6 Ways to Make a Calm Corner Work - Social Emotional Workshop

6 Ways to Make a Calm Corner Work

By Laura Driscoll | Behavior

Aug 30
calm corners that work

Calm corners are such an incredible tool to have in your counseling office or classroom. It provides a safe place for students to use and improve their self regulation skills. To make calm corners work there are a couple skills and rules that need to be in place.

Going to the Space

When introducing the space, it is important to spend time practicing going to the calm corner. I like to focus on two adjectives for the transition: calmly and quickly

Explain to students why calmly and quickly is so important for them, their classmates, and the classroom community. Calmly and quickly, shows we are working hard and doing our best to get back to calm. We are also being respectful of others who are working.

Now, I'm not naive. Often students are using the calm corner when they are angry or frustrated. There shouldn't be a penalty for a less than perfect transition. Rather practice with students, help them understand the why, and reflect with them after about ways to make that transition smoother.

In the Calm Corner

In the calm corner, students should go through 4+ steps. These steps make the calm down process interactive. It also pushes students to reflect on how they are feeling and focus on using strategies to get back to calm. These are the steps I use in my Break Spot Resource.

  1. Do a feelings check.
  2. Use a calming strategy.
  3. Do a feelings check.
  4. If calm, return to activity or debrief with teacher.
  5. If not calm, use the same strategy or another strategy.
  6. Do a feelings check. 
  7. Return when calm or with adult support.
calm down corner process

Calming Strategies

Students often do not have a toolbox full of calming strategies they know to use. This may even be a new concept for them. Review why calming strategies are helpful. Calming strategies get us back to calm, ready to learn, or other phrase that explains the purpose and value.

It is helpful to practice a selection of calming strategies and determine which strategies work best. Introduce 2-4 strategies to students.

calming strategies poster

I like to have the student reflect on four questions:

  1. Was this helpful?
  2. Do you feel calmer?
  3. Do you feel in control again?
  4. When could you use this strategy?

Students can create a calming strategy keychain or toolbox that is specific to them. When they go to the calming corner, they can chose their specific strategies.

Check out these two resources for individualizing calming strategies for students.

Coping Strategy Workbook with the Coping Captain

Coping Strategies Small Group Lesson

and this blog post: Help Your Students Develop Coping Skills.

develop coping skills with sequenced activities

Leaving the Calm Corner

Part of an effective calm corner is students being able to tell when they are ready to return. The student should know that they are looking to be close to calm or at least ready to talk or work on a simple activity. 

In the process described above, the student checks in on how they feel after using strategies. If they are not calm, they can repeat the strategy or try a new one. 

Obviously, this cycle should not go on endlessly. Consider putting in a stop point where the student checks in with an adult. Timers are perfect for this.

calm down corner feelings check-in

Rejoining Class/Activity

Spending a short amount of time in a calm corner may help big feelings get smaller, but students might also be ready to rev back up again if met with frustration.

Consider having re-entry activities if your classroom or office uses the space frequently. These activities should be simple and frustration-free.

Again, emphasize and model that transitions from the break area should be calm and quick.

Outside the Calm Corner

One missing element that can sabotage a calm corner is if there is an audience (a.k.a. gawking classmates) that does not know what to do when someone is using the space. 

If the student using the space is driven by attention, classmates laughing or staring while they are in the space can reinforce negative behaviors.

Teach students what to do when another student is using the calm corner. Make the rules clear and hold students accountable.

  • Keep working.
  • Give the person space. 
  • Make sure the student has privacy (no staring or talking).
  • The break spot is a calm, quiet place.

Important Notes

Consider how the break spot is working for each student. If the student is using the space inappropriately or using it to avoid tasks, consider changes you can make that would eliminate these reinforcers.

Choose a good spot. The spot shouldn't be too isolated or too close to things. Students need space to calm and refocus, but also keep track of and be interested in returning to class. Make sure you have good visibility of the space. Make the spot comfortable.

Calm corners in the classroom can be an excellent place for students to practice self regulation skills and help maintain a positive, calm classroom. Sometimes the calm corner doesn't work the way it is supposed to and you have to trouble shoot. These 6 components will have your calm down corner working for you and your students. Teach calming strategies, practice routines, and give reentry tasks.

About the Author

Laura is a former school psychologist passionately trying to bring social-emotional learning to every student at every tier. Click here for hands-on resources for the classroom and counseling.

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