Making a calming space in your house sounds relatively simple but there
are a few things to consider when setting one up for your kiddo. Or even yourself!
A calm down corner or a sensory space is great for all of us but they are especially useful for kids. And even more helpful for kids with sensory difficulties. This includes autism spectrum disorder, sensory processing disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or perhaps there is no diagnosis but kids that struggle with their emotions, or any other neurodiversity.
Here are six guidelines that I would use when making a calm down corner. Remember, just like the pirate’s parlay, these are more like guidelines really, not rules.
1. Finding a small space. This won’t be true for every kid but for most of us climbing into a small space helps for a lot of reasons. One, it cuts down on extra noise and visual overstimulation. Taking a break from the everyday sights and sounds of the house are a good way to recharge our batteries. Two, small spaces give us a cozy feeling. It’s intimate and it’s “our” little spot. This helps with body awareness. Knowing where our bodies are in space is calming and organizing to the brain. That’s proprioception!
2. Making our spots cozy and cuddly wouldn’t be possible without some comfy stuff in them. Using blankets, pillows, stuffed animals, etc. helps us get some excellent tactile input. Having our favorite cuddlies gives us that light touch which can be extremely calming for some of our cherubs. As well, packing the space full of pillows and things lets a kid squeeze in between them all and get that deep squeeze which can also be very comforting and calming. Using things like weighted blankets or weighted pillows is an excellent idea to add in here. Tactile input is lightweight and deep pressure.
3. Having fidgets or something to keep busy hands is a great way to connect mind and body and bring yourself into the present. When the hands are busy fidgeting, squeezing, pushing, pulling, etc they are actively using their muscles and getting resistance. This is another excellent way to get proprioception! Using fidgets like a marble maze, resistance band, squeezy balls, things that provide resistance can connect our brains to our bodies and help us be more self aware. One step to helping to self regulate. Avoid things that light up and make noise if possible. If there is an object that a kid really likes that does light up and make noise, then that can still work. Just watch their behavior afterwards and if they are not calm, then that is something to consider removing.
4. As I said earlier, being in a small space helps reduce visual overstimulation. It’s fine to have pictures and books and cool things to look at in the cozy corner but I would be aware of blinking lights, bright colors, or too many things. Some kids like these things and remember, these are guidelines not hard fast rules! Sometimes the blinky blinky lights might help some kids calm (Just remember to watch behaviors after they come out). One cool thing to do is to keep flash lights or glow in the dark things. This helps focus vision and reduce peripheral vision. So the brain only has to concentrate on a smaller funnel to look through. This can be helpful. And it’s fun! Head lamps, finger lights, glow-in-the-dark thingies, and, my personal favorite, the hand crank flashlight. Because then they have to work for it! Think of that as a type of fidget.
5. Reducing audio can be a game changer. We are bombarded by noises all day. Phones, washing machines, dogs, fans, and all the other things that operate both inside and outside the house. Even the chatter of some birds might drive a kid overboard! Being in the small space can be enough to reduce the noise but you might consider putting in some noise cancelling headphones or even padding the space with more pillows or foam, things like that. Some kids might like music in their space too. This can be great! I always go for things that have a steady calming rhythm and music with no or few words. Being in the cozy corner is a good spot to listen to stories. Read-alouds can be rhythmic due to the cadence of the reader's voice. Harmonicas work really well or instruments kids might be able to play can be near or in the space too. Think reducing audio and any audio that is there, keeping it rhythmic.
6. Swings! Now, this can be a tricky one to pull off but some of our kiddos respond extremely well to gentle, linear swinging. Having a hammock, platform swing, or tear drop swing in the space or even making that the space itself can be completely awesome! Getting vestibular input during the day Is excellent, not only for brain development, but also for regulation. Again, always look at the behavior after using something like this. If behaviors are up and not really calm then perhaps consider removing the swing. Also HOW they swing is important. Linear, rhythmic swinging can be calming. Kiddos that might use it to pump up the jam or especially spin might be increasing their alert levels. Getting that intensity can be calming too but since we are talking about cozy corners and calm sensory spaces I’d keep to the chill factor.
You don’t need a lot of fancy equipment to make a little spot in your home. Although equipment and items can be helpful there are lots of things you can use right at home. I always look to make sure that whatever I use can fall into these following categories. .
1. Tactile: They are nice to the touch. Something soft or a texture your kiddo likes. Also can provide deep pressure. Heavy things like weighted objects, blankets, or packed full of pillows. Things like that.
2. Proprioception: Adding resistive things like resistance bands, putty (not slime!), squeezy things, etc. Also busy hands. Things that keep my hands busy. Marble maze, fidgets, things my hands can manipulate. Things that make me use my muscles both big and small.
3. Vestibular: This is movement of the head. If you can get some vestibular input that is gentle and linear then go for it!. It’s a little harder to pull off in a calm down corner so don’t stress if you can’t do it.
4. Visual: Keeping this to the minimum. Allowing kids to see when they want but turning down the lights and staying away from bright colors or blinking lights.
5. Audio: Reduce audio input and making sure any noises are rhythmic is some way.
Having a calm space in your home can help in a lot of ways. Many times we talk about “self-regulation”, the ability to calm ourselves down. To do this we need body awareness. Having a spot to do this helps us block out the external world and get in touch with ourselves externally and internally. This is a step towards the ability to self-regulate. They also help to calm the nervous system to decompress and get bodies and minds ready for the tasks demanded for the rest of the day.
Product Recommendation for your Calm Down Corner:
Putty is very resistive and one thing many kids love to play with. You can hide little items in the putty like marbles, figures, or even bolts and nuts that kids then have to match and screw together. Whatever you decide make sure it is putty and not slime or gak. The difference being putty is tough and harder to pull apart. Which is great for hand strengthening, body awareness, and gives that There are many different kinds of putty and Crazy Aarons has the most variety but is more on the expensive side. You can find cheaper with a simple google search, just make sure it says the word “putty” in
A weighted lap pad, blanket, or neck pillow is a wonderful way to get deep pressure or even slight pressure. This can help some kids calm down and even sleep better. If you are using a weighted object a good rule to follow is about 10% of your child’s body weight. Some kids like more some like less but this is a good place to start.
Puzzle or game
There are literally thousands of puzzles and games to choose from. Choose a puzzle or game that your kiddo likes and do your best to steer away from anything with screens. Games that build that promote problem solving help with many things like executive functioning, working memory, and visualization.
Fidgets that are resistive help connect brain and body give us input that keep us present. Anything that you can manipulate with your fingers to squeeze, push, pull, can help us draw our attention and calm us down. Something like the fidget marble maze is puzzle that requires a solution at the same time being a fidget.
Athletes use resistance training to help fire the nervous system faster to increase both strength and reaction time. Using resistance bands therapeutically will do exactly the same thing. Picking up weight helps us feel where our bodies are in space but the resistance bands also pull back which creates greater force giving the nervous system greater, faster feedback. Using something like the Lakikid resistance band to push and pull can be a very useful tool.
Using balloons as an oral motor tool are incredibly effective and fun! Sometimes balloons can be difficult for some kids though. Easy to use balloons like the Small animal balloons let those kids with difficulty experience the benefits of blowing up a balloon.
Something as easy as a headlamp can make a cozy corner even more cozy. Having it attach to the head provides a little feedback and it allows for the kids to have their hands free to do other things.
Cutting down noise can reduce unwanted audio input that might be overwhelming us. Reducing audio can also help us increase our proprioception which allows us to feel where our bodies are in space. This is a calming and organizing feeling. If your kids like the the headphones this can be a very useful tool in your calm down corner.
Big pillows are fun to lay in, lay under, lay on top of, etc. Having a pillow with arms and legs to wrap up in can make it more fun and it’s like a giant hug. There are many kinds of pillows and giant stuffed animals that would be a great addition to your cozy corner. Find one that your kiddo likes and watch them snuggle up.
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