Kids & Self-Soothing: How to Create a Think Space to Help Children Regulate Their Emotions by Mindy Hudon, M.S., CCC-SLP
Everyone experiences times when they’re too sad or upset to think rationally. For children, the ability to appropriately self regulate these emotions can be confusing. Instead of punishing children for inappropriate outbursts, try teaching them strategies to regulate their emotions. Helping children to regulate their emotions means more than anger management. Teaching emotional regulation helps kids learn to cope with their feelings. Research suggests that improved emotional regulation assists children throughout their lives. Kids who can regulate emotions may improve their ability to:
- pay attention
- be more successful in school
- resolve conflicts
- decrease stress
- be more caring toward friends
Try creating a "think space!" A think space is simply a quiet area in your home that your child is able to voluntarily go to comfort themselves when they're feeling sad, angry, worried and/or overwhelmed, and need a moment to decompress and take a break. This is not a traditional “time-out.” This space is not intended as a consequence. The space is a quiet, comfortable place that can contain sensory tools, such as stress balls, stuffed animals, coloring books and crayons, and a calming bottle. These tools help children begin the self-soothing process. Here are some tips on building your child's think space:
- Children like enclosed, private places. Create a space in an area of your home that can be relaxing and quiet (bedroom, an indoor tent, etc.). Build the space with your child while explaining the purpose of the space. Ask for your child’s input on what “calming tools” should be included in their space (favorite stuffed animal, squishy balls, books, drawing materials, etc.). Try to avoid toys that may increase excitement like video games.
- Children should ultimately be able to go into the space independently, and then choose a tool (or multiple tools) they feel would best help them calm down.
- Talk about different reasons why your child may want to go into the think space. For example, children can become emotional if they miss a parent, are disappointed about a cancelled play date or if they lost a game.
- Because this is not a “time out,” its use should be a suggestion: “Would you like to use the think space?”
- Practicing when a child is calm and role playing how to enter the space and how to leave the space will be helpful when your child may actually need to use it.
- Help them understand that they should stay in the space until their body feels calm or until they feel they can solve the problem and/or talk about it.
When children are able to self-regulate, they're able to be more successful throughout their day.
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