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In Uncertain Times, Turn to the Calming Corner

Much has changed over the past couple of weeks as a result of coronavirus, or COVID-19. Routines have been disrupted with the call to stay at home and closures of schools and businesses. Home is now a workspace, gym, restaurant, school, and daycare. A world with coronavirus is uncertain and comes with restrictions on what were once daily activities. All of this leads to heightened stress and anxiety, not only in adults but also for children.

“It is important to acknowledge the worry, anxiety, and stress that comes from uncertain times and a disruption in normal routines,” said Dr. Beth Shaw, a psychologist and Milton Hershey School’s Executive Director of Student Support Services. “While parents and guardians are establishing learning spaces in the home, adding a calming corner will help children learn how to handle the many emotions that come with this challenging time, and help them find their peace amongst a new normal that may seem chaotic to them.”

During the current coronavirus pandemic, nearly 500 pre-K through 12th-grade students from low-income backgrounds are living at MHS and continuing their virtual learning under the care and support of houseparent couples. As part of the school’s commitment to social and emotional learning and wellness, calming corners are used year-round in both classrooms and student homes to help students cope with and manage their emotions. While students navigate changes to the regular school year as a result of coronavirus, these spaces are working exactly as designed.

A Milton Hershey School students poses for a photo in the calming corner that his houseparents set up in the student home.What exactly is a calming corner? It is a quiet area of a room with soft furnishings and soothing materials to help children de-escalate or find calmness when they are upset. The corner is equipped with tools to help students self-regulate their emotions and build their own social-emotional skills.

“Our kids know that if their emotions are starting to feel ‘too big’ they are able to take a break and use the calming corner at any time,” said Terry and Sarah Donaher, houseparents for elementary-age boys. “They also know that using the calming corner is a positive choice that can help them feel more in control.”

At another student home, Jayda, a fourth-grader at MHS, goes to the calming corner when she needs to calm down and take a minute to find peace in herself. “When we are mad or angry, it is possible for you to take it out on others and we shouldn’t. We should go read something or do something that helps us calm down.”

A Milton Hershey School students relaxes in a calming corner in a student home on campus.

Here are some tips from MHS staff and students on how you can set up a calming corner space in your home:

Find a location

Ideally, this is a place that is simple, clutter-free, and not already being repurposed for school or work-related activities. This spot should be quiet and away from distractions and crowded spaces in the home, but also in a spot where adults can supervise and be available.

Decorate the space

Keeping the calming corner light and inspirational will help overcome a negative mindset. The whole family can decorate posters with words of encouragement. A comfortable chair with blankets and pillows will also make the special place a safe haven.

Provide the right activities and resources

The calming corner is a time to refresh and not be overstimulated by toys and distractions. Examples of calming activities include coloring pages and crayons, a journal to document thoughts and feelings, and sensory materials such as stress balls, play dough, and fidget spinners. There can also be signs offering breathing techniques and tips for handling big emotions or a space for yoga stretches.

Teach about the purpose

The calming corner is not a “time-out” location. Make sure kids understand the goal of the calming corner and how to use it to get their emotions in check until they are ready to resume their normal activity.

Read More Stories on the MHS Coronavirus Response

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