Calm Down Space and ‘Time In’

Calm Down Space and ‘Time In’

It can take a conscious shift in your mindset to step into this new approach, especially if you were raised in a household that used punitive punishments (or had too much freedom and no boundaries). The first step to change is realising that you have these old belief systems and patterns that no longer serve you or align with you. The next step is to consciously switch these old behaviours with new ones. This will soon become your new normal. (Make a note of this as it will form part of your homework!)

Side note: Anxious children or autistic children can tend to be the justice police. It is helpful in these instances to thank them for their concern and remind them that it is the adult’s responsibility to handle these things and that they only need to mind after themselves and what a relief it is for them to have that extra weight taken off their shoulders!

Below are some strategies you can use with your child to help teach, not punish and will replace any old behaviours, patterns and techniques that no longer align with you or how you want your family to be:

Calm Down Space

Sometimes a child might be hyped up or not listen to your warnings. So what are you to do? A good strategy is to have an individual table and chair in the corner of the main family room or in a comfortable armchair or beanbag where they can calm down without being isolated from everyone else.

This is utilising a technique called ‘calm down space’. This quiet time is not a set time like a regular time out (which usually uses one minute for each year of age the child is). It is not a punishment. It is a nice place that your child (or you!) can go to calm down, and once they (or you!) are feeling calm, they can rejoin the rest of the group or continue their play etc.

It is fantastic for you to use this quiet area to calm down if you are getting angry, which is also beautiful role modelling for your child. This strategy will only be effective if your child has mastered the art of self-regulating independently and for low-level behaviours.

Time In

Another very effective strategy is called ‘time in’. ‘Time in’ differs from the traditional ‘time out’ for many reasons. ‘Time out ‘is a punishment in which a child is completely isolated (i.e. love is withdrawn) and told their feelings and display of behaviours is unacceptable and that they should deal with it on their own elsewhere. There is a fundamental flaw in this – children cannot regulate independently. All they do is go away and feel anger, resentment and abandonment. Children can only learn to self-regulate by calming down and regulating WITH a trusted adult – this is called coregulation.

In ‘time in’, the adult is always available to the child to help them with their feelings. It is a connection based intervention. The adult is the lighthouse that guides the child back to shore instead of being adrift with their big feelings. ‘Time in’ also strengthens the parent-child connection and leads to more successful outcomes.

The adult practises a technique called ‘being with’ when the child is dysregulated. 

Firstly calmly explain to your child what has occurred and why they need to take a break e.g. “I cannot let you hit your brother, and I’m going to take you somewhere quiet where I can help you to calm your body again”.

You stay with your child and offer comfort. Ensure that you feel calm and not triggered , or you will project this feeling onto your child. Take some deep, calming breaths and invite your child to join you and do the same.Witness their emotions and feelings. You do not need to fix them. You can simply listen lovingly or validate and acknowledge them “Yes, you felt so sad when that broke”, etc. Simply ‘be with’ your child.

Some children will escalate and say things like “go away” or “don’t touch me”. What the child is really saying is, “are you strong enough to handle my big scary feelings?”. In those instances, lovingly stay nearby and say things like:

  • “I know this is hard for you, and we can get through it together.”
  • “You are so loved, and I’m right here with you.”
  • “This won’t last forever. I am here.”
  • “I am not afraid of your big feelings. I will always be here to support you”.

When your child is calm, you can use the event to teach what they could do differently next time.

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