When the Calming Corner Doesn’t Work – What Now?

The Calming Corner is a wonderful tool for promoting self-regulation, but what happens when it doesn’t seem to work? Teachers spend countless hours setting up the perfect space, creating sensory bottles, finding pillows, and printing tools for learning. It can be frustrating when all that effort seems to be in vain. 

The first step should always be to stop and reflect. One mistake some teachers make is treating the Calming Corner as a time-out. This makes it seem like a bad place, and many children will avoid it. The Calming Corner must always be a place of safety. It should be a cozy nook where children like to go when they need a break, and it should NEVER be forced or used as a punishment!

These skills take instruction, modeling, and doing them together with the children until it becomes second nature. It is a process and takes time to learn well. 

All Behavior is Communication

When a child displays challenging behaviors, it is a sign that a need is not being met. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy, physical needs must be met before children can feel safe. Children must then feel safe before they can feel love and acceptance, and only after all those needs are met can they focus on learning. This is fluid. During stressful life changes, children can regress into a lower state on the hierarchy. 

The hierarchy begins at the bottom and goes up. Is the child hungry, sleepy, or in pain? Does the child feel safe? Are there things going on at home? This child may need additional support or accommodations in addition to the regular schedule. A child who does not get enough sleep at home may need an additional rest period at school. What if a 30-minute nap or small snack could make all the difference in that child’s (and teacher’s) whole day? If the physical needs are met, the next step is to see if the child feels safe, and so on. 


For more information on Abraham Maslow and his hierarchy of needs: https://www.theeducationpeople.org/blog/exploring-pedagogy-introducing-abraham-maslow/

Small Changes Can Make a Big Impact

The next step is to look at the classroom environment. Are there certain times of day things escalate? Does the classroom have enough materials for the children or is it too cluttered? Is it overstimulating? Research shows that too many loud, bright colors and wall displays can actually increase problematic behaviors. Think of the senses. Is there loud children’s music playing all day? Just playing calmer music and having periods of silence can help. For a child overstimulated by noise, headphones are a lifesaver! What about lighting? Fluorescent lighting can cause headaches and may influence behavior. Lamps and natural light are more soothing for the children as well as the adults in the room. 

READ: 3 Tips for Reducing Noise Overload in the Classroom

Young children also need a lot of sensory play. Children with challenges need it even more! Does the classroom have a sand and water table that is accessible? Is playdough available? Are there heavy work activities for the children? These opportunities for pushing and pulling help regulate the proprioceptive system. Sensory play is calming and can make a huge difference in the early childhood environment! 

What about movement? Is the child running, jumping, climbing, or wrestling with others? Most children do not move enough in today’s world. More opportunities for gross motor play may be needed. Consider a gross motor area inside the classroom and increase outdoor playtime if possible. 

Is the child throwing things? Dumping and filling? Spinning in circles? It may be a schema! These are periods where a child has a developmental need to do the behavior. Teachers can work with the child instead of against them by setting up an appropriate place to continue. For instance, set up a throwing area with shower puffs as a safe alternative to throwing blocks and toys. 

Taming Tantrums

Though prevention is important, tantrums will happen with young children. When they do, keep it cool. Adults must be able to self-regulate to help a child learn to self-regulate. Let the child know he is safe and allowed to feel his emotions. When the child moves into an emotional state, there may still be anger or frustration. This is still not the time for a rational conversation! After a tantrum, wait until the child is thinking clearly before talking. Take A Positive Approach to Big Emotions!

If you know, there are triggers, have a plan of action. This may take a bit of work, but it can help prevent meltdowns. Make the child a helper or have a redirection ready. Take a walk. Make it fun by using a puppet or being silly. These behaviors can be dealt with proactively or reactively. A little planning and creative thinking can change the life of a child (and the teacher) for the better! 

Heather Williams
Heather Williams

Heather Williams, an Education Support Specialist for Experience Early Learning, has worked in the field of early childhood for over 20 years and holds a Master’s in Education. She is a certified teacher, a former Professional Development Specialist for the CDA Council, and has spent years providing training and coaching for various Head Start programs. She is passionate about the importance of play for learning and loves to inspire creativity in both educators and children.  


Arnold J Wilkins Professor of Psychology. (2022, September 13). Fluorescent lighting in school could be harming your child’s health and ability to read. The Conversation. Retrieved December 1, 2022, from https://theconversation.com/fluorescent-lighting-in-school-could-be-harming-your-childs-health-and-ability-to-read-124330

Asasher. (2019, December 4). November 2018 newsletter – meeting children’s most basic needs. CCEI. Retrieved November 30, 2022, from https://www.cceionline.com/november-2018-newsletter-meeting-childrens-most-basic-needs/

Beck, C. (2022, November 9). Heavy work activities. The OT Toolbox. Retrieved December 1, 2022, from https://www.theottoolbox.com/heavy-work-activities/

Denisha Jones, P. D. (2022, March 30). Applying Maslow to schools: A new approach to school equity – defending the early years. Defending the Early Years – Working for a just, equitable, and quality early childhood education for every young child. Retrieved November 30, 2022, from https://dey.org/applying-maslow-to-schools-a-new-approach-to-school-equity/

Exploring pedagogy – introducing Abraham Maslow. The Education People. (n.d.). Retrieved November 30, 2022, from https://www.theeducationpeople.org/blog/exploring-pedagogy-introducing-abraham-maslow/

Research History. (2015, March 27). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Research History. Retrieved December 1, 2022, from http://www.researchhistory.org/2012/06/16/maslows-hierarchy-of-needs/

Terada, Y. (2018, October 24). DOS and don’ts of classroom decorations. Edutopia. Retrieved December 1, 2022, from https://www.edutopia.org/article/dos-and-donts-classroom-decorations/ 

%d bloggers like this: