-scented play dough
- thinking putty
- sensory balls
- fidget toys
- bubbles to blow
- play foam
- body socks
- therapy brushes
- lava lamp
- rain stick
- glitter wand
What’s next for kids when they’re calm?
Once our kiddos have calmed themselves down — and we have too — we get together and talk about what has happened using language that we’ve learned from The Feeling Buddies Toolkit we’ve been working with. We also read different books that are relevant to the situation.
Here are some of our favorites:
Self-regulation skills take a while to learn, so it is important to remember that your kiddo’s brain is still developing, and intense kids need longer to learn how to control themselves. With your help and a great calm down area, your kids will be self-regulation wizards in no time!
And, Brentwood Home is giving one reader a Kids Space Bundle worth $190! Enter in the giveaway form below, and good luck!
How do you help your kids learn to regulate their emotions? Do you have a calm down area in your home?
More posts about intense emotions:
- Overexcitabilities and Why They Matter for Gifted Kids - January 15, 2021
- Delight Directed Homeschooling and Your Gifted Child - January 11, 2021
- Books for Animal Lovers - January 7, 2021