Emotionally-Friendly Spaces

How do you feel about ‘Time Out?’

In my experience, it’s always a controversial subject – an area where parents, teachers and child care professionals have strong beliefs and experiences, leaning firmly one way, or the other.

SuperNanny et al have led the way with clear boundaries and communication when it comes to discipline and behaviour. In a busy Early Years environment, specifically, with the enormously broad, mosaic-like range of children’s needs and social and emotional stages, approaches are imperative for a happy environment (for the children’s basic safety and the adults’ sanity!!)

But do you ever wonder… how does emotional regulation fit into Time Out programmes and policies?

From it’s core, the very purpose of Time Out, is very simply, to have the children experience a consequence after an ‘undesirable’ behaviour… is it not?

Here, there lies two complicit issues....




(I won’t even broach the issues around what is an ‘undesirable behaviour!’)

Here, we are revisiting the black and white days of Pavlov’s Dogs and Skinner’s rat experiments – simple reinforcement of good behaviour and punishment of bad behaviour. Trying to create aversion and negative feelings associated with the behaviour shown by young children.

In the World of Early Years, we know the act of understanding, labelling, distinguishing and expressing emotions is a very tricky business for our young children.

What comes with this support is careful observation, perfectly timed encouragement and intricately constructed questions for children to reflect and learn from. As an adult, we know that children have different paths and levels of emotional understanding, regulation and this makes emotional literacy a very complex developmental aspect to conquer and support.

We believe, passionately, that an enabled and nurturing environment, is key to helping children gain these stormy and unpredictable skills themselves, with time and a nurturing facilitator.

So, I wonder if you’ve heard of the concept of ‘Time AWAY’?

Carefully and sensitively constructed environments, which encourage children to take the time to figure out their emotions, help children to distinguish between different moods and impulses. Giving SPACE between feelings and actions… well, eventually!

As an adult, when we get bombarded by the world or other people, we can easily feel MAD, sad, scared, frustrated, annoyed… the list goes on.

What is our first, learned response in these situations? Do we snatch, lash out, shout, throw something?

Sure, of course we feel like it sometimes! But generally, we know to… walk away. Find an area to help reinstate our feeling of calm.

Depending on where we are, we walk away, may retreat to a safe place… a bedroom or a bathroom – somewhere to collect our feelings and compose ourselves. Think about our next move or simply transition from a state of overwhelm… to one of composure and having the ability to think about our actions.

We physically feel big emotions pass and subside and reasoning can find it’s way into our minds.

When looking at our provision, it really is imperative to consider how much space lends itself to a ‘safe’ place for children. Emotionally-Friendly Spaces.

Spaces which are small, inviting, cosy, warm and soft. Having a focus is a good idea – something which focusses the senses.

We have put together examples in our ‘Peace Pot’, including small cultural instruments and Sensory Rich items. Keep it neutral and free of bright colours. Not next to busy thoroughfares.

If you haven’t got a specific space, have limited space or may have a pack-away setting, consider investing in a hanging style den – blanket fort frames are a perfect way of cost effectively draping over some fabric to distinguish an area.

Anywhere a child knows they can retreat to, to gather their feelings, or perhaps block out the sounds and overwhelming aspects of a busy environment… you never know, you may be surprised by the children who do use it most frequently!

Coupled with sensitive adults, who encourage children to use the ‘peace den’ or ‘quiet area’ when they see emotions begin to bubble… a Time Away approach can be much more effective, and emotionally supportive, than a Time Out approach, when helping children gain the tricky skill of emotional regulation.


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