Why Calm Down Corners Could Be Doing More Harm Than Good

Although calm down areas are gaining popularity in schools and at home, I’m not a big fan of calm down corners. 

Are Calm Down Corners Effective?

Yes I think they can help relax our kids, but there are unwanted consequences to using them. Often calming centers do more harm than good, preventing our children from learning vital social and emotional skills. Before you stop reading, hear me out.

Last night we read a book with my son about how to express his feelings and build healthy emotions. The book was written specifically for boys. While I agree boys tend to have more difficulty expressing their feelings in words compared to girls, I felt a stirring in my spirit when I read the author’s suggestions to help boys become more emotionally healthy. 

The author suggested creating a safe place where boys can go to calm down when they feel overwhelmed or overstimulated. In the space, you include stress balls, coloring supplies, a punching bag, or relaxing music to help your body relax.

Let me be clear, I am not against learning how to calm your body when you feel overwhelmed. Knowing what tools help you relax and learning how to get rid of stress is an essential life skill.

Are calm down corners the best way to teach our kids social and emotional skills like self-regulation and conflict resolution? A former school psychologist shares her perspective.

But is it realistic to think we can go to our “calm down corner” whenever we want? And what is this REALLY teaching our sons (and daughters)? 

This morning as I poured my cup of coffee, my kids argued in the living room. The pillow fort wasn’t turning out as they had hoped, and they argued over who was helping and who wasn’t contributing.

I saw tears forming in one child’s eyes and legs starting to tense up and stomp in the other. The emotional tension was thick, and if I listened to popular parenting advice, I might separate them to stop the arguing, tell them to calm down, and go to their “spaces” to relax.

But what would that strategy teach them?

There is no perfect response in parenting, but on this particular morning, rather than avoiding conflict, I helped them navigate it.

If you need help building the fort, you must explain to each other what you hope to create. Instead of stomping and storming off because you are angry, can you tell your sibling in words what is bothering you? Your sibling can’t read your mind. You need to talk to each other.

Many times parents are quick to fix the big feelings and help children calm down. We don't want to see our kids in distress, but are calm down corners really helpful? What should we do instead?

Partially to my amazement, they started talking and eventually figured it out! Now I’m not saying it’s NEVER a good idea to separate arguing siblings or send a storming child to their room. Sometimes that is necessary to relieve the tension. 

But other times, parents quickly jump to “go calm down” instead of allowing their children a growth opportunity where they build valuable life skills.

This morning my kids learned how to communicate and resolve conflict. 

If we constantly remove the stress or discomfort of life by allowing them to go calm down, how will they ever build their social and emotional muscles? We all must learn how to work through disappointment or frustration in real-time.

We can’t leave a work meeting in the middle of it because we feel annoyed at what someone else said. We need to learn how to respond calmly.  

The skills kids need to deal with conflict, discomfort, and disagreement will become increasingly important as they grow up. 

Children must learn how to communicate, deal with challenging emotions, and reduce tension. And it starts at home!

One part of this is teaching your kids how to express their feelings. (Before expressing what you feel, you must learn to identify exactly what you feel – books are a great way to do that, see more here).

If your child already knows how to identify their feelings, remind them that stomping, crying, yelling, or pouting won’t get them the desired outcome. It’s okay to feel frustrated; it’s not okay to yell at someone because you feel mad at them.

Second, remind them that if they calmly and politely express their feelings and gracefully ask for help, the other person is way more likely to respond positively.

Do you see how calm down corners could prevent kids from learning valuable skills like conflict resolution?

Yes, there is a time and place for deep breathing and relaxing meditation. These tools work to calm down our bodies. But we shouldn’t jump straight to fix-it mode every time our children feel upset. If they constantly learn to escape BIG feelings or tough situations, they will never learn how to move forward. Let them work through it a bit.

If we consistently teach our children to escape situations they have difficulty navigating, how will they ever learn adversity, grit, and endurance? 

We need to sit in the messiness with our children. Teach them to use self-talk to their advantage (see more about self-talk and kids here). It’s okay if the room or situation is uncomfortable for a time. That’s usually where the most growth occurs.

How about you? Do you think we should use calm down corners in our homes? Do you advocate safe spaces for your children? How do you teach them to handle those BIG emotions? Please share with us in the comments below.

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