This is the second part of a two-part series about Taming Your Toddler. You can find Part 1 here.
Create a Calm Down Corner
In Part 1 of Taming Your Toddler, we discussed emotion coaching, and how you can teach a young child to manage difficult emotions. But what do you do when your toddler's emotions are so intense, she can't hear you over her own screaming and crying? Let's take a little quiz:
A.) Scream back at her: She's loud, but you can be louder. She better listen to what you have to say!
B.) Ignore her: This way, she will not get attention for her inappropriate behavior, and it'll eventually go away.
C.) Reason with her: You're no lawyer, but you can certainly outsmart a 2-or-3-year-old.
D.) Call a babysitter: Start planning your escape route. Kids behave better for everyone else anyway.
If you answered with any of the above choices, you're in good company. I have, at some point, tried all of these things, too. The problem with these methods, though, is they don't teach a toddler how to effectively deal with her emotions. Our kids are like little sponges, absorbing what we teach and model for them. If we use the methods above to deal with tantrums, then this will become the toolbox our children will use as well. The impact we have on our children during early childhood is so great, that the coping mechanisms they learn from us stay with them into adulthood.
So, what do you do with a toddler in the throes of a terrible tantrum? I'm going to let you in on one of my greatest secrets for managing tantrums: the calm down corner. The calm down corner is exactly what it sounds like: a place where your child can go to calm down. You provide the tools your child can use to deescalate. You already have most of the items you need in your home! Here are the steps for creating one:
1. Designate an area of your house to remain the calm down corner. It doesn't necessarily have to be a corner or even a place where you can leave items undisturbed. Nothing stays where it's suppose to with toddlers, anyway. It just needs to be a consistent place you can go to with your child or where she can choose to go on her own.
2. Use a basket or a box to collect items for the area. I got this basket from the Dollar Tree, but you could use a cardboard box or a shoe box too.
3. Collect items to place in your basket. Include peaceful images or pictures of happy memories (my 4 year old loves a picture of herself at the beach).
Include something soft (like a stuffed animal or a blanket), music (break out that old portable CD player if you still have it!), crayons and paper, a favorite book, and stress balls (bath toys make great ones!).
Once you've got you supplies in place, show your toddler the calm down corner and explain what it is. Be sure to teach her how to use it while she is already calm. Don't wait until the time of a tantrum for instruction (remember from Part 1, the emotional part of her brain has hijacked the rational part, so she is unable to hear and process what you are saying). Have her stroke the stuffed animals and notice how they feel. Have her squeeze a toy and notice how tension begins to melt away from her body. Have her gaze at the pictures and notice how shifting her mind makes her feel peaceful and happy. Have her read a book and notice how another narrative can take her mind off of her own. Have her draw a picture and notice how it relaxes her and allows her to focus.
There is, of course, a science behind this. Children function best when both the left (logical) and right (emotional) hemispheres of the brain are integrated. Engaging in sensory-related activities like drawing, listening to music, and touching or smelling a stuffed animal promotes hemisphere integration and encourages a child to be more well-adjusted. After enough repetition, she will begin to learn that these are good ways to self-sooth. Recently, my sweet 2 year old demonstrated her understanding of this. After a stressful week with my husband being out of town, she brought me a stuffed animal and some crayons from the calm down corner. "Here mommy," she said, "It's ok." Mommies need to calm down sometimes too!
What about you? How have you been successful in dealing with your toddler's tantrums? How might a calm down corner be helpful to you?