3 Simple Tips to Manage Challenging Students - Calm Down Station

This post is the last in my series on 3 simple tips to help manage difficult students.  You can catch up on the original post here and read in detail about Tip #1 here and Tip #2 here.  In this post, I'm going to explain tip #3 and how I give all of my students a safe, quiet place to calm down whenever they need a break.  Read to the end to grab my FREE Managing Feelings Poster Set!

Over my 14+ years of teaching, I've noticed that more and more students come to school unable to self-regulate their feelings and emotions.  My school has been implementing trauma-sensitive training to make our school a safe place for students - academically, physically, socially, and emotionally.  A trauma-sensitive approach is beneficial for ALL students.  Many children who have experienced trauma have difficulty managing their emotions and can react in an extreme way to a minor difficulty. These types of students are usually on the radar of a counselor or administrator but there are ways to help students learn about their emotions and teach them strategies to cope with them.

To help students understand and manage their emotions, I've set up a "Calm Down Station" in my classroom.  I have a desk in a corner of the room. At the desk, I keep a stash of tactile toys that students can use to help alleviate stress, anger, or frustration.  I keep a small box that contains things such as a bean bag, modeling clay, pattern blocks, and foam dice.  I carefully select items that are soft and won't create much noise.  At the Calm Down Station, I also have a cup of colored pencils and an assortment of paper and coloring pages, a mirror, small toys, and a glitter wand.

For several days we discuss as a class how at different times, different people have a range of feelings and emotions.  We talk about positive and negative feelings and how these feelings can impact our lives in positive and negative ways. 


Image of a poster with words describing negative feelings a child might have

In groups, I have my students discuss different feelings and what might cause them  Maybe we get grumpy when we are hungry.  I am worried because my puppy is sick. I am overexcited because I'm going to the water park after school today. I am disappointed because I didn't do well on the test.  We then talk about how these feelings might affect behavior at school.  We've all had situations where we have been negative feelings and couldn't concentrate on a task that needed to be done. We might be really worried about something and spend time thinking about the worry and not focusing on learning. Or we may be so angry about something that we can't sit still and just want to scream. These feelings are OK and normal and valid.  Sometimes though, it can be difficult to manage those feelings and it can affect learning or behavior at school.  


Image of cards with calming strategies for children

Next, students discuss in groups different strategies they can use to calm down so that they can focus on school. We share the strategies discussed as a whole class and then I share some of my favorite strategies. We talk about how different strategies work for different people and for different feelings.  As a class, we come up with procedures and expectations for using the Calm Down Station area.  We create an anchor chart and I hang it on the side of the carrel.  My students are free to use the station when needed.  I monitor the time they spend there and will check in with them after a short time (after a few minutes when we first start using the station) to make sure that they are ok and are focusing on using a strategy to refocus so that they can come back to learning as quickly as possible.  At times, I have had children linger there and I will quietly tell them that they have just a few more minutes and then need to get back to work.  I have also had students who could not calm down and this may require a private discussion with me, parent contact, or a meeting with a guidance counselor.


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At the Calm Down Station, I also keep a stack of reflection forms.  Students are encouraged to fill one out before they head back to class. Students keep their completed reflection forms in their folders so that students can monitor the frequency of certain emotions and possible triggers as well as identify strategies that help them manage those emotions.  I make a note of which students have visited the Calm Down Station and make sure I touch base with them during a quiet time to have a brief chat of what happened and if a strategy helped.  This also helps me identify patterns to be proactive and better understand my students' needs.

Teaching students self-control can be a challenging process that takes time and patience for teachers and students.  A Calm Down station in your classroom can be an easy way to give students a safe place to refocus and to learn and practice strategies to help manage their emotions.

I have created a Calm Down Station resource for my safe zone.  I keep a set of "I am Feeling" cards on a binder ring so that students can flip through the pictures and definitions to help identify what they are feeling.  I also have a set of "Calm Down Strategy" cards with different strategies for students to try. If you would like to use the Calm Down Feeling Cards, Strategy Cards, and Reflection forms that I have created, you can find my resource on Teachers Pay Teachers, here. or click the image below.

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