WORDS: Merab-Michal Favorite
Imagine if being sent to the corner, or to time out, was less of a punishment and more of a therapeutic experience that included items meant to calm the senses and regulate emotions.
“When children start crying uncontrollably because they don’t get their way, the most primitive part of their brain is taking over and preventing them from making rational decisions,” said Marina Bunch, Clinical Director of Outpatient Mental Health Services at the Florida Center for Early Childhood. “Children need support from their caregivers and the environment in order to learn how to regulate their emotions just as they need support to learn how to speak or walk.”
Bunch and her team of early childhood mental health experts created calming boxes to give to their young clients when they are feeling upset and recommend that parents do the same in order to incorporate self-regulation into their child’s everyday routine.
A calming box is filled with items that stimulate all five senses, which can ease anxiety and teach children to rely on their senses in order to regulate their emotions and avoid, or recover from, an outburst.
“A calming box should have at least one item for each sense,” said Tara Motzenbecker, a licensed school psychologist. “It should be a special box that kids don’t normally have access to. It’s not a toy, it’s something special for when they are very upset.”
If a child has an episode, parents can send them to a quiet, comfortable place in the house and give them the calming box to use to settle down. If the child is not able to calm themselves on their own, Bunch recommends the parent sitting with them and showing them how to use the box until they develop the capacity themselves. The process is not meant to be a punishment, but a tool to help regulate their emotions.
Motzenbecker said parents don’t have to spend a lot of money to buy a calming box, in fact, most of the items inside are things they probably already have at home or can create easily with household items. She recommended parents do the following:
“This process can also work for grown-ups,” Motzenbecker said. “If parents get upset they can ask to use the calming box too, it really just reinstates the importance of the box.”
Other items that could be included are family photos, a favorite book, a journal, a cherished toy – anything that would initiate happy thoughts or memories.
Bunch and Motzenbecker discussed the calming box technique at one of their monthly parenting classes at The Florida Center’s Starfish Academy, an inclusion therapy early education preschool where typically developing children learn alongside those with special needs.
The Florida Center for Early Childhood is the leading provider of therapeutic services for young children in Southwest Florida, delivering a seamless array of services for the whole child and their family. For more information visit www.thefloridacenter.org