During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve all been spending more time at home than ever before. And when younger kids feel cooped up, emotions can run high. What can you do when those feelings boil over and your child acts out (with tantrums or even screaming)? Is there an alternative to time-outs, which sometimes just make things worse?

Try defusing your child’s heightened emotions with a calm-down corner. Read on to find out exactly what a calm-down corner is and how you can create one in your home.

What is a calm-down corner?

When toddlers and preschoolers have meltdowns, it’s usually because they don’t know how to regulate their big feelings. Calm-down corners are designed to help them process these emotions and get back in control.

A calm-down corner is a soothing place in your home stocked with activities to help your child cool off. It could be a soft place to lay down with some books or a play fort with toys and art activities. The important thing is that it’s your child’s space, with whatever they need to release their emotions and calm down mentally and physically.

Unlike time-outs, which are often used in response to disrespect or disobedience, a calm-down corner is a place where your child can chill out before they act out. Calm-down corners teach kids the skills they need to manage their feelings while also strengthening their independence and sense of personal responsibility.

How do I use a calm-down corner vs. a time-out?

Asking your child to go to their calm-down corner is different from sending them into time-out. These calm-down corner best practices will help your child make the most of their new chill-out space.

Head off heightened emotions and overstimulation. The best time for your child to go to their calm-down corner is when they (or you) first recognize that they might be boiling over — before they have a meltdown.

You can help your child recognize signals from their body that they might be heating up. They should know that when they clench their jaw, frown, yell, ball up their fists, or anything along those lines, it might be time for the calm-down corner.

Let your child go on their own. Soon enough, your child will be able to tell by themselves when they need to stop by their calm-down corner. Support this independence — it helps kids grow their confidence and capacity for introspection. And if your child really doesn’t like their calm-down corner? Try switching up what’s in the space or asking them what alternatives might work better.

Encourage reflection. After your child visits their calm-down corner, check in with them about what they were feeling before, how they’re feeling now, and how their behavior earlier might have made other people feel (including you). By questions like these, you help your child actively process their emotions and figure out how to act in the future.

How do you create a calm-down corner at home?

Excited to make your own calm-down corner? Here’s how to work with your child to create the right space for them, along with some ideas for things to put in your calm-down corner.

1. Plan and communicate with your child 

A calm-down corner is a space for your child, so it’s important to communicate and include them in the process of creating it. Come up with the location, layout, and items and activities included in the space together, and collaborate on a set of rules.

Once the calm-down corner is created, go over how all of the items and activities work with your child, and be consistent and firm in how you (and they) use the corner.

2. Stock the calm-down corner

At its simplest, a calm-down corner is just a cozy place to sit or lay down. What makes your calm-down corner unique are the specific things you and your child choose to put in the space. Here are some things you could include in your calm-down corner:

  • Sensory play objects (like bubble wrap, stress balls, Play-Doh, glitter jars, fidget spinners, paper for ripping, or even uncooked rice or sand to dig through)
  • Breathing aids (like pinwheels or images depicting breathing exercises)
  • A list of mindfulness activities
  • A journal
  • A timer
  • Art materials
  • Books
  • Legos
  • Stuffed animals
  • Artwork
  • A bean bag chair
  • Blankets and pillows

This list is only a starting point — again, the most important thing is to work with your child to figure out what they’ll like and what will help them calm down best.

Have fun! This is a great way to get to know your child better and be creative together. Want to share what you put in your child’s calm-down corner and get ideas from other parents? Join the conversation on Instagram @hellosawyer.