Calm Down Spaces Can Replace Time-outs
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Calm Down Spaces Can Replace Time-outs

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What’s the problem with Time-outs?

Not sure if you’ve heard but the time-out chair is out. There is a newer approach showing us that the time-outs and sending children to their room isn’t the best approach when it comes to developing self-regulation skills. Rather, they promote isolation and disconnection. As a Social Worker and a Parent, this makes so much sense to me. While there my times when the “Time-out” may not be particularly harmful, the idea of social isolation as a way to manipulate children into compliance is dated when we look at the research. Calm Down Spaces can replace time-outs for parents looking for more responsive techniques.

Responsive Parenting AKA Gentle Parenting

In short, the radical idea of Responsive Parenting is to respond to your child rather than react to them. Simple enough right? Not right, it takes a lot of self awareness and restraint. Responsive parenting takes into account children’s social emotional well-being, needs, and age appropriate abilities when responding to them, instead of reacting. For example, A child screams in the store because a caregiver told them they couldn’t bring it home. A traditional parenting reaction my be to tell them they don’t get to buy anything or a long time or look over there, that other kid isn’t throwing a fit. A responsive parenting response would be to help the kid name the feeling (frustration or disappointment), acknowledge that it is hard when we don’t get to buy things we want. Then sit with them in those uncomfortable feeling, talk about it with them when they are calm, and reconnect.

Instead of the use of shame, guilt, and coercion, parents strive to use healthy boundaries and a plethora of other skills. While it may sound fluffy and idealistic, when done well, it creates an environment of growth for parents an children. This not the “easy way out or give your children whatever they want” that people often associate with the approach. To learn more check out The Gentle Parenting Book and Gentle Disciple. Now lets talk about how Calm Down Space can replace time-outs in real life.

How to use a Calm Down Space to Replace Time-outs

Half the time we use time-outs as punishment or space, its because we are overwhelmed and something our child did is unacceptable. Side note, you should explore your parenting triggers. Two of the most important tools to use as a caregiver when teaching children to cope with emotion is modeling and having the child practice while they’re calm. Invite your child to help you set it up and allow them to take ownership of that space. The calm down space is not a place to banish a child when they are out of control but rather a space to help them learn to calm so they can get to a place to process, which takes a lot of practice. I always allow them to choose if they would like me to sit with them or if they would like to come to me when they are ready. Keep the space as a tool rather then shifting it to a punishment zone when their are acting out, then calm down spaces lose their power.

Setting Up a Calm Down Space

The best approach when using a calm down space is to let your child help create it. Practice using different tools and skills when the child isn’t already upset. No one is able to learn a new skill when they are too hyped up to listen.

Soft and Hard Surfaces

All children are different, while some respond well to a nice fluffy area, other’s need something more sturdy. Observe your child to see what they naturally gravitate towards. If they like soft textures, create an area with pillows or a bean bag. If they prefer something different, try a table and chair. The area doesn’t need to be overly decorated as they can be overstimulating when already upset.

Visual Options

When children are already in their emotional brain, they may not be able to hear caregivers they way caregivers intend. Adding stimulation, verbal demands, or questions can do the exact opposite of what caregivers are hoping. This creates opportunities for misunderstandings and more of whatever behavior we are trying to help them manage. Creating visual options board at their eye level, which allows children to look at what is available without having to process verbal stimuli and interpret it.

Sensory Tools and Calm Down Activities

  1. Pop-It’s or other Fidgets
  2. Weighted Blanket or Weighted Stuffed Animal
  3. Liquid Bubble Timer
  4. Coloring Book and Coloring tools
  5. Pencils and Hand Sharpener
  6. Balloon
  7. Play Doh or Kinetic Sand
  8. Ripping Paper (and a trash can 🙂
  9. Durable Books
  10. Something predictable and rhythmic to Watch like this Penguin Slide
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