Setting Up Chill Zones And Calming Corners

Creating safe and effective regulation spaces at home and in the classroom

What is a regulation space?

A regulation space — also sometimes called a zen zone, chill zone, sensory space, or calming corner — is a safe and quiet area where a person can go to regulate (i.e. “calm down”) when they are feeling overwhelmed.

Created by author

Important Notes for Adults

  • There are no “good” or “bad” feelings, all feelings are important signals to us about what we are experiencing.
  • Regulation is important so our emotions don’t overtake us, and our behaviour does not cause harm to ourselves or others.
  • A chill zone or calming area should never be used as a threat, punishment, or rejection of a child.
  • It is intended to provide a calm, quiet space for a child to seek support and develop emotional self-regulation skills.

Items you might include in a calming area:

  • Sensory items and fidget tools
  • Stuffies, comfort items
  • Weighted blanket
  • Books, puzzles, lego
  • Ear protection (i.e. ear defenders or noise-cancelling headphones)
  • Soft music (or whatever music the child prefers)
  • Paper or a notebook for drawing or driving
  • A tent, or light blankets to make a fort
  • Mindfulness and/or meditation recordings (there are many available as free apps)
Photo by author

Adapting a regulation space for the classroom

As mentioned, a calming corner or chill zone should never be used as a threat, punishment, or rejection of a child. Students should never be forced to go there, nor sent there as a consequence or for a “time out”.

Ideally, this space should be available right in the classroom, so students do not have to leave to go there. This makes it easier for both staff and students, so children don’t have to ask permission to go, and it doesn’t feel like they’re being sent away because they’re upset.

Understanding that space and budgets are limited, the space should offer some privacy without isolating the child. One could put up a divider between the classroom and the calming area, as some children need a reduction in visual stimulation, and some want privacy when feeling dysregulated.

Photo credit: Crystal Radke

Classroom calming corners can include:

  • Comfortable seating such as a bean bag chair or cushion
  • A basket of sensory items, stress balls, and fidget tools
  • A basket of stuffed animals or comfort items
  • Visual sensory items such as a toy aquarium, child-safe “lava lamp”, or glitter wand
  • Books, puzzles, lego
  • Notebooks, paper, crayons, other art supplies
  • Images of the different ways our emotions can feel in our bodies (interoception)
  • A weighted blanket or lap desk
  • Ear protection (i.e. ear defenders or noise-cancelling headphones)

Teaching opportunities

Everyone experiences a wide range of emotions. Our feelings are not inherently good or bad, they are signals from our bodies communicating something important, therefore it’s important we learn to listen to our bodies and what they are telling us.

This is why it’s also imperative we do not inadvertently send the message to children that certain feelings are acceptable and others are not.

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Using regulation spaces effectively means:

  • Teaching your students about the space, about the different options available, and how to use them
  • Children cannot learn to effectively self-regulate until they’ve experienced co-regulation, and until they’ve been taught skills and strategies for doing so
  • Validating the child’s experiences
  • Helping the child notice and identify the feelings in their body associated with different emotions
  • Providing a wide range of tools and strategies so students can explore and experiment to find which ones work best for them
  • Offering empathy, comfort, and co-regulation, rather than punishment, consequences, and rejection
  • They are not a time-out space. An adult can offer, asking if the child would like to try one of the options available, but it must always be the student’s choice
  • Adults should role-model self-regulation strategies for the children, as this is one of the most effective ways children can learn how to use these skills for themselves
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Speaking of role-modelling

If you struggle with emotional regulation yourself (or even if you don’t, really), you can set up a calming area for yourself as well. I am not being patronizing, I’m serious. I have one for me at home.

If we were never taught these strategies growing up, how can we be expected to teach and role-model them for our children? It’s never too late to learn and practice new skills, and it genuinely feels better when we’re in tune with ourselves and our emotions are better regulated.

It’s worth the time and effort

As a parent, and someone who has worked in schools, I understand the limits on our time, resources, even our patience (we’re all human!). My consolation for the time and effort put into creating these spaces and practicing these strategies is they pay off big time, in many different ways.

When children learn how to recognize their emotions, they are more prepared to try various strategies for self-regulation. When they better understand their own bodies and feelings, they develop greater self-awareness and emotional intelligence.

Most importantly, when we all (adults, teens, children, everyone!) improve our emotional regulation skills, we also improve our mental health. Our children will feel better about themselves and each other.

© Jillian Enright, Neurodiversity MB

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Related Articles

Recognizing How Emotions Feel Physically In Our Bodies

Giving Your Child A Voice

The Best Books About Emotional Regulation

Exploring Emotional Co-Regulation

Keeping Our Cool With Our Loved Ones

Even more resources!

Check out my online shop for a downloadable package to help you get started with your very own chill zone in your home or classroom.

Published by Neurodiversity MB

Jillian has Child and Youth Work diploma as well as a BA in Psychology. Jillian worked on the front lines of Social Services agencies from 2003 - 2012. Jillian has taken numerous continuing education courses and has attended various workshops focused on supporting neurodiverse children, in particular children with ADHD.

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