“That’s one. That’s two. That’s three. All right, time out!”
For years, these words echoed through the hallways of our house anytime our children got in trouble. Write with a marker on the wall. Time out! Fight with your little brother. Time out! Refuse to clean your room. Time out!
We knew that we didn’t want to isolate our children while in time-out, so they sat smack dab in the middle of our kitchen on a chair “thinking about what they’d done.” They wiggled. They sometimes giggled. They usually sat quietly. So for a while, we thought, “Hey, this is working!” Except it really wasn’t. We came to a stark realization that time-outs weren’t truly changing our children’s behavior nor were they honoring the “why” of our children’s behavior. While we knew all behavior is a form of communication for children, we weren’t really taking time to pause and figure out what was behind the misbehavior. We weren’t modeling calm down tools for them to use in times of distress. And most of all, we weren’t giving our children the compassion and attention they needed to figure out how they were truly feeling and what emotions hid in the shadows behind their behavior.
According to Rebecca Eanes, “becoming and remaining calm during anger [or frustration] is an important skill for children to learn. When we are angry, something significant happens in our brains. We experience an ‘amaygdala hijack’ and the primitive part of our brain is activated. This is the fight, flight, or freeze response. The purpose of a calm-down corner is to get out of fight or flight and engage in the thinking part of the brain again. Until the anger has subsided, a child can’t really learn the lessons we want to teach them” (https://afineparent.com/positive-parenting-faq/calm-down-corner.html).
Cue the Calm Down corner. Inspired by the work of Generation Mindful (www.genmindful.com), we began to create a calming space in the corner of our living room filled with comfy pillows, stress balls, books, and charts about feelings. After prepping the corner, we filled our kids in on a little secret. We would no longer be using time-outs in our house. Instead, whenever someone needed a break, we would be using the calm down corner. A space to breathe. A space to regroup. A space to problem-solve and make amends when they are called for.
So how does the corner work? When one of our children is facing a big emotion, from anger to overwhelm, we gently guide them to the calm down corner. Once we are there, we coach them through some variation of these three steps:
Understanding how they are feeling using labels to identify their emotions
Finding a tool to calm down
Figuring out how to fix the problem
Or in kid-friendly terms, we say:
How am I feeling?
What can I do to calm down?
How can I fix my problem?
And, to our amazement, the calm down corner has worked. We have a much more peaceful and connected home. And our kids have started problem-solving without our help, often telling one another how they feel and working their problems out without adult intervention. We can physically feel the shift of energy in our home, from one of frustration and overwhelm to one of peaceful connection.
The calm down corner is truly empowering our kids to take charge of their own emotions, and that is something we definitely want to celebrate!