How to Create a Calming Corner With Your Toki Mat
September 5, 2022
One of the hallmark signs that your child has entered toddlerhood is when they start throwing tantrums. The hysterics, crying, and screaming are so loud and so intense that one would think it was over a matter of life and death. But parents, caregivers, and anyone familiar with small children know that toddlers can lose it over the most minute and trivial things. Toddler tantrums are often as illogical and irrational as it gets. Ask a toddler parent why their child cried today, and you’ll get a wide variety of answers, ranging from “His toast was toasted” to “The shower was too wet.” If it seems completely irrational, that’s because it is. None of us are born with the ability to regulate our emotions—which is why toddlers’ moods seem to swing back and forth like a pendulum. Learning to self-regulate is a key milestone in child development that occurs once a child’s brain is developmentally ready and they are taught different strategies to calm down when emotions are running high.
As adults, when we’re feeling upset, we all use different coping strategies to release pent up emotion. Some of us might go outside for some fresh air or do deep breathing exercises, while others might play music and shake it out. All these methods help us regulate our emotions, and even with years of practice under our belt, many of us are still prone to the occasional outburst. These are all normal human emotions, so it’s easy to understand why a very young child who hasn’t yet learned any of these coping mechanisms is liable to dissolve into tears or hysterics when they’re feeling angry, sad, or generally overwhelmed. One of the most effective ways to help your little one learn to self-regulate is to give them the tools and the space to do so. By providing them with a small safe space of their own, like a calming corner, it becomes a designated place for them to go when their emotions are out of control and they need to calm down. To learn more about how to create a calming corner, we spoke to Becca, the founder of Purposeful Play Kids and an educator with a Master’s degree in early childhood and special education.
Q: What is the purpose of a calming corner?
B: Calming corners are a great tool that can be used both at home and in schools. A calming corner serves as a space where a child can go when they need a break or a quiet activity. It should be a safe space to let out big feelings or reset. It is not a “time-out” space or a space to send a child when they are engaging in an undesirable activity.
Q: Can you explain how to create a calming corner and make it work?
B: To successfully implement a calming corner, the parent/caregiver will need to explain to the child how to use the space and the appropriate way to engage with the materials provided. A parent/caregiver should practice using this space with their child by inviting them to the calming corner during times they are content, so that during times of big feelings, it can be used successfully. That’s why having a comfortable, padded mat, such as a Toki Mat is important. The calming corner should have a soft space for the child to sit or lie down, and contain quiet and relaxing activities.
Q: What kind of activities should be included?
B: Some suggested items are books, stuffed animals, easy puzzles, sensory bottles, and coloring pages. The items and activities should be ones that the child can participate in without adult assistance. It is wonderful to also get the child involved in creating the space. They can help pick out the stuffed animals, books, puzzles, and in this case, they could help pick out the cover of their Toki Mat. With time and practice, a child will choose to go to the calming corner on their own when they need a break or want to engage in a quiet activity.
Q: Since the calming corner isn’t a “time-out” space, should the parent be the one to suggest going there during times of big emotions or wait for the child to eventually go on their own?
B: In the beginning, a parent may go into the calming corner themselves and begin doing a puzzle or reading quietly and wait to see if the child comes to join them. Sometimes, children will be interested in what a parentis doing and just quietly join. Another approach would be to offer to go to the calming corner with the child and pick out an activity together. With time and practice, children will realize this is a space they can go independently as well. I wouldn’t have a parent suggest a child use the calming corner, but they could ask if the child would like to go do a quiet activity in the calming corner (but respect their answer if they do not want to go). I’ve found that when parents suggest a child use the calming corner it is usually used as a punishment space, which is not the intention. It is also great practice to use the space when a child is not already upset. It can be a great space to unwind before nap.bedtime or slowly wake up after sleeping. This will help integrate it into their routine as a space to play and choose, as opposed to a space they are sent.
Q: Can the calming corner be in a shared space, such as the kitchen or living room, or should it only be in a private room with a door?
B: The calming corner can absolutely be in a shared space! As long as the set up in that one area provides a calm environment, it’s totally fine to have it in a living room, kitchen, bedroom, etc. It could be part of a reading nook in a playroom or bedroom as well.
Q: Is there a limit to the number of play things or activities a calming corner should have so as to not be overwhelming?
B: I would suggest only having 5 or so activities (not necessarily items) to choose from. For example, 2-3 books, 2 sensory bottles, 1-2 puzzles, 2 stuffed animals, and a few coloring pages. There should be enough there so that the child has options of activities since their attention span with one activity may be limited, but not too many choices that it is overwhelming. I would also suggest not having activities that have lights or make noise as to reduce extra stimulation. These activities should be rotated out every few weeks, just as a family may do with their children’s toys (picking new books, creating new sensory bottles, picking a new puzzle). Each activity should have its own space to be stored either on a shelf or in a basket in the calming corner so that the space can remain neat and not cluttered.
About the Author: Alice
Alice Mendoza is a copywriter and blog writer based in Los Angeles. She began writing for a baby brand while on maternity leave, and realized she had found her niche. Today, she writes exclusively within the baby space, using her BFA in Creative Writing and her own experience as a mother to guide her. When she’s not working, you can find her chasing down her toddler, going on walks around the neighborhood, or watching reality TV.