Kids of all ages are constantly learning to regulate their emotions, and sometimes they’re more successful at it than other times. Creating a calm down corner at home can help build these valuable skills.
There are a lot of options when creating a calming corner at home, from using a calm-down kit, a chill-out box, or a cart of calming tools. However you choose to make it, you can cater it to your child’s needs and swap items as they grow.
As parents, it can feel overwhelming to help our children when they are having a meltdown. Sure, we can emotionally regulate ourselves usually, but this is a new level of uncertainty at the moment when we are quickly trying to placate or bring our child back to peace.
What is a Calming Corner?
A calm-down corner is place your child can go when they feel overwhelmed. There are many ages and stages of emotional growth and development, from the independent toddler years all the way to hormonally driven teenagers. The good news is there are tools for all ages to help our children to slow down, identify their feelings, and process them in a healthy way.
Far from the punishment of a time-out corner, a calm-down corner is a safe space for kids to go to so they can regulate their emotions. If your gentle discipline strategy includes a positive time out, this can be a great place to take it.
I am a big fan of pre-talking to my kids so they know what to do when they begin feeling overwhelmed. This way, the language we are using and the tools available are all familiar to them when it comes time to use the calming space.
A calming corner is not a punishment, it’s a guide to self-care and emotional processing, and feeling identification. A calming box is a personalized toolkit that is great for older children to take care of their own emotional needs. It’s a pause, it’s a way to reset, think things through, and find their inner peace, so they are ready for the world.
When to Use a Planned Calming Space
Using a calm-down corner for emotional regulation will likely take a little bit of practice, planning, and conversations with your child. The goal is to recognize the escalation of overwhelm, and offer the resources before a meltdown happens.
Calming corners can be helpful tools to process anger, fear, anxiety, or overexcitement. I really like to start identifying feelings with developmentally appropriate books, and posters, and even making a color-coded feelings chart to put on the wall.
Talking about feelings and what to do when we notice we are beginning to feel overwhelmed and need to calm down is a great way to start. Introduce your child to the calm-down corner and go over when and how to use it.
As your child begins to feel comfortable using the calming tools available, you can begin by helping them identify their feelings as they come up, and suggest they use the calm-down corner. Once they feel the relief that self-calming brings, they will learn to eventually regulate this on their own.
It may take time for kids to use this on their own, each child is different and has individualized reasons for a calming space, so be patient and lead with compassion.
Modeling healthy emotional regulation and processing is a wonderful tool for parents to use too. Talking aloud through your own process, such as “Mommy is feeling super overwhelmed at the moment, so I am going to take a break, sit on the couch and let this chocolate melt in my mouth for a few minutes. After that, I’ll be ready to move on with my day.”
How to Make a Calm-Down Corner
A calm-down corner doesn’t have to be a designated space. It can take the form of any of the following:
- An actual corner in your home devoted to calming space filled with pillows and blankets, a pop-up tent, string lights, a soft rug, or anything that feels cozy to your child.
- A small cart to roll out when necessary. This is a great option for smaller homes that don’t have room to dedicate a corner, and also helpful for anyone wanting flexibility in where the tools will be used.
- A kit in a portable bin (this one is a diaper caddy but would work really well) is great for use on a tabletop, perfect for traveling, and for being able to be tucked away in a closet or under a bed.
- A calming box is perfect for older kids, use what you have. They can decorate it or choose their own, and it can have smaller fidget items, a journal, and slips of paper with reminders of what to do for the chill time.
- An outdoor calm down area might already exist right outside your door. Nature is inherently calming to our bodies and minds. Walking barefoot in the grass is great for the nervous system. Bring a few of your calming box items outside under a shade tree or to a comfy spot on the porch or safe balcony.
The best thing about a calming corner at home is that it can be completely individualized to speak to whatever will calm your little one, tween, or teen. I even have my own chill-out box that consists of Oracle cards, dark chocolate peanut butter cups, and incense! It’s whatever it takes to take a few minutes to reset, that you don’t use all the time, but is there when you need it most.
Most importantly, I recommend keeping it simple and affordable. This will make it easy to use, and easy to update the items as your child’s needs change. The last thing you want is a cluttered space that in the end contributes to the landfill rather than calming your kiddo.
Calm-Down Corner Ideas
What exactly should you put in your child’s calm-down corner? This can vary per child, their developmental abilities, age, and what speaks to them personally. You may want to choose the items for younger toddler-aged children, but by the time they are school-aged, they can have some say in it.
Tweens and teens can participate in picking some of their own tools. They know themselves best, and it is such good life skills for them to put some thought into identifying what exactly can help them regulate, and try things out to see what helps them the most. Get them involved! They are in charge of their own emotions, after all.
When my son made his first chill-out box with his behavior therapist at age 11, he added reminders to read a book or shower since water calms him. It also included some sensory fidget toys, and gum. He also had calm-down glitter jars next to the chill-out box that he decorated like his favorite books.
These tools are so simple, but they were life-changing for him and me! He needed a bridge and a plan to access his autonomy to regulate his own emotions, which was not a simple task for him. At that age, I couldn’t do it for him and these tools provided him a path to his own regulation.
Here are some specific ideas to get started. Use what you have first, and expand from there!
1. Sensory Toys
2. Sand Timer
Great for making sure they slow down and take their time. Younger kids might like watching the sand and turning them over, while older kids might use them to keep busy in their calming space for the duration. You can buy them here, but I always use the free ones from the dentist!
3. Take a Movement Break
This can be in the form of a reminder card for older kids. Stretching or doing a few yoga poses can help calm the body. Try these yoga cards for kids!
4. Calm Down Jar
I loved making these with my son, and would even use them myself! You shake them up and watch the glitter slowly float down, it truly is relaxing. Here is a great tutorial to make them. We made all the different colors of the Hogwarts houses and decorated the outsides of the jars too!
5. Play Dough
I’m not going to lie, there was a time when I outlawed play dough from my house! Once I was 3 kids in though, the calming benefits of play dough couldn’t be ignored and I welcomed it.
Sensory activities like this calm the nervous system and literally pave new pathways in children’s growing brains. Messes? We’ll worry about those later.
6. Emotions Poster or Cards
If space allows, put up a feelings poster. It can be a wonderful visual to help kids identify their feelings and brings feeling words into daily conversation too. The My Feelings Bundle is a printable set of cards and affirmations that make an ideal addition to your child’s mindful corner.
7. Coloring Books and Art Supplies
There is a range of art and coloring that can bring about mindfulness and a deeply focused and meditative state. Try our nature themed coloring pages to help instill your child’s innate love of nature.
8. Listen to Music
Create a calming playlist with your child, music can be focusing, releasing, and very therapeutic. My kids have had their own playlists since they were toddlers.
As a young mom, I was so concerned my boys absolutely would not color (like would not even touch a crayon!), they are both now amazing musicians as older teens. They still feel and regulate with music.
9. Guided Meditation Scripts
For children old enough to read, you can include a few guided meditation scripts to help them relax. There are scripts to process anger, release anxiety, teach proper breathing techniques, improve focus, and a variety of fun guided imagery adventures.
10. Chewing Gum
Not for young toddlers, but chewing gum is a proprioceptive task that regulates the nervous system. Not a fan of gum? Try crunching carrot sticks. It works!
If your kiddo gets overstimulated and needs a quiet moment, sound-blocking headphones can help them get in the right space for emotional and sensory regulation.
12. Weighted Pillow
Let your child cozy up with some weight, it can have an amazing calming effect. Weighted stuff animals are great for this, but you can also make your own with rice!
13. Lavender for Aromatherapy
Known for its mood-balancing effect, use lavender for calming your child. You can easily make a child-safe fragrant salve, or simply add some essential oil drops to a spray bottle with water to keep in the calm-down corner.
14. Thoughts and Fears Box
Perfect for calming a child with anxiety, this can be as simple as an empty tissue box (my daughter loved decorating hers). Write down fears or frustrations, and put them in the box. This is a wonderful way for kids to face their big emotions, get them out, and put them in a safe space outside of their brains.
15. Melting Chocolate
This sounds indulgent, and well, it is. But, chocolate can truly have a calming effect. In the time it takes for it to melt in your mouth instead of chewing, it can refocus your mind and melt your worries. This is motivating especially for older kids who might not always want to use their tools.
Technology Use in Calming Corners
The use of technology in calm-down spaces is debatable, I recommend sticking to your family’s screen time rules when it comes to using a phone or tablet as a tool to regulate.
Video games might be counter-productive if they get your child riled up, but, if a few minutes gives them the time they need to switch gears then that helps meet the goal. Do what is right for your child and family.
There are so many helpful apps and programs that can make technology a useful tool for self-regulation. In my family, if it’s used as a tool or a bridge from one headspace to another healthier one, I’m all for it.
For example, my 7-year-old daughter loves to calm herself by listening to a story podcast on her tablet (her favorite is Little Stories for Tiny People). This is something she can do on her own and it helps calm her mind and her body which is the goal.
A teen could have a chill-out box note to do a breathing app or a guided meditation app, or a streamed playlist specifically for calming down. Choose what feels right for you and your family while keeping in mind the goal of calming and self-regulating.
Calm-Down Corner FAQs
In my experience, yes! They are a preferred approach over a time-out corner that teaches children to get to the root of the issue they are having, redirects them, and gives them the confidence to manage their own emotions. It’s often used in classrooms as well.
Anywhere that space allows. It’s best to avoid busy or loud spaces, so if needed opt for a cart, a kit, or a box. This way the tools can go with the child to a space where they feel safe and calm.
The benefits range from emotional regulation, sensory regulation, personal autonomy, and confidence, and can even help communication and brings emotional awareness to their everyday vocabulary.
Personally, I have learned and grown right along with my children as I led them on a path that I had not yet paved for myself with calming spaces and tools.
I always knew that sensory tasks like art, dancing, running, letting chocolate melt in my mouth, and deep breathing were things that felt good and got me in touch with my inner self. What I learned with my kids is how to use those things for emotional regulation.
Once you start this process with your children, its effectiveness will be such a relief. Before you know it, everyone in your home big and small is likely to have a personalized calming space or calming box to turn to when they need it!