Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Comfort Corner

As my 2 1/2 year old blossoms more and more into his own personality and every day becomes more vocal in what he wants (and doesn't want), I'm finding that I need to expand my repertoire as a mom. For example, I'd noticed that when he got really upset, his urge to throw or rip things was very strong and that caused a lot of problems because the more destructive he got, the harder time I had keeping my cool, which meant the more upset he got, and, well, you get the idea. A lot of my friends who have kids of a similar age have been using time out, but I found that didn't really appeal to me at this time. The idea of getting into a power struggle with him and getting him to sit still in one place or in one location at a time when he was so viscerally, physically, and emotionally upset just didn't seem to be worth the effort. I also felt like time out (time away from me and my attention) would be mostly about punishment and I didn't really feel like I needed a punishment as much as I needed a tool to help him calm (and me) down when things got really crazy emotionally. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I remembered reading a year or two ago about "comfort corners" and that seemed more to fit the bill of what I had in mind. A couple of google searches later, and I decided that it was exactly what we needed.

What is a "comfort corner"?

A "comfort corner" is a parenting tool used to help your child learn how to calm down and to seek "comfort" when things are going tough. (Here's my favorite description of it!) It's about building a physical space completely designed to trigger a calmer emotional space. The most helpful article I read about suggested you think of it as a little oasis or a space where your child can get back in touch with themselves and their emotions. Going to the corner is not a punishment, so it makes sense for them to have things they love there. Comfort corner is about helping your child to recognize when s/he needs some self-care. It doesn't have to have much, just some comfy pillows and whatever items help trigger "calmness" and "safety" to your child. Think of your favorite place to calm down when you are upset. For me, it's my bedroom. In my bedroom, I can read books. I can lay in my bed under my soft blankets and I can watch movies. Those are all things that trigger "serenity" in me. A "comfort" corner serves the same purpose for your child, but because the child is still learning how to calm him or herself, the comfort corner is a more public space than an adult would probably choose. Your child might not know exactly how to use the space at first (especially if they are young, as my son is) so it's not a place where they can go alone to give self-care until they are older. You can use the comfort corner as a tool to teach them how to recognize when they are spiraling out of control and what they can do to help themselves calm back down. So, for example, your child is throwing an outrageous fit about wanting juice when you have told her/him that he has had enough juice for the day and s/he needs to drink water, you can say to him/her, "Honey, it sounds to me like you are very upset. Let's go to the comfort corner and see if we can find something to make you feel a little better and then we can talk about juice versus water." Once in the corner, you work with him or her to find an activity that creates calmness. Once calm, you can either talk about what triggered him or her, or if it already feels resolved, you can move on. This sounded like exactly what we needed so about a month ago my toddler and I built a comfort corner in our living room where our Christmas tree used to be.

How do you "build" a comfort corner?

From the beginning, I wanted the comfort corner to "feel" like a space my son could love. I involved him in its very construction. Together we decided what pillows and blankets to put in there and which stuffed animals to leave in there. Knowing that my son loves to read, but can be destructive when angry, I decided to leave the book tubs just outside the corner, but within reach for when he is calm enough to do reading. Together we placed a soft cloth"taggie" ball in there that we'd gotten him when he was just a tiny baby and a blow up penguin that bounces back up when he gets pushed down. The rule is that he can (and does) go into the comfort corner at anytime and take anything he wants out or can even spend time in there when he's already calm, but when Mama thinks he needs to spend time in the comfort corner he needs to stay there until we both agree it's time to move on to another activity. (Because of his age, he does not currently go to the comfort corner alone. In a year or two, that will probably change, but for now this seems to work best.) To introduce the comfort corner as a positive thing, we first went in there only when he was in a good mood to read books, snuggle, or just play with stuffed animals. It was few days before I suggested going in there when he was upset.

What do you do in the comfort corner?

In the beginning, I really wasn't sure what we would "do" in there when he was upset that was so radically different from what we were doing already out of the corner, but slowly three basic activities have arisen.

The first involves throwing the soft, cloth ball around. We do this when the issue is that his urge to throw is causing him to throw dangerous things a little too often. The rule is that the ball must stay within the corner and strangely, it does seem to take the edge off of his urge.

The second involves the penguin. When he is very, very angry with me, I encourage him to physically work out his emotion by playing with the penguin. I never tell him to hit the penguin, but I do say. "Hey, sweetie. I think you have a lot of big emotions, let's see if we can get penguin to lay down so we can tell them to him." The physical energy needed to get penguin down when he keeps popping back up, often gets my son in a different space. Then, if he gets to a giggling place quickly with the penguin, I try to help him find words for his emotions while he's playing with the penguin. If he doesn't get to that giggling place, but does get to a little bit calmer space, I then get him to look me in the eye or snuggle with me and I try to help him voice what he is feeling. Julian has already written about this kind of "time-in" before.

The third is, by far, my son's favorite. It is a "love pile."

The love pile is simple. My son sits on some comfy pillows and I give him a hug and a kiss, tell him I love him, and then have each and every one of his comfort corner stuffed animals do the same as I pile them up one on one on top of him. He stays still and asks for "more" until we run out of stuffed animals or until he's ready to get up and go. I find for him that it gives him the sensory feeling of being surrounded and loved and it also gives him the realization that if he is feeling that he needs more love and attention, all he needs to do is ask for it. More and more often lately, I've noticed that he often pre-emptively asks for a love pile before the melt-down could occur. He recognizes in himself that he needs a little more attention and he gets it in the form of the love pile. He's even started practicing giving his stuffed animals love piles when they are sad or upset. It's a beautiful, beautiful sight to see my little toddler kissing his stuffed doggy who "fell" from the table and telling him to come to the comfort corner for a love pile. It's become such a positive activity that even Daddy sometimes jumps into the love pile with my toddler when he's having a bad day, too!

So what has the comfort corner done for us?

The comfort corner really has become a place "apart" from the rest of the house. As soon as I enter the comfort corner, I know that whatever it is that I wanted to clean/do/accomplish is officially on hold. My son recognizes this and he also knows that whatever he was upset about is temporarily on hold until we calm down long enough to work it out (of course, I say this, but like all things with a two year old there are some days where this is more evident than others!). When I suggest the comfort corner, I am always careful to keep anger out of my voice and to remember that this is a place of reconnection and a space where my primary job is to teach my son how to choose activities and words that will calm himself down. It takes me out of the "topicalness" of his usual meltdowns and reminds me of the bigger picture.

Actually, since installing the comfort corner, I have found more and more that the fits that I thought were about "not getting his way" or specific "things" were really more about my son really wanting to be heard and paid attention to. Often, I let myself get busy or distracted and instead of voicing his needs to me in a way I understand, he was throwing fits over "other" things. If I addressed his deeper need by taking him to the comfort corner and showing him how to do things to calm himself down, the need to scream went away even if I did absolutely nothing about the topic he was originally screaming about. That is worth the price of creating the comfort corner just on its own.

Thanks for letting me share. Maybe if you try a comfort corner in your house, you can let me know how it works for you. After all, I'm just flying by the seat of my pants here! I'd love to hear your ideas, too! I'm sure the comfort corner will evolve in amazing ways, the longer we keep it around the the older my son gets. I'd love to hear how one works in your home!



The Lenne-clan said... [Reply to comment]

Very nice! I really encourage Auden (our very explosive one) to go find his blankie on his bed. Sometimes it's tight hugs, sometimes I swing him in the blanket or wrap him up.

And a true time out is not about punishment. It is about redirection and getting back to a calm state. Sometimes the kids can do it on their own, sometimes not. Sometimes it involves tears, anger, or confusion.

It sounds like it is working great for you guys!

Julian@connectedmom said... [Reply to comment]

This sounds like a lovely way for Oliver and I to reconnect when we're feeling off. We are both strong personalities and our buttons get pressed when we get off track or are feeling a bit disconnected. I'll let you know how it works out for us!

Shawna said... [Reply to comment]

@The Lenne-clanThank you, Nici for pointing that out! I worked at a school where Time out was used very successfully as a space to for students to calm down and work through issues with staff members aiding them. However, I wasn't as emotionally involved with my students and I knew what it would brew into and I didn't think I could do time out in a non-punitive way with my temper! This seemed safer!

Shawna said... [Reply to comment]

@Julian@connectedmomThanks, Julian! I can't wait to see how it works for you! Owen and Oliver do seem to have a lot in common!

Kayce Pearson said... [Reply to comment]

I wrote about this a couple weeks ago :) Glade made her own "comfort corner" (though she calls it her crying spot). I had never thought of doing anything like it until she one day made her own. It helps *so* much, especially as they get older and want to communicate but don't have the words. Hope yours works as well for you as it does for us :)

Shawna said... [Reply to comment]

I didn't really think about the connection to your other post until now, Kayce! I can't believe I didn't make that connection!

Eryn said... [Reply to comment]

I love this idea. We don't use timeouts either. We usually just try to redirect our son to other activities. But that doesn't always work and sometimes he just needs time to sort through his feelings (don't we all?). I think a "comfort corner" would be a great place for him to do that.

I didn't make the connection with the "crying spot" either. I blame mommy brain. I no longer have a memory.

Post a Comment