The Ultimate Guide To Building A Calming Corner And Using Time-Ins At Home

Your four-year-old son drops to the floor in a puddle, arms and legs flailing. He wants the choo-choo train his baby sister is holding, despite the basket of toy trains that sits on the floor right next to him.

All too fast, your son’s flailing arms kick a pillow off the couch and womp, the pillow lands smack dab onto baby sister’s head and you watch on helplessly from about five feet away as your five-month-old baby girl topples to her side onto pillows you’d placed there as she worked on mastering a newfound ability to sit. 


Your daughter is now on the ground and crying with big brother holding the prized train up over her head, just out of reach.

Yelling feels ineffective. Everyone is crying and your anger has reached a boiling point.

So what do you do?

In the past, you’ve tried putting your son into a time-out on the steps – but he ignores your directives and immediately gets up off the step, placing the two of you into a locked-horns power struggle. Overpowering his small, raging body by forcing him back onto the step and leaving him in isolation seems cruel and ineffective; after all, your goal is not to control your son, it’s to teach your son how to control himself.

If any of this rings true for you, then setting up a calming space in your home might be the game-changing solution you’ve been looking for.

Taking A Time-In

Time-ins help children learn how to manage their feelings in a safe space, practicing social and emotional skills when they are calming so they can effectively use them when they are not. Time-ins reinforce attachment and connection, reinforcing skills children will have and use for a lifetime including self-awareness, empathy, conflict resolution, and problem-solving.

Generation Mindful’s Time-In ToolKit gives families everything they need to ditch time-outs in one place — posters, cards, stickers, social-emotional learning activities, videos, step-by-step instructions, curriculum, and a free online community to hold your hand through it all.

Dr. Siegel, clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and executive director of the Mindsight Institute, says, “Having kids reflect on and talk about their emotions, what we are calling a time-in, has been demonstrated in a wide range of studies to support the important development of emotional understanding. We encourage parents to comfort and soothe and connect with their children during times of distress, and to reflect afterward on their inner experience with reflective dialogue, rather than punitively isolating them in a moment of anger and without any opportunity for reflection and connection.” 

Moving Away From Time-Outs

When children feel powerful, safe, and connected, they can learn and grow much more easily than when they are feeling fear or shame — even from their mistakes. If you have used time-outs in the past, start your journey by saying GOODBYE to time-outs with your children in a memorable, concrete, and playful way.

Marking your transition encourages children to trust in your shift away from punishment and to take ownership of time-ins, increasing their intrinsic motivation to embrace the new approach. The more silly and memorable the goodbye ritual is, the better! 

Creating Ways To Say Good-Bye

  • Write “time-outs” on a piece of toilet paper and flush it down the toilet.
  • Remove the time-out chair from your space (if you had one) and put it out on your front curb to be donated as you march, sing, and/or dance to an upbeat song.
  • Have your children draw a picture of how they felt when they were put in time-outs. Have them draw a picture of how they imagine they’ll feel taking a time-in with you instead. Ask them to draw a big heart around the one they like more. 
  • Engage your child by ask them directly, “How would you like to say goodbye to time-outs?”

There are a number of differences between time-outs and the time-ins Generation Mindful’s Time-In ToolKit will guide you in creating: 

Time-Outs Time-Ins
You are in trouble for your thoughts, emotions, words, actions You are having trouble with your thoughts, emotions, words, actions
You are being punished for being bad You are having a learning moment where you can practice new skills
Children focus on how unfair it is that they are in a time-out more than their behavior Children reflect on what happened, and how they are feeling.
Fuels a child’s anger and may lead to sneaking and lying Builds a child’s brain and leads to learning
Children feel angry or hurt by the person who puts them in a time-out Children feel closer to themselves and others after a time-in

Talk with your children about the many differences that exist between time-outs and time-ins in an age-appropriate way they can understand. You might begin this conversation by saying something like, “Instead of getting punished or having to sit on the step when we are having trouble controlling our bodies, we can go to our Calming Corner for a time-in and practice calming down together. And if we notice we are mad or sad or scared, we can take a time-in then, too.”

If your children are able to absorb more information, add, “That way, if we say or do something we wish we would not have said or done, we can learn from it, correct it, and do things differently next time.” 

Making It Safe To Fail 

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A time-in is not a dressed-up version of a time-out, and you will want to be clear about this before you transition into using time-ins. Teach your children that everybody makes mistakes. It’s important to introduce this concept before setting up the Calming Corner so that they don’t mentally and emotionally write off time-ins as another form of punishment in the face of misbehavior.

To open this conversation with your children ages three and up, it can be helpful to open with a question like, “Do you think it’s okay to make mistakes?”

Listen to your child’s response and see if you can better understand your child’s thoughts and feelings when it comes to making mistakes. Write down the things you hear without judgment. Repeat your child’s responses back to them, minus any commentary, so that they feel heard. 

Here are a few ideas to make mistakes (aka learning moments) safe in your home: 

  • Share the idea that even though a learning moment might sometimes feel bad, a learning moment does not mean that we are bad. 
  • Talk about mistakes you have made in your life, and lessons you have learned. If age-appropriate, invite your child to do the same, or for younger kids, offer help with the process. 
  • If you actively see your child make a mistake, get underneath your own triggers to respond to what is happening, rather than react. When children feel safe to make mistakes, they are more likely to learn from them. 
  • Model grace to yourself when you make a mistake. Our kids are always watching, and the way we speak to ourselves will become the foundation for their own self-talk. 

For many children, making mistakes does not feel safe, but feelings can evolve over time. Affirm your child’s sense of self and emphasize the fact that what they do is not who they are, and the idea that who they are is love

How do I Create a Calming Corner?

  • Choose your space together. Even a small space can work well!
  • Hang your posters using double-sided tape or frames and velcro to secure them to the wall. Using play-based social-emotional learning activities when your child is calm, like SnuggleBuddies, and PeaceMakers (both included in the Ready-To-Hang Time-In ToolKit Bundle) will help them embrace and use these new skills when they are not.
  • Chat with your child about the items they would like to include in your new calming space. See the Digital Manual that comes free with every Time-In ToolKit, including a printable list of items to help children regulate that you can typically gather from around your house to create a calming time-in basket.

Take all of your child’s senses into consideration when designing your space. Have your children help and have fun creating the space together. 

How Do I Use The Calming Corner?

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Using the Calming Corner you are guided in creating with the Time-In ToolKit will help your children ages 3+ strengthen their ability to notice feeling sensations in their bodies. From there, you will be guided in how to teach your children to name these emotions, and finally, in how to regulate (just a fancy word for “manage”) them. All of this happens best with a heavy dose of connection and play. 

Here are five tips to help you successfully introduce and use the Calming Corner you’ve created with your children:

1. Transform triggers. 

The process of using a Calming Corner in your home starts and ends with you. Be aware of your own thoughts, feelings, and emotions, and notice any triggers that may be knocking you off your center. Our online course is a game-changer if you could use support in getting to the source of your triggers, as is this free introductory video on taming triggers.

2. Introduce the tools during non/heated moments. 

For two weeks prior to using your calming space during heated moments, spend 5 to 10 minutes a day playing games from your Time-In ToolKit’s Digital Manual or Curriculum Guide Book in the space. Reading books, snuggle up, and make time to practice and learn about the different emotions presented in the 32 Feelings Faces poster included in the kit. As your child begins to feel both safe and motivated to visit the space on their own or with you during non-heated moments, they will feel more confident and engaged in using the space when they are dysregulated. 

Some activities include: 

  • Roleplay with favorite dolls, figurines, or stuffed animals
  • Read children’s books with your child that teach kids about emotions
  • Place a mirror by your Calming Strategies poster and invite your child to make different faces in the mirror. Practice matching them with the faces on the 32 Feeling Faces poster that comes in your kit (mad, sad, tired, surprised, silly, etc)
  • Create art to express the many different emotions we all feel. Ask your child, “Can you show me what feeling “happy” looks like in your body? (Mad? Calm? Etc…)
  • Play Feelings Bingo

3. Create daily playful rituals. 

Here are a few ideas for playful rituals you can share on a daily basis in your Calming Corner using your Time-In ToolKit, and bonus, each takes just about 5 minutes or less:

  • Pull a card from the PeaceMakers Mindfulness Card deck with your children each morning. Take a few minutes to talk about the card, and use it to set your family’s “intention of the day”. Throughout the day, talk about the card you pulled and what it means to you. Here are more ways to play with the PeaceMakers Cards.
  • Use the SnuggleBuddies every evening at bedtime. Sit in the Calming Corner with your child, or snuggle up together in bed or on the couch and talk about the emotions that came up for both you and your child that day. Hold the colored SnuggleBuddies mood emoji that goes with the feeling you are sharing about in your hand (happy = yellow, sad = blue, calm = green, and mad/scared = red). Here are some other fun ways to play with the SnuggleBuddies to grow your child’s emotional intelligence.

4. Use the tools yourself.

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The next time you are feeling a tad bit dysregulated (aka annoyed, frustrated, angry, sad), show your children that the Calming Corner is helpful space in your home for you to use as well. Go to your calming space and point to the emotion on the 32 Feeling Faces poster that best represents how you are feeling and then do one or two calming strategies to help you shift. Use the “What Can I Do?” Activity Mat to guide your time-in, just as you might with your child. Children learn by watching the things we do much more than they do by listening to the things we say. Reinforce the skills and behaviors that you are wanting to see from your children by using them yourself.

5. Be in the moment with your kids. 

In the midst of a tantrum, invite your child to join you in your Calming Corner, not to talk so much as to help them feel supported as they practice calming their body. Hugs, rocking, breathing, squeezing a ball, taking a drink of water; all of the many strategies featured in the Time-In ToolKit can help, and once they are calm, you can help them become aware of the things they were thinking and/or feeling when they became overwhelmed or upset.

If the time-in was sparked by a conflict with another person, ask your child what they imagine the other person might have been thinking and/or feeling.

Not only do Time-Ins build the connections or neurosynapses of the brain, but they also help to normalize all emotions, even the unpleasant feeling ones like anger, sadness, and jealousy. The point is not to stop our children from feeling mad, sad, etc. but to help them to notice, name, express, and ultimately, to manage these big and often overpowering feelings in healthy ways.

Using the Time-In ToolKit to create a Calming Corner in your home can help you teach your children how to name and share their feelings free from the shame, pain, and forced isolation involved in using time-outs. This positive discipline approach for managing big feelings and teaching children important skills they will use for a lifetime is evidence-based and rooted in love. And while using positive discipline instead of punishment may not always feel easy, it will always feel empowering, for both you and your children.


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