“They are the best of friends, the worst of enemies” was my response when friends and strangers would ask me how my 4 and 2-year-old boys get along. Do you know what I mean? They love each other so much, play together most of the time, and then lose their minds because they need space.
It would often look like this:
I hear a scream from my two-year-old. I find my older son grabbing Legos from his hands. Then, before I know it, my two-year-old throws Legos all over the room, hundreds, maybe a thousand Legos. I lose my own mind…. I mean I leave the room, take some deep breaths and put the kids in the same boat:
“It looks like you two are having a tough time playing together. You must be feeling mad or hurt. And I can’t let you throw Legos all over the place. Would you like to go to a different room or go to the chill out space?”
One of my few proud mommy moments. This was on a good day!
Timeout is Out
Chill out spaces and timeouts are different. Timeouts hurt children neurobiologically, often make children angrier and more dysregulated suggests Daniel Siegel and Tina Bryson. Brain-imaging research also suggests that emotional pain activates the same part of the brain as physical pain when people are rejected. Furthermore, Tylenol can actually alleviate not only the physical pain, but also the pain of rejection (Eisenberger, Lieberman, & Williams, 2003). So, emotional pain can feel like physical pain! Allowing ways for our children to chill out while comforting them can allow them to learn how to self-regulate their nervous system.
So, one day, I told the kids that I was concerned that they needed their own space to play, have fun and calm down. Most children do not know how to calm their bodies so they need to be taught this skill. We practiced ways to help calm and regulate ourselves:
- Take deep breaths. Take a slow deep breath through the nose, hold your breath for to 2 seconds and then exhale slowly through your mouth. Repeat at least 5 to 10 times.
- Butterfly breathe. Breath in while moving both arms with elbows up and back like a butterfly flying. Then breath out while relaxing the arms.
- Blow out candles. Pretend to blow out candles on a birthday cake one at a time.
- Tucker the Turtle. He tucks in his shell, counts to three when he is angry and then he is able to make better choices.
Get Kids Involved
I asked my boys if they would like to create a space so they could have time to themselves to calm down. We talked about different ways to create our chill out space and they decided they liked this beautiful fabric ice cream truck. After much climbing on it, tipping it over and throwing plastic ice-cream out of the windows, we did catch on to taking care of it. Well, after a couple large rips in the fabric.
To get buy-in, involve your children and ask:
- “What would your chill out space look like?”
- “What are some things that help you calm down that we could put in your chill out space?”
The most important part of using the chill out space is DO NOT FORCE A CHILD TO GO THERE. This is not a place to punish, but rather a space to offer. Punishing children can damage the trust in the relationship. It might not be a choice to hit someone else, so offer for the chill out space or another room.
If your child is under 3 years old, offer to go to the chill out space with him or her. If your child understands deep breathing and calming down, then he or she may be able to go by themselves. After some calming time, this is the time to talk. Children’s brains are not able to process what you are saying when they are still upset. When a child’s right-brain has been emotionally hijacked, we must not respond with our logical left brain giving explanations because a child is not able to use logic on their left side of their brains during a temper tantrum.
Chill Out Space Suggestions
Here are just some suggestions of items your child may want to have in his or her own chill out space:
- Sensory glitter bottle
- Chewy Jewelry (if needed)
- Bubble wrap
- Hand fidgets
- Emotional literacy children’s books
- Pictures of feelings
- A couple toys of their choice
So where is your chill out space? Mine is either the bathroom or the kitchen. After seeing all those Legos all over the floor, I went back into the kitchen to have my own chill time before I addressed the problem with my children and scripted out exactly what I wanted to say. You didn’t think I actually came up with my response to them on the fly, did you?