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Calm Down Corner: What are they?

What is a calm down corner? How does it compare to a timeout chair? Find out the difference plus what’s in ours!
child playing with sensory bottle in calm down corner

What is a calm down corner? How does it compare to a timeout chair? Find out the difference plus what’s in ours!

I’m in the thick of it as far as parenting toddlers goes. My daughter is just shy of three-and-a-half; my son had his second birthday in June.

Our days are a mess of process art, sensory play, and playground adventures and, at times, blood-curdling screams.

Being so close in age means they get in each other’s space far too often. And, when that happens, someone invariably cries.

My first focus is to redirect their negative behaviour. Meaning, I find ways to replace misbehaviour with constructive behaviour.

Examples of redirecting toddler behaviour include:

  • When one toddler hits another, coach the child who hit to say, “I’m mad,” or get her to get the other child’s attention without hitting.
  • If a child is jumping on furniture (and this isn’t allowed), tell him where he can jump.
  • When a child throws a ball near breakable items, bring her outside to throw there.
  • Saying, “We don’t colour on walls. Only on paper,” and providing paper to colour on.

Related reading: Front-loading, redirection and connect: 3 strategies for parenting a strong-willed toddler

When other positive parenting strategies don’t work, I like to use our calm down corner

When my daughter started being more vocal and willful, I set up a calm down corner. Simply, it was a blanket laid down between her and her brother’s cribs with all of their stuffed animals and suggested that she go there if she was verging on a temper tantrum.

What I find so incredibly funny about having kids is how quickly you forget. The calm down corner served its purpose for a while in our family, my daughter seemed to need it less and poof! It was forgotten.

My son is struggling with self-regulation. Sibling rivalry seems to be at an all-time high in our household. Also, my two-year-old has had a few tantrums and my daughter’s will is definitely proving to be strong. So, I knew it was time to set up a new and improved one in our new home.

Why use a calm down corner?

A calm down corner is a kinder alternative to a timeout chair. The purpose is for an upset or angry child to have a place where he or she can get release and regain composure. Unlike a timeout chair, this form of non-exclusionary timeout has mediums to promote emotional regulation. 

Traditionally, children are sent to a timeout chair for a pre-determined period of time and then they can return to the main interaction. In contrast, the goals of the calm down corner are to:

  • remove the child from the positive reinforcement of the main social setting,
  • provide tools to promote calmness,
  • for the parent to be available to scaffold emotional regulation,
  • not to be focused on a preset amount of time but on the goal of promoting calmness

Related reading: Time-Ins vs. Timeouts: What does the research actually say?

The most important of these is that the parent can join the child in the calm down corner.

I find this to be especially beneficial when they are really overwhelmed or are not willing to go on their own. In our household, my three-year-old will go independently the majority of the time.

My two-year-old relies on my help to spend time calming down. We have sensory jars, balloons filled with flour, and books. You could argue that bad behaviour or a very upset toddler could be read to or hugged or talked to without a calm down corner.

What I find is that our set-up cues my kids that they need a reset and prompt greater receptivity to discipline. When sitting with my kids, whether I sit in the calm down corner with them or go when they say they’re ready to leave, we talk about their feelings, the words that would have been better for them to use, and what they can do next time. Overall, we have found it to be a very effective strategy. The key is being consistent, empathetic, and clear about expectations.

Related reading: Stop Yelling at Your Kids with This Simple Strategy

Here are two easy DIY items in our calm down corner that also make for fun activities to do with young kids.

Two simple activities to build on your calm down corner

Sensory Jars

What to use

  • Mason jars
  • glitter glue (we got ours from the dollar store) and/or sand or water beads
  • warm water
  • sequins, small plastic rocks, small plastic toys, feathers or any items of your choice
  • hot glue gun

How to make sensory jars

I let the kids empty their glue and put the items we had pre-selected into their respective jars. Then, I filled it with warm water to the top. We used warm water to help the glitter glue dissolve a bit. Then, I glue gunned the lids shut.

Stress Balls

What to use

  • balloons
  • 1/3 cup of flour
  • a funnel (I couldn’t find my funnel. Cutting the top off of a plastic bottle works just as well)
  • a pencil or pen to push the flour down the funnel

What to do

I let the kids use a measuring cup to dump the flour into the funnel. Once we had filled their balloons, I tied them.

Adding some books and stuffed animals can be nice additions to your calm down corner too. I hope you find as much value in having a calm down corner as we have!

A final note

Sensory bottles, stress balls, books, and stuffed animals are nice additions to any calm down area. Calm down corners can be a great way for young kids to take a timeout in a way that focuses on emotional regulation. 

More positive parenting articles like this:

How to execute positive parenting from a position of strength

Time in vs. Timeout: What does the research say?

Calm your angry child: Positive parenting strategies that work!

Front-loading, Redirection and Connection: 3 powerful strategies for your strong-willed toddler

10+ Positive Parenting Strategies for Difficult Toddler Behaviour

  1. I love this idea! V has crazy days, but for now it’s just non stop high energy. Not too much bad behavior yet… My husband is all about time outs, but I don’t find them too effective. I think I will be giving this a try!

  2. I need to set one up. My husband is hard set on time outs and I imagine we would continue to use them, but I don’t think they’re necessary every time. A calm down corner is a perfect alternative. I have a glitter jar, now I just need to make the flour balloon-for myself and the kids.

    1. I need a lot of flour balloons in my life. My hubby is hard set on timeouts too. The calm down corner is working quite well, but as my Instagram photo I tagged you in will attest, my life is hardly on cruise control.

  3. These are all amazing ideas! I love that it’s so positive! I also love the idea of sensory jars and such. I use these in the classroom as well. Great post!

  4. Oh I love that, the calm down corner. Good gracious, we could definitely use one of those lately! I think I could also use a stress ball LOL! Love these sensory projects. How old is your youngest? Do you think they’re fitting for my 19 month old?

    1. My youngest is just over 2 but we started with my daughter just before her second birthday. Your daughter may understand quickly or it may take a while. Younger than 18 months I try distractions. I feel for you today. My son had a cold last week and SCREAMED at night every time he tried to breathe through his nose and couldn’t. It was ROUGH!

      1. That was my night last night! Definitely rough! At least the extra snuggles are nice… Thanks for the great ideas! I’ll definitely try them soon!

  5. An excellent idea! It changes the whole connotation. Timeouts are so negative. But what person doesn’t need a little time to calm down/refocus every now and then? Thanks for sharing your ideas!!

  6. I think I am going to have to try this. Hazel has a great little reading nook in her room that I could totally direct her to for a little quiet time. I also have an abundance of jars left over from cotton candy so I think we will be off to the dollar store to create our own jars!

      1. She’s doing great with the baby, absolutely loves him. She just has so much energy and doesn’t always listen so I think the corner would help her relax a bit!

  7. I love this! I love the idea of a calm corner. My boys definitely need one. Those sensory jars are awesome too, and we will be making them. Thank you!

  8. I have to say that while I adore the idea of a calm down corner, my kids would tear it apart and then start in on the rest of the house. I think it a great idea, we just never fit in to that category where things like this work. We do use time outs, however, honestly NOTHING works. Love your ideas, wish they would work for us 🙂

  9. Hehehe I’m loving this idea!! And it’s super cute looking…. I wonder if it would work for my princess? I’m might have to see 😉

  10. My son will be 5 yrs old in late January and he goes thru every phase under the sun!, plays forceful and rough cause he’s seen too many Jurassic park movie segments and play acts what he sees, & when he gets too rough,I prohibit/or forbid him from watching them anymore, then he goes into a full blown meltdown and I’m talking about a tantrum cause he can’t get what he wants or wanted, and timeout doesn’t always work, & my husband & I feel like we’re picking straws to figure out how to end his defiance, extreme energy during play time, or his meltdowns! And it’s exasperating just to watch, but to try to deal with it! Another ball park entirely and tiring! Ugh! Where’s my energy now? So I’m gonna give a calm down corner a try! Thank you! I found this to be a good idea & it’s worth giving a try!

    A mother of an obnoxious soon be fighting five year old!

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