Big feelings can be a big problem in many families.
Parents feel overwhelmed. Kids feel frustrated. Communication seems impossible.
Teach your child to notice how their body feels when it is worried, angry, frustrated or upset and then give them the tools to get their body and mind feeling calm and relaxed again using a “cool-down” spot.
Create a Cool-Down Spot
Pick a place in your house that is relatively quiet. This could be in your child’s room, behind the couch or even under a table.
When your child is calm, help them collect things that make them feel relaxed. They may choose a stuffed animal, crayons and paper, photo albums, books, fidgets (such as a koosh ball or stress ball); older kids may want a journal, scented candles, music or guided imagery.
Make the area comfortable using pillows, blankets, a bean bag chair or a small tent.
Show Your Kids How it Works
In order for the Cool-Down Spot to work, you need to show your children how to use it.
- First, pretend you are getting upset, stomp your feet, act out a typical “tantrum.” Then, go to the cool-down spot. Play with the toys, get comfy in the blankets, and talk about how calm you are starting to feel. Next, switch roles and have your child throw a pretend tantrum. Have them go to the cool-down spot and practice using the relaxing objects.
- Give your kids permission to feel their feelings. Let them know that it is ok to scribble hard with the crayons to show their mad feelings. It’s also ok to draw sad feelings or cry.
- Talk about when your child might need to use the cool-down spot, for example: when company is vising and your child feels overwhelmed, when they have a bad day at school, when they are fighting with their sister or even when they just need time alone.
- Encourage your children to use the cool-down spot, but don’t force it or use it as a punishment. This should be a safe place for your child to escape and let their body and mind relax. Engaging in a power struggle takes the choice to calm down away from the child.
- Notice times when they used the cool-down spot to manage big emotions. Talk about how you feel after taking time to calm down.
Why You Need a Cool-Down Spot Too
Creating your own cool-down spot models self-calming strategies for your children. You probably won’t crawl into a tent, but writing down a few options and putting it on the fridge might help. For example, your list might read: make a cup of tea, water plants, throw ball for dog, clip coupons, flip through cookbook.
If your kids see you heading for your cool down activities when you are feeling frustrated, they are more likely to do the same.
At first, you may need to verbalize your intentions: “I am too upset to have this conversation right now, I’m going to cool down by looking at this magazine for a few minutes until I can talk calmly.”
When you give yourself time to calm down, you are less likely to engage in power-struggles with your kids. Using your cool-down activities helps you disengage from the problem and gives you time to think clearly rather than reacting impulsively.