Calm Corners are a great way to help children learn emotional regulation skills. The ability to self regulate is a key element of emotional intelligence and an important life skill. Traditional parenting approaches don't tend to teach emotional regulation skills explicitly, but research shows that directing our children to specific calming strategies and providing space for mindfulness helps nurture resilient kids.
The ability to regulate emotions isn't something that happens overnight. The area of the brain responsible for reason and logic isn't fully developed until early adulthood. However, children should learn about feelings, their emotional triggers and how to soothe themselves to lay the foundations for an emotionally healthy life. Plus, I'm always amazed at how easily children embrace calming strategies ... even when their thinking brains are still maturing!
Calm Corners provide the space, environment and resources that support emotional regulation. By designating an area for calming down, children can remove themselves from their emotional trigger and process their feelings.
There are several important ingredients for a calm corner:
1. Something that helps children identify what they are feeling.
This could take the form of a Feelings Check In sheet, Feelings Cards or a Feelings Print. Naming a feeling is known to calm a nervous system that is in a stress response.
2. Calming Strategy Visual Prompts
Children need easy to access calming strategies to support their emotional development and regulation skills. This is something children need to be explicitly shown and taught! A strategy poster, cards or other visual prompts such as the posters in our natural, mindful yoga themed Calm Down Corner Kit are or the cards in our Calming Strategy Kit are perfect for teaching children the ways to find calm. I'd suggest having conversations around these strategies too, asking your child what they noticed about the way they felt in their bodies, which will help their brains make links between the strategies and feeling calmer, making it more likely they will use them in the future!
3. Resources that support emotional regulation
A toolbox of resources to support regulation and self soothing are great additions to Calm Down Corners. I'd recommend sensory/fidget toys, glitter bottles, puzzles (non frustrating ones!), reading books, cuddly teddy, and a favourite blanket. Most of these items will use the senses and provide the sensory input that helps the nervous system feel safe and therefore calm.
4. Mindfulness Tools
Set up your Calm Corner with some tools that will provide your child an opportunity for mindful moments that help them reflect on and process their feelings. These tools could include colouring pages, pens and paper for drawing or writing, tracing pages, breathing technique prompts or journal pages. Our Calm Down Corner Kit provides these opportunities through printable sheets that you can instantly download here.
Where should I locate my Calm Down Corner?
As a former primary school teacher, I know the important that the environment has on children's ability to learn and access their thinking. The location of your Calm Down Corner is important for this reason too. Choose an area of your home that is quiet and calm. Somewhere that, ideally, isn't too busy or overwhelming in terms of household clutter or family traffic! I love to use bean bags, cushions and soft blankets in our Calm Corner. I've also created a den in the past to house our Calm Corner as it lent itself to my child's interest at the time.
Why should I have a Calm Down Corner?
A designated space gives your child a clear action to take when they feel overwhelmed by big feelings such as anger, frustration or worry. By creating a space for them, you can also provide them with accessible prompts that can help them calm their feelings, educating them with life long skills and also structuring their response to their feelings without you having to be right next to them. Sometimes children need the space/distance a calm down corner provides before they are ready and able to have a reasonable discussion with you. Calm Corners can also help children feel safe when big feelings overwhelm them, soothing their emotional brain and helping them find calm.
Did you know ... ?
If your child is a little Space Enthusiast, we've created My Chill Out SPACE - A Space Themed Calm Corner Kit! Why not get really creative and set up a 'rocket corner' filled with the resources in this printable kit! Using your child's interests will help motivate them to use and engage with the space that you create.
Let us know if you've got any questions about creating a Calm Corner by commenting below!
In our busy, modern world it is VERY tempting for us as parents to try to sweep our children’s emotions away. Instinctive responses such as ‘you’ll be fine’, ‘there’s no point worrying about it’ or ‘well, you’re good at this subject aren’t you so the exam will be easy’, often leave our mouths before we’ve realised and come from a place of wanting our children to be ok.
It can also be extremely difficult for us emotionally when our child is overwhelmed. We are often unconsciously triggered emotionally, whether that be because of our own past experiences or because we are tired and have an ‘empty tolerance cup’. After a busy day at work, you are likely to become emotionally triggered if, at 6PM the night before the exam, your child comes to you upset and worried. You would certainly not be alone if you rolled your eyes in frustration and exasperatedly said, “And now you tell me!’' Or wearily yawned 'You’ll be fine” and sent them to bed with a ruffle of the hair.
What our children really need from us in their emotionally challenging moments is to feel understood. When we try to sweep them on through their feelings at speed, we may get some short-term relief from the discomfort of being around a child with big feelings. I get it. Sometimes the crying, whining or the general energy that emotions bring (the tween door slam gives me an instant tense, tight jaw!) is just too much. But if we always brush them away or try to fix the issue, children can sense our discomfort of big emotions. This becomes a missed opportunity to develop emotional intelligence and teach them healthy habits. Rushing our children through big emotions or ‘fixing’ the issue teaches our children to suppress, avoid or use other unhealthy habits to cope with their big emotions. It can also lead to feelings of shame around experiencing challenging emotions.
Although difficult and requiring our own self growth, our children need us to show them that it’s OK to sit with big feelings, accept them and become curious. Reassuringly, research shows that even doing this just some of the time is effective, which gives us some space to be human!
It’s important to remember that pushing feelings away tends to lead to them popping back up with increased force! Repeatedly! The more we can support our children in these moments the more their emotional intelligence will grow. Big feelings will settle when children feel listened to and understood, even if the reason for their emotions seem nonsensical to us.
One question that can help in a challenging emotional moment is to ask your child,
“What do you need?”.
“What do you need?”.
A simple, powerful question! With just these four words you can:
Try it next time and see what happens!
We may even hear ourselves saying things our own parents said! I often experience moments that are almost like outer body experiences on my conscious parenting journey; hearing myself say things, whilst my inner wise self shakes her head disapprovingly.
When our children are asked closed questions such as “Are you OK?” or “What’s wrong?” they are very likely to respond in angry, frustrated tones because their nervous system is in stress mode, which means they’re not thinking clearly. They may be experiencing negative thoughts or cognitive distortions which are causing them to feel disconnected and fuelling their emotional state. If you were feeling upset and someone asked, “Are you OK?”, you might automatically experience thoughts popping up such as a sarcastic “Do I look OK?!, or “What a stupid question?”, or “If you don’t know what’s wrong already, leave me alone?”. Using the right language can take the moment in which our child is struggling in an entirely different direction. A direction that feels good for both us and our children whilst also helping them make progress in terms of emotional development and problem solving.
So, how do we encourage our children to open up and talk, instead of both them and us feeling furious and disconnected? It’s actually simpler than we realise! We have a tendency to overcomplicate things and an urge to ‘fix’ our unhappy child which can result in our almost panicked “What’s wrong?”. This can feel like pressure to a child who may not quite know what’s wrong or at least not know how to articulate it. It also gives an impression (which may or may not be the case) that you’re uncomfortable with their emotions. Instead, we can draw them into a space that invites curiosity and discussion by stating our observations. Pause, observe and tell your child what you’re seeing in their facial expression and body language.
“I’ve noticed your shoulders look tense.”
“I can see your smile is gone.”
Reflecting these observations back to our children helps them to become more deeply in tune with how their feelings are experienced in their body. It also helps them to feel SEEN and sense that their emotions are safe with you. This is a solid starting point to actually start talking about how they feel before exploring triggers and solutions. This is the language that builds emotional intelligence.
From this simple starting point of reflecting your child’s physicality back to them, you will notice that their body language shifts a little as they move their focus to it. You will also notice the atmosphere softens as they become more open to conversation because they feel understood. The key at this point is to maintain that gentleness and curiosity. If you need to encourage them to talk, use a phrase such as “Tell me more”. This gives permission for the feelings to be whatever they are, without judgement.
Remember, our goal as parents is to support our children to navigate all emotions.
Our Kids Den resources support you to have meaningful conversations with your child. Check out the range here.
Our knowledge around the way we parent and the impact that has on our children's mental health and wellbeing has grown rapidly in recent years. Thanks to advances in the world of psychology, we have a greater collective understanding of how our own emotional intelligence effects our children. Research shows that parents who have a greater depth of self awareness and an ability to emotionally regulate themselves are more likely to raise emotionally intelligent children.
During my own learning and personal growth, prompted by becoming a parent, I've discovered that it's crucial to perceive parenting as a relationship rather than a job to do. The connection we have with our children, I believe, is the channel through which we can embed the foundations they need for a life of emotional health and happiness.
Here's my favourite quotes to inspire a parenting approach that places connection at it's heart!
How we feel about our kids isn't as important as how they experience those feelings and how they regard the way we treat them.
A strong emotional connection to at least one adult is the best buffer from trauma that we can give our children.
The parent-child connection is the most powerful mental health intervention known to humanity.
~Bessel Van Der Kolk~
As children develop, their brains “mirror” their parent’s brain. In other words, the parent’s own growth and development, or lack of those, impact the child’s brain. As parents become more aware and emotionally healthy, their children reap the rewards and move toward health as well.
Looking for more in-depth support on parenting and child emotional wellbeing. Click here to visit our parenting resource section The Mama Haven
Having this conversation means your child is prompted to explore the type of person he/she wants to spend time with and be close to, rather than 'following the crowd' or building a friendship simply because they sit next to someone.
What is a good way to start talking to someone new?
Preparing our kids with social skills that make friendship building a little less awkward is crucial. Many children, especially introverts, those with social anxieties or lacking confidence will find it useful to have planned ahead of time when it comes to breaking the ice and making a new friend! It's a great way to start a conversation about first impressions and also break down the negative beliefs that can form around starting conversations with new people. Many kids believe they can't start a conversation, or that the new person won't want to speak to them. The reality is in new situations we're usually all a bit nervous and will be glad to have someone talk to us!
What can you do to stay calm when you disagree with a friend?
Again, a good pre-emptive question to open a conversation about regulation skills in challenging moments. If your child is older, you might even go on to explore the concept of perception and how each of us can see the same situation a slightly different way. Empathy is an important part of relationships.
It can be easy for children to think negatively in these scenarios so why not get ahead and start teaching them that someone else's achievement doesn't impact their own. We're all on our own path and will get there in our own time. A kind 'well done' will make a friend feel good and your child can channel their envy into some extra effort and achieve themselves which makes an all round win win!
What might a friend have been feeling that lead to them doing that?
Ah, possibly the most important question to help children navigate friendships. Kids can do things that hurt our children's feelings and our mama bear can rise up into fierce protective mode. But, aside from bullying, which is an entirely different issue to handle, usually children do things or say unkind things because they are struggling or overwhelmed. This question does two things. It develops empathy, helping your child understand that their friend was probably having a hard time. But secondly, it helps them develop resilience. Knowing someone else's behaviour isn't about us is super empowering! It helps us stay emotionally grounded and bounce back from things that could otherwise lead to our own emotional dysregulation. It takes time, but I've done this for so long with my 11 year old that she is generally able to ground herself during stormy friendship moments because she can now look beyond the behaviour. It doesn't take away the hurt of a friendship fall out but it can most certainly lessen the impact.
Try having these 6 conversations and watch your child develop their emotional intelligence!
My child's first day of High School made me feel like an awkward teenager again and why I'm at peace with the discomfort.
My child started secondary school. All Summer there's been excitement and countdowns, ending with the normal butterflies in the stomach in the final days of the holidays, before the big moment arrived. I'd prepared her, ironed her uniform, filled her shiny new pencil case with biros and batted away most 'what if' questions like a seasoned parenting pro. But what I wasn't prepared for, was the rearing of all my teenage high school trauma. It hit me out of the blue when tears fell from eyes after a long, overwhelming first day. What she experienced in those first 'rabbit in the headlights' days was normal. No one was mean to her. Nothing terrible happened. She even enjoyed much of it. Her highly sensitive soul simply needed to release built up emotions and process so much change in this huge milestone moment. But suddenly, whilst holding her, I stepped into the shoes of my awkward tween self and was flooded with feelings of self doubt, intense self consciousness and high anxiety. I remember the fear like it was yesterday and my heart broke. I thought it was for her. It wasn't. My heart broke for my teenage self.
To be at our best for our children, and support their experiences through their lens takes intuitive reflection and a level of self awareness. When we become emotionally reactive to our children's experiences it's helpful to ask ourselves why and be brave enough to go there. Even just being aware of why is an important and substantial step in itself. So, as I coach her through this challenging rite of passage, I'm also coaching my inner teenage self. These are some of the steps I'm taking:
As Maya Angelou says, "When you know better, do better." So it's OK. My early secondary journey felt difficult, but I'm at peace with that because the journey led to here. Today, where I'm parenting differently for my daughter. Where I've been guiding and teaching her for years so that she is far braver, stronger and more resilient than I was at this point in my own life. It led to now, where we're parenting a generation that will know themselves and what to do when challenges arise.
Anger can be productive. It can help us take action but the surge of energy can also be misplaced, especially when we aren't aware of our triggers or don't understand them.
We can support our children with anger by knowing what the most common anger triggers are. Taking a pause to assess the circumstances can give you the perspective you need to spot your child's trigger and understand what is charging up their angry energy. Most common triggers are:
These are all normal reasons for feeling angry! And anger isn't an emotion to bury away completely. We need to feel all emotions. When we know what is triggering the anger, it's easier to find a supportive strategy. For example, if you know your child is angry because they feel a sense of injustice, you can help them take action. Or you can show empathy at the injustice, even if you can't change it.
Teaching our children to recognise anger and how to respond appropriately is key to emotional health, but at a young age they need our help to scaffold this process. Strategies for supporting children with anger include emotional education (teaching them what is happening in the brain), teaching them how to recognise anger before responses become difficult to manage and coping mechanisms. Coping mechanisms include calming tools to soothe the nervous system, as well as ways of processing the emotion such as drawing, writing or using up the energy. Finally, connection with your child is a crucial element of support. Showing understanding and empathy calms the nervous system, whilst also developing your bond. Despite the intensity that comes with your child's anger, empathy and connection is a win win and your greatest tool as a parent.
These questions are super useful during times such as homework stress, school anxiety and friendship issues.
7 Questions to stay connection through stressful moments!
1. What is difficult for you?
2. How can I help?
3. If you had one wish to use right now, what would you wish for?
4.If you had unlimited powers, what one would you use now and what would you use it for?
5. I I did (insert solution) or (insert a different solution), which would work best for you?
6. How would you like to feel?
7. What can we do to get through this together?
These questions provide a variety of outcomes, such as helping your child identify what the problem is, creative thinking by encouraging problem solving solutions and helping them identify what they would like to feel instead which gives them a focus for moving forward. The questions also support your connection by helping your child feel heard and showing them that you empathise. Together they all help your child move through their emotional brain into their thinking brain, which is key to their overall emotional intelligence development.
We can help our children discover their inner superpowers and see themselves in a positive light. There's a few things that every superhero has: resilience, acceptance of self, a passion or purpose and growth mindset. Here's 6 easy to implement ways you can support your child to find their power within:
Enjoy the confidence you see your child find, when you guide them to discover to their inner powers.
Ink and Scribbles Founder
1. Model Confidence
Our children look to us as an example of how to think and act. As parents we have real influence over the minds of our little people, who often absorb our beliefs and values in childhood and take them through into their adult life.
Showing belief in your child also helps them have self confidence. Children read between the lines and even though we might not say we're feeling nervous for them, they can interpret our non verbal communication as a vote of no confidence. For some children, this can have a real impact on their emotional development so even if you're worried about them having a go at something new, don't show it! Or a the very least be very clear that your own emotions are not about them. Because often they aren't! We might be worried about our child starting a new extra curricular activity, for example. But our emotional response is a reaction to our own trigger, such as fear of rejection or the intensity that we feel empathy etc, rather than our belief in our child's ability.
2. Accept Mistakes
Try and react gently to mistakes. I really resonate with this one. As a child, I took adult reactions to my mistakes very personally and they formed my perception of myself for a long time. Getting things wrong became a real fear of mine, leading to perfectionism in many areas of my life and being a people pleaser. Encouraging our children to learn from mistakes reduces the fear to try new things, keeps their inner critic in check and helps self talk stay positive and encouraging.
3. Create and explore new experiences
Helping your child to push their comfort zone teaches them that they can do hard things and still be OK! Our instinct as parents is to protect our children, but this can become detrimental if we constantly keep them in their comfort zone. If your child shows an interest in challenging themselves, you can help them make achieve small goals to prepare for it, rather than hold them back from it entirely because the main goal seems too big. This will also demonstrate to your child that you believe in them, nurturing their self esteem. Holding our children back from new experiences tells them to fear hard things, but what we actually want them to know is that as long as they are safe, they can do hard things and come out the other side.
4. Be OK with allowing some failure
We've already touched upon overprotection being potentially disempowering, and this one adds to this message. Again, our protective instinct can kick in and we can have a powerful urge to fix things for our kids. This is especially true when we see them hurting. But there is another path that is empowering, as well as supportive. When we see our children fail, we can give them the scaffolding they need to learn how to bounce back from those experiences. This builds resilience, a key trait for overall wellbeing and mental health. We can teach our kids that failing doesn't make them a failure. How much more confident would you have felt if you'd been given this message as a child?!
5. Focus on effort and perseverance
This supports our children in developing a growth mindset. Again, this builds resilience. But having a growth mindset will also mean our kids are accepting of themselves and don't value who they are based on things such as grades. Instead, they value effort and know that they can always improve and learn more. In fact, knowing this means they have increased confidence because they understand the control they have over their ability to achieve.
6. Teach them how to goal set.
Goal setting shows our children that they can make small steps towards a bigger goal. Often, we lack confidence because the big goal feels out of reach. It's overwhelming to stand at point A and expect to reach point D without passing point B and C! This means our inner critic turns up with sentences that begin with 'I can't, which is clearly a confidence knock. Planning the steps and achieving the smaller goals increases confidence and gives the knowledge that improvement will happen.
Hey! I'm the founder, creator and voice of Ink and Scribbles. Sharing thoughts on child well-being and parenting that are based on my teaching and parenting experience, and NLP learning.