We’ve all been there. After wrapping up a fun art project, our students have gathered around the carpet for the next lesson, with listening ears on and calm bodies engaged. But one learner didn’t have enough time to finish their project and is experiencing some pretty big feelings.
It’s not uncommon for a student’s unresolved feelings to impact their mood, behavior, and actions, especially when their lived experiences are taken into account. Not to mention, elementary school students are still learning about emotional identification and discovering what coping methods work best for them. When diffusing students' elevated emotions, it can be challenging for educators to provide individual attention in a collective, classroom setting, especially when dysregulation presents itself in a myriad of ways.
From a trauma-informed perspective, we know that children who have experienced distress in their lives are more likely to be fixated on one or more of the response modes: Fight, Flight, Freeze, or Fawn. Unfortunately, these responses narrow a child’s ability to process information or access the rational parts of their brain. Despite best efforts, teachers are sometimes unable to lower a student’s elevated response and must introduce the student to a new environment to help them regain composure.
Luckily, young children can develop a social-emotional skill set to help them quiet their bodies and minds in emotionally overwhelming moments. A designated classroom Comfort Corner is a great way to help students gain these skills, as they learn to identify and regulate their emotions. A Comfort Corner is a safe space that offers a variety of tools and visuals to help students not only explore coping methods but also practice self-regulation in ways that work best for their specific needs. Comfort Corners support students with big feelings by promoting coping strategies like mindfulness and breathing activities, sensory items, as well as movement and brain breaks.
The therapeutic focus of the Comfort Corner is simple: removing stimuli helps students refocus their minds in moments of overwhelm, enabling them to return to learning. This self-regulation practice is an SEL strategy that also strengthens a student’s resilience, confidence and self-management skills—all important additions to an emotional toolbox.
What’s equally important is how the implementation of a Comfort Corner helps teachers deviate from a discipline lens and instead embrace the student’s current emotional capacity with empathy and understanding. We know, firsthand, that children feel supported in managing their emotions when their feelings are met with compassion and messages of acceptance.
Thus, our level of understanding is the key to helping our young learners successfully employ regulation strategies in and out of the classroom.