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How To Use A Calming Corner With Kids Under Three

It is never too early to start teaching kids about emotions

You've likely seen the Calming Corner floating around social media, and you may be wondering if this approach will work in your home, let alone with your two-year-old. I know that feeling because this is where I was, too, just a few months ago.

After a particularly trying day with my 22-month-old, and with her birthday right around the corner, I took the plunge, and even though the Time-In ToolKit is recommended for children three and up, I ordered it.

After getting started with the approach, my take on it is this: it is never too early to start learning positive parenting. If you are already considering how to teach your child about emotions and/or how to parent them minus punishment, then it’s time. 

I'm glad I didn't wait until the recommended age of three and wanted to share what I learned along the way in case this is where you find yourself as well.

I ordered the Original Time-In Toolkit Bundle, and the day my order shipped, I received the Digital Manual in my inbox. I appreciated the opportunity to read the manual on using time-ins before our box arrived. I also talked to a few of my friends who work with toddlers about what I was about to do.

I benefited greatly from this entire process and would like to share with you what I learned along the way.

How Do I Set Up a Calming Corner?

1. Choose a space with enough room for you and your little one to visit together:

I went on Generation Mindful's Instagram account for ideas as I love visuals. Here are some fun locations for making a "Calming Corner" that are not actually in corners:

  • Extra closet makeover
  • A hallway nook
  • Behind a couch 
  • Part of the playroom or nursery 

2. Set your space up to be cozy, in whatever way that means for your little one:

  • Tummy time mat with a mirror attached for infants
  • Cozy blanket and pillow for your one-year-old
  • Dog-bed-turned-toddler-couch-setup for your two-year-old
  • For us, it was all about the pillows and snuggly plush.
3. Choose items that best suit your child's sensory needs:
  • Use visually contrasting colors for young children, especially one or two-year-olds, to both draw and keep their attention.
  • For older toddlers/kiddos, use peaceful, calming colors. Incorporate lavender-scented rice bags or essential oil bracelets.
  • A diffuser is a great addition if there is a way for you to add this safely to your space.
  • Calming jars that are glued shut are a great accent for visual stimuli for all ages.
  • Include things that little hands can safely explore - squishy or crinkly toys, stress balls, soft busy books, hedgehog balls, busy boards, blocks, and weighted toys. 
  • Play soft music or consider musical instrument toys (even something simple like coins in a child-proofed jar).
  • The Digital Manual included a list of more than thirty calming sensory ideas that are easy to make from things we mostly had around the house. We picked out about ten that worked best for us and put them in a basket.

4. Add posters, low and slow. 

  • Mind blown. I would have hung every poster on day one, but my friend Sara said, "Start with just two or three of the posters and games and add more from the toolkit over time." I LOVED this idea, and it worked really well for my daughter. I was not overwhelmed, and neither was she. Plus, it was fun to add new elements with each passing week. It really seemed to help hold her interest.
  • Begin with the Feeling Faces and Calming Strategies posters and keep them at eye level. My daughter took to these two picture-heavy posters instantly.
  • For kids who are not yet crawling and tend to drool or spit up, laminate the posters (to combat all liquid enemies) and keep them on the ground until they are able to sit up independently.
  • For older tots on up, keep the posters either in plexiglass frames from IKEA or hang them right above the baseboards for easy access. Just don't hang them too high. I made this mistake at first and then lowered them. 

How Do I Start Using A Calming Corner?

I reached out to Julie from GENM's customer service for help on this one, and she sent back some helpful ideas. Here's a summary of what Julie told me to do in her email:

The best way to get started is to create playful rituals in the space. Just 5-10 minutes daily goes a long way in motivating your child to use the space. 

1. Ideas For Incorporating Play: 

  • Cuddle
  • Read books about feelings
  • Sing songs about feelings 
  • Practice making feeling faces and name each one
  • Make your own feeling faces while looking in the mirror
  • Share quiet time together watching glitter settle in a calming jar
  • Practice breathing techniques

2. Tips For Creating Daily Playful Rituals:

  • Use the calming space during tummy time 
  • Visit the calming space first thing every morning and pull a PeaceMakers card (read them, name the colors, sort them by the animal, make animal sounds, play matching games, etc.)
  • Snuggle with your SnuggleBuddies and remember happy and sad moments from your day together. Sing the SnuggleBuddies Feeling Song with your little one. 

From everything I read, the key to introducing the calming space to a young child (especially a two-year-old) is to keep things playful and consistent. I loved that the manual encouraged us to pick a ritual that best suited our life.

If you're like us, you might find that you visit your Calming Corner more than once a day. Pulling a PeaceMakers card every morning has been an awesome way to start each day for us. Later in the afternoon, or sometimes after dinner, my daughter likes to curl up with her SnuggleBuddies and read a book with me. Just before naptime is her favorite snuggle time in our calming corner, and it makes getting her to sleep easier. These have become our daily rituals.

How Do I Use the Calming Corner During Big Emotions?

Okay, after about two weeks of connecting using our two new rituals as Julie suggested, I started to get curious if we were ready to use it for a meltdown. We have a sweet routine, and we are all settled in. How do we transition into using this when it’s hard to navigate big feelings?

1. Model the behavior and repeat it. Often:

Show your child how you use the space and invite them there when you have a big feeling. Name your feeling, find it on the chart, and talk about where you feel it in your body. Choose a strategy from the poster to calm down. Here is how that may sound:

  • “Mommy is having a big feeling. I am going to visit the Calming Corner.” Look at the poster and say, “I feel mad,” then point to the mad face, saying, “This is mad.” 
  • Continue with, “I feel mad inside my chest, in my face, and even inside my hands. I am going to practice calming down. I will take a deep breath and close my eyes. Do you want to do it with me?"

2. Encourage your child to go to your Calming Corner with you when you notice them having a big feeling:

  • Help your child soothe and co-regulate by giving them a hug (great for resetting a child who is feeling sad or overstimulated), getting a drink of water, squeezing a toy, etc. Our Calming Corner poster has pictures with 12 calming strategy ideas that are easy enough for even a two-year-old to understand and do. We used the Feeling Faces poster to help my daughter practice naming the mood groups (happy, sad, calm, mad/scared) at age two, and by age three, she was able to name all 32 feelings pictured on the poster and make a face to go with each one. 
  • After a few weeks or even a few months of using your space together and walking your child through the steps, you can begin to "loosen the reigns", using fewer prompts to guide them through and eventually sitting there for support only as they lead you through the steps. The steps for taking a "time in" and calming down are made clear and simple on the Time-In ToolKit posters. In time, you will find your child going to the space all by themself, though at the beginning, it's ideal to be there by their side.

As you get comfortable with your Calming Corner, you will realize that it is just as routine as a morning cup of coffee or that soak in a bathtub. Learning ways to calm our bodies when we are upset or overwhelmed is a practice. Our Calming Corner made this practice fun for our toddler, and there's nothing wrong with getting a head start on that.

Teach children about their emotions in playful ways!

The Time-In ToolKit® playfully teaches kids 2-9+ how to navigate big emotions through social-emotional skill-building games. Created by child-development experts, your ToolKit includes everything you need to create your own Calming Corner and start taking Time-Ins instead of Time-Outs with your little ones.

The Time-In ToolKit
The Time-In ToolKit

The Time-In ToolKit


Developed by child-development experts, this toolkit provides step-by-step guidance for setting up a Time In Corner infused with strengths-based practic...

larger photo of blog article author Traci Esposito

Early childhood educator and mom, Traci discovered Generation Mindful online, and after having a great experience, reached out to us to share her story. This blog was her share, and because she felt so strongly about GENM's mission, Traci wrote a few more articles for us as a guest contributor as well! Click on her name to read them all. Thank you, Traci!!! You are a Change-maker. We are grateful to you.

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