Safe Place Helps Child Calm Big Feelings

Child and Teacher Learn to Regulate Feelings

It was a 75-degree day and 4-year-old Jordan was refusing to join his classmates on the playground  without the pair of thick, blue mittens he had brought from home. After a few minutes of fussing, his teacher gave in and Jordan was allowed to wear the mittens.

On the playground, he began pushing his hands in faces and slapping several children. Another teacher took the mittens away from him. When this happened, Jordan immediately screamed as loud as he could and began kicking everything in sight.

Just like positive, nurturing experiences can prepare children for success, traumatic experiences can prevent children from taking full advantage of the social, emotional and cognitive development opportunities that exist during the early years.

That’s why TFC is working to create create trauma-informed child care settings that support resilience, proactively address childhood trauma and react to behavior issues in a positive manner.

Thankfully, one of the teachers on the playground with Jordan, Ms. S, had received coaching from TFC on utilizing on addressing behavior issues and had implemented a “safe place” in her classroom — this is an area where children can go to gain their composure and their change their “inner state” from upset to peaceful.

A TFC early childhood mental health (ECMH) professional who was on-site watched as Ms. S observed the situation. She noticed that she took a couple deep breaths before reacting, from training and coaching sessions Ms. S knew the best way to react to Jordan’s behavior was to address him in a calm and soothing manner. She spoke softly and encouraged Jordan to go with her to her “safe place”.

Back in the classroom, in the “safe place” Ms. S and Jordan did the following:

  • They used breathing exercises to calm down,
  • Once Jordan had calmed down, they discussed how he felt when his mittens were taken away. Using dolls that represent different feelings, he chose the one with an angry face and said, “I felt angry!”
  • Together, they came to a solution that the mittens would go into his cubby, where they would be safe until he could take them home.

Speaking with the ECMH professional after the incident Ms. S reflected that before her training from TFC, she might have yelled at Jordan when he was out of control and her actions would have made his situation worse.  She said that her new skill sets allow her to maintain her composure and promote self-regulation, not only for this child, but for all of the children in her classroom.

Shortly after the incident, Jordan’s teacher began working with Ms. S and TFC to create a “safe place” in her classroom, and in a few short week, it had proved to be a valuable tool for Jordan to regulate his emotions and prevent serious behavior issues.

Name and details in this story may have been changed.