Now that you’ve decided to try a Break Spot instead of using time-out’s, it’s time to set yours up. So where do you put it, and what do you put in it?
Break Spot – Where to Put It
I prefer a spot in the house that’s easily accessible and in plain sight. It will be easier to teach your child to use it if it’s not seen as a punishment to be there. (Unless your child is motivated by alone, quiet time – in that case being in an out-of-the-way place may be a plus) Also, you may need to be accessible to the rest of your family, or to a household responsibility, so having it near will help you out.
The Break Spot can be in a corner of a room, in a hallway outside a room, or tucked away behind or next to a piece of furniture.
What are the qualities of a Break Spot?
- It is comfortable (bean bag chair, pillows)
- It has teaching materials at ready access (visuals of emotions, pictures that teach calming techniques, choice cards, etc.)
- It has comforting toys (stuffed animals)
- It has items conducive to calming down (books, fidget toys, easy puzzles, etc.)
It should be comfortable for you, too, as for a while you’ll need to keep your child company and be available to teach until they can use the materials on their own.
What Do You Do in the Break Spot?
The Break Spot is a teaching tool for your child. This is where they practice self-calming techniques and everything in it should contribute to that learning. When they’re in an upset state they’re not available to listen or learn, so the first purpose of the Break Spot is just to help them calm.
You can sit with them while they’re crying/yelling, affirming their emotion until they’re ready to listen a little (“yes, you’re mad that your sister wouldn’t give you the toy you wanted and you didn’t know how to get it, so you hit her”)
- When they calm a bit you can practice with them how to take deep breaths using pictures or modeling blowing on hot soup or on a pretend dandelion
When they start to calm down, you can show them a picture of a child (or a photo of themselves) with a calm body and tell them that when their body looks like that, the two of you can talk.
As they’re coming out of that upset state you can either stay with them or ask whether they want to sit for a while and look at books or play with what’s there. Some children need more time than others to feel ready to talk about what made them upset.
When they’re ready (they can call to you or come to you) you and they can problem solve.
If another child was involved,
it’s a good time for the other child to say, “I don’t like it when you _________” (hit me, yelled at me, etc.). You may have to prompt them, depending on the age of the other child.
- You can help the errant child by paraphrasing for them what they wanted and how they tried to solve the problem (“You wanted your sister’s toy and you didn’t know how to get it, so you hit her)
- Then you can offer a suggestion or two and practice using one with the child in the Break Spot (“next time you could ____________. Let’s practice saying/doing that now.”)
Teaching About Feelings
- You can go over the emotion cards you have there and talk about feeling mad/sad/frustrated/disappointed – whatever is appropriate to the situation
- You can teach choice: “When you feel mad you can _______ or ________ or __________. In our family we don’t hit.” It helps if you have pictures of the appropriate choices when you name them. You are teaching that when you FEEL something you have a choice about what to DO with that feeling.
When to Use the Break Spot
First and foremost, you need to teach your child what the Break Spot is and model using it when all is calm and happy. Do this frequently. Practice deep breathing there, look at the pictures, name the emotions. Spend short periods of time there every day so that it becomes just another functional place in the home, and all of the tools and items there become familiar.
Once it’s familiar, you can use the Break Spot
- any time your child is ‘out of control’ and having a tantrum
- if they are hurting others or may hurt themselves
- any time your child is very upset and needs help expressing their emotions
How Do You Get Them to the Break Spot?
As gently as you can, lead the way to the Break Spot and explain where you’re going and why (“You are so upset/mad/disappointed. Let’s take a break.”)
You may have to take their hand, but if you move purposefully and with encouragement (and not with anger) it will be easier. If they won’t come willingly, go to the Break Spot yourself and ‘camp out’ there until they do come over. At this point you can probably use a break, yourself!
It may be helpful to model using the Break Spot yourself when you’re feeling upset. Really go overboard in your modeling and expressing your feeling: (“I’m so mad that ___________ happened! I’m going to take a break!”)
Stomp your way to the Break Spot. Hold and look at the picture of your emotion and narrate what you’re doing (“Boy, am I mad! This – the picture – is just how I feel! I’m going to take some good breaths so I can figure out what to do.”)
Children learn through observation and practice, so
- using it frequently
- being consistent in using the tools in the Break Spot
will all reinforce what you’re trying to teach: self-management and self-calming strategies.
These self-management and self-calming skills are some of the most beneficial skills you can teach your child. Giving them a vocabulary for their feelings and helping them understand that they can CHOOSE what to do with their feelings is a powerful gift that will last them their entire lives. This is powerful knowledge.
Children who haven’t learned these skills are less available for learning, and find it more difficult to maintain positive relationships.
Consider how many unhappy people there are in the world who don’t know that feelings and choices go hand in hand. When you start teaching social-emotional skills early you can ensure that your child won’t be one of them!
It’s definitely easier to use a time-out than to teach ‘taking a break.’ It takes longer. It means you are tied up while teaching your child. It means you have to practice a lot of patience.
But I hope you’ve been convinced that the results will be worth it in the long run.
Stay Safe, Be Well,