Send anyone this way to read along, but for permission to reprint, please contact Gail.
© Gail Underwood Parker

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Focus on Fostering: Explosive or Calm?

I live near the ocean and as a child spent some time each summer by the ocean.  Somehow over the years, I began to equate watching the water [especially waves] with calm.  If I am having a terrible day, the most healing place to go is to sit [in my car if it is December!] by the ocean and watch the waves for even just 5 minutes.  Somehow as each wave recedes it takes away some of my anger and frustration, and as each fresh wave comes in it brings me a bit of resilience and renewal. 

Perhaps because of that I came to believe that everyone needs a calm spot. As a foster parent my household needed this even more than a more typical home. This concept has helped me with some of the kids who tend to be explosive, or defensive, or any of the other types of high emotion that seem to be beyond their ability to control. 

What is a Calm Spot?
     I have asked each of my kiddos to chose a Calm Spot.  They can try out different ones to find the best.  Sometimes they need to change their spot. What is a calm spot?  I tell them it is a place they can go when they feel like their insides are going too fast, their feelings are going to explode, etc. It should be a place where they can calm themselves down and be safe until they do.  A corner, A cushion, A stairway, Even an open closet.Let them choose.

How do you set up a Calm Spot?
     Some of my kids even have a Calm Box in their Calm Spot.  One child's calm box has clay for pounding or stretching, a coloring book and crayons, a maze book and pen, kleenex, and scrap paper for ripping or scrunching....all needed for different stages of calming down. [My older kids put in a cheap CD player with a favorite CD.] 
     It is important that the child help pick the spot and the items for the box and that you do it at a time when all is well with the child.  That's when you explain that when he needs to calm down he can go to his spot and use her box until he feels calm or until she thinks she can come back and be ok. They can ask to use the calm spot if they think they need it.  Tell them that if you are watching them and think that maybe they need it you might ask them if they need it. They may say no once.  But if in a few minutes you see that they still need it, you, as the grownup in charge, might insist that they spend at least some time in their calm spot.

How do you use a Calm Spot?
      When a child begins to seem out of control, you use a very calm, matter-if-fact tone and ask them if s/he would like to use their Calm Spot for a few minutes. If s/he does great.  When s/he comes back, ask "Did your Calm Spot help?" "Are your ready to xxx now?" and praise them for using their calm spot!!
      If they choose not to go to their calm spot, say something like "That's fine. If you can calm down by yourself, great. But if you change your mind, go ahead and use your calm spot if you need to."If they calm down... celebrate their success.  If they don't after a bit, or if things escalate, then explain that you insist that they go to their Calm Spot for a few minutes to get back in control of their feelings. Still stay calm.  Still be matter-of-fact rather than punitive.  Re-state that when you pick him up and move her to a quiet spot it isn't a punishment, it's because you understand s/he needs some time and space to calm down. If your attitude or words are punitive, they will view it as punishment.  It is up to you to always treat it as an opportunity for them to regain the control they need. The message they get is that you believe they can control their feelings, given the time, space, and support they need.  A powerful message.  

Me too
Sometimes when they have done something that really upsets me, I will tell them [often as I help them to their Calm Spot, that I need to calm down too. That I am going to MY Calm Spot. I go to a quiet place in the house [assuming I can find one!] and do something to calm myself, whether calling a friend, reading a meditation, listening to music, etc.

Everyone needs a Calm Spot.  

Image credits:,,,


  1. I would love for you to add this post in this weeks blog hop on emotions. This is really good.

  2. Thanks Penny.. I finally figured out how to join the hop! Glad you enjoyed this... did you see my blog on creating and using personalized photo mood thermometers? It sometimes helps kids [and parents] recognize and label the early stages of explosions to come so a calm spot can be used to head an explosion off, not just to calm one down. Check it out!

  3. This is good information. We have learned from working in foster care that children really do need a spot where they can cool down, think, decompress, and work through their emotions. Children go through a process of emotional thinking just like we do as adults.