How do I Create a Cool Down Spot?
Learning to recognize and regain control over strong emotions, before they escalate, is an essential life skill we all need. One of the many tools to help children learn this technique is by utilizing a cool down spot. Much like an adult who walks away when they are escalating to perform some deep breathing, a child can use these same techniques. As we teach and model for our children what works for us, a cool down spot can help them learn what works for them.
Providing many tools in the cool down spot allows your child to explore what provides the best results for self-regulation. It’s important to show your child how to use all the items in the cool down spot when they’re relaxed, and not experiencing strong emotions. The more they go to this spot and practice, the easier it will be to utilize when they are escalating. Below are a few suggestions that might help you get started.
Choosing the Spot
Start by letting your child pick where they would like this spot to be. Many times, kids already have an area that they frequently go to when they’re upset. An ideal location is a place where your child will feel safe and comfortable. For younger children you will want this spot to be in an area where you can monitor them, but for older children a place in their bedroom might be more ideal.
Make the spot comfortable by putting down a cushion, beanbag chair, or a rug for them to sit on. Sensory or hammock swings can provide greater regulation. Provide items they can wrap themselves in such as a blanket or sensory sack. Consider a small tent or teepee to define the space, and create a retreat. Decorating the space with soothing colors—blues and greens, and soothing scents such as lavender can also be helpful.
Often times, young children do not understand how to perform deep breathing. Including items that encourage taking deep breaths such as pinwheels, balloons, noise free party blowers (they do exist!), soft whistles and bubble blowers can all be a great way to teach this technique. For older children having flashcards or a poster to guide them through deep breathing techniques may be helpful. Remember as children escalate, they may have difficulty using the higher part of their brain for logic and reasoning so it’s important to keep things simple for them.
Providing sensory items, such as fidget toys, squishy toys, chewable jewelry, play dough, slime, putty, play foam, crinkle toys and sensory bottles can be great relaxation tools. Scrap paper for ripping can also be very calming.
Reading and Drawing
Allowing a child to draw out what they are feeling can be very therapeutic. I prefer to include a Magna Doodle or mess free markers for drawing to avoid the temptation to color on the walls or furniture. If your child enjoys reading, include some of their favorite books.
For younger children, you can choose music books or a sound machine. Some children prefer it to be quiet. Noise canceling headphones are perfect for this. For children who prefer music, choose something that suits your child. Some children do better with calming music, or soothing sounds, while others respond better to happy upbeat music—like their favorite movie soundtrack.
Some children are able to regulate better after a small healthy snack. Consider placing small granola bars, bags of dried fruit or cereal in this space.
On the Go
You can also create an “on the go box” to take these tools with you. Once your child knows how to use them, you can keep a few small items in their backpack or desk at school. Small simple things, like a balloon, chewable jewelry, fidget toy and lavender scents easily fit into a pocket or bag and can be extremely helpful for relaxation.
In a world where children are increasingly unaware of how to properly handle their emotions, modeling calming strategies and providing the essential tools for self-regulation will prove to be an incredible life long asset for your developing child.