Calm Down

7:43 pm. Z has her heart set on finishing a water bottle cozy that she saw on the box of her loom kit. It's almost bedtime and the cozy is taking longer than we both thought and we won't have to time to both finish it and read a chapter from On the Banks of Plum Creek.

This is just one of many challenging moments we navigate daily, one of many moments that could be resolved with a reasonable conversation, but instead often becomes a tumult of emotion.

"NooOOOooo! I want to do both!!! YOU SAID WE COULD DO BOTH!!"

I said we could do both if we had time. We no longer have time for both and must chose one. Such rational explanations are of no interest to her.

"I never get to do what I want! I'll never FINISH it! I'll never get to read my BOOK! AHHHH WAAAA!"

I am tight as a drum now, every muscle in my body is as taut as her emotional spiral. I want so desperately to press a magic pause button, to STOP THIS MOMENT and make her see how much she is overreacting.

"Z. CALM. DOWN." I am stern, much too stern but I can't stop myself, I'm suddenly just so tired. "You are overreacting and we can't resolve this when you're so upset."

She looks defeated and then so do I. 


I'm not sure where I first heard about the concept of a Calm Down Corner, either Pinterest or a blog or some combination of those internet wormholes. Wherever it was, I immediately latched onto it and set up our own in an unused corner of our living room.

In our Calm Down Corner is a soft sheepskin that was given to Z when she was a baby and a basket filled with different activities that might possibly calm a pint-sized person down: a finger labyrynth, a couple of calm down glitter jars, books about yoga, meditation and silly animal pictures, a pen and pad for writing or drawing, a jar of therapeutic putty with hidden gems and buttons, an empty plastic water bottle for scrunching up tight and then blowing back to normal and assorted other fidget toys to release and refocus emotional energy.

The girls both use it but Z uses it most often. Sometimes she will excuse herself in the middle of an intense encounter and head over there to calm herself down.  Often, when she is at loose ends, I'll ask her if she'd prefer a hug, a time out in her room or some time in the Calm Down Corner.

I don't know if I'm doing this right, this teaching her how to handle her challenging emotions. It is our biggest struggle and shows no signs of relenting. Sometimes, I feel such deep empathy, such compassion for her struggle. And sometimes I would give my eye teeth to see her display calm disappointment or offer a mildly upset shrug.

As I've mentioned previously, we all have been working on labeling our emotions. I've grown comfortable with this, especially debating precise word choices, something that I happen to enjoy immensely.

"I'm not really feeling grumpy, per se, I'm more irritated."

I just finished reading "Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child" by John Gottman and like many of the parenting books I read, I find it simultaneously comforting and terrifying. Comforting because I agree with so much with his thesis: when your child is in an emotional upheaval, they need you more than ever. Simply sending them to time-out over and over again doesn't help them learn how to label, understand and express their emotions in ways that don't involve splitting the eardrums or draining the will to live of anyone in a 20 yard radius.

Terrifying because this is MY job? It's SO HARD. HALP PLZ.

Terrifying too because it lays bare some of my own issues with control and my own hypersensitivity: I get so wound up and want so desperately to just STOP her behavior.

I want "calm down" to be a supportive invitation, rather than a judgmental imperative.  I want my girls to freely chose the Calm Down Corner, and eventually, to have a calm down corner inside themselves.


8:14 pm. Officially past bedtime.  Water bottle cozy finally complete. Book chapter unread.

"I'm sorry, Mommy, for throwing a fit."

"Thanks. I'm sorry too, sweetheart. I didn't handle it very well."

"You didn't?"

"No, I didn't. I could have just told you what I knew you were disappointed and frustrated that we couldn't do both. I could have helped you work through your upset a little better."

"It's okay, Mommy. We're both working on this."

Yes, yes we are.


Hillary said...

I really, really wish I could teleport to Virginia and have coffee or wine or chocolate or something with you. Because this is exactly how things are with me and my boys. I haven't implemented a Calm Down Corner, though I'm wondering if I should. But I'm so ... tempermental, and they are like me, and it's so very hard for me to teach them when I'm both frustrated by and sympathetic to their wild emotions.
Thank you for sharing. It makes me feel better.

momof3 said...

What a great idea-a calm down corner. I may institute this in my own house. You are teaching your girls how to soothe themselves and helping them realize when they need this. You are a super mom!

Shannon said...

Wow. I love the calm down corner idea and with your ability to honestly debrief the experience with your daughter at the end of the day. I think that is the real key... regardless of the ways you may have fallen short of what you hoped to be able to do in an intense situation, you acknowledged it and shared your awareness with her and THAT teaches her to forgive herself too, to know that she doesn't need to be ashamed of herself if she can't keep her emotions in check all the time, and that if she can understand it afterwards, she can make it better and learn from it, as you did. I love that you shared this. I struggle with this with my ADHD son all the time too... and when my hypersensitive self just can't calm down or get AWAY from the assault on my senses/need for quiet and I lose it, as happens many times, I too can learn to "work through it".

d e v a n said...

I love your calm down corner!

clueless but hopeful mama said...

Hillary- COME ON UP!

twisterfish said...

Oh I finally had time to sit and read this and I think you're doing such a great job. The calm down corner and the labeling of feelings and all of it... they are lucky to have you as their mom!

Michelle said...

Love this idea! Self-soothing techniques are so important for our little ones to learn. And I feel like our presence is still felt when they are on their own in a space like this because they know we set it up for them with care.

Where did you get the double finger labyrinth?

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