For those with an autistic child, it is a parent’s nightmare to face a tantrum with no way to calm them down. That is why it is important to have a calming room or area set aside for your child that helps ease distress before a tantrum starts, or to send them to in order to ease the distress. Here are three versions of a calming room you can create to help when your child is about to have a tantrum.
The HUG room
The hug room is popular for calming any child down, especially one on the spectrum. The hug room needs to have calming items that provide a sense of security and warmth, and a cocoon-like hug. In this room, provide a weighted blanket or snug embracing vest (in case your child won’t lay down). Both of these are like bear hugs, which can be comforting and calming for children with autism. Another great item to have in this space is a crash pad (used by many therapists and parents in combination with a weighted blanket), or a large or stuffed animal or pillow that the child can hold on to or hug. You want to make sure the animal or pillow does not have parts that can be ripped off and chewed on or cause damage in another way. You’ll also want all other items to be soft and safe to throw to protect the room or others in case your child does have a full-blown tantrum.
The SOOTHING SOUNDS & SCENTS room
One thing that can work very well for some children, especially with tantrums brought on by overstimulation, is a room with soothing sensory experiences. In this room, block or mute outside sounds–TVs, stereos, and people walking or talking near the room so it’s as quiet as possible. Once your child is in the soothing sounds room, you’ll need to have a place for them to relax or lay down. You can use a bed, a crash mat, or something else they can fall asleep on or even just sit on with their eyes closed. Silence or a soft gentle background ‘hum’ or soothing sound helps, such as from meditation CDs, music or birds or flowing water.
You can also try products like the Twilight Turtle which has soothing sounds and even includes a light show of constellations (also perfect for the 3rd room, below). Noise blocking earmuffs and headphones make great additions for this room if your child needs to be removed from all noises. These also provide a kind if ‘hug.’ You can combine them with a scent or scented toy or stuffed animals to calm your child. Think about little pillows stuffed with lavender flowers, or an air freshener they like.
The VISUALLY CALMING room
For a visually calming room, remove overly bright colors and small points like those from a static night-light that plugs into the wall. Instead, find something like the Tranquil Turtle above or even liquid motion lamps or light projectors with calming colors and patterns. You can also try adding black out curtains on the windows to block bright sunlight–the point is to make light easy on their eyes. Darkness may help the lights do a better job.
The most important thing when creating a calming room is to make sure it meets the needs of your child. Include features that are most effective for him or her. Don’t forget to exclude or remove anything that is easily thrown or could hurt your child or others or cause damage to your house.
Addendum: I’ve seen these other things used to calm people to prevent overstimulation or anxiety. The first two were in a psychiatric unit for calming mental patients.
A bubbling aquarium, or a digital aquarium on a computer monitor
A video image of a burning log in a fireplace or the rippling surface of water
A small motion toy powered by a solar cell
A pendulum clock
Have you discovered something that works for your child? Please share.
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If you have lost control of your troubled child and your household (most of us have), you know how hard it is to get things back on track. This is especially for following house rules. Each time you try to enforce a rule, it’s ignored, or your child throws a huge tantrum, and you give in rather than expend more of your precious energy. Who wants to invite another backlash? Who wouldn’t give up, and choose the lesser of two bad options by allowing them to get their way?
A powerful tantrum is a good thing… only if you’re holding the line. It’s evidence that you are regaining authority.
This seems counterintuitive, but the moreyour child fights back, the more power they lose, and the more you recover your authority. It is normal to fight back harder and harder against rules and boundaries, then have an over-the-top tantrum. It’s a psychological response that psychologists call an “extinction burst.” It means the original behavior goes extinct and behavior improves thereafter. It has been measured through behavioral observations of people of all ages and has nothing to do with troubled behavior. The term “extinction burst” is even used by dog and horse trainers to describe a behavioral change in training.
It goes like this: parents set a rule and start firmly enforcing it, and one of two things happen: 1) a huge tantrum, or 2) things are OK for a little while, and then tantrums start again. If you can hold the line, psychological studies show that when massive tantrums fade, the extinction burst peaks. They give up their own power and change their behavior. Look at this diagram: The vertical scale indicates level of bad behavior. When a rule is firmly enforced (intervention), the tantrum peaks then it falls off quickly.
If you can stick it out through that huge tantrum, you will see fewer tantrums over time. It works, but one must be like a rock and have support when The Big One happens. But be prepared, you might need to face several extinction bursts. Little by little, simple rules will be followed, or they’ll be followed most of the time (you will always be tested). But by this point, enforcement becomes easier.
Plan for major tantrums ahead of time and recruit help for holding a firm protective wall.
For explosive and aggressive children, it can be scary or dangerous to be on the receiving end because you know about the potential for violence and harm. Prepare family members and others, and explain how the tantrum will be handled and how everyone will be kept safe.
Rules for house rules:
Run a tight ship at home, but only have a few hard-and-fast rules, maybe 2 or 3, to save your energy. Holding fast on enforcement is draining. Pick the rules carefully because they need to make sense and feel fair to everyone. Rules should also consider safety and family wellbeing, examples: we will eat every dinner together as a family; curfew is 8 pm; if there is any outburst, the person must stay in their room for 15 minutes, then they can come out, etc.
You may be surprised how relieved everyone will be after living through chaos for so long! They will be thankful someone is finally in charge instead of the troubled child. When I put on my armor and set about getting my power back, it was exhausting and very stressful, but consistent order brought a sense of security and safety. Use common sense and be flexible, set aside some rules temporarily if your child is in crisis or the family is too stressed at the moment. Be very strict on only a few critical things, for example: have zero tolerance for violence against others and alcohol and drug use.
You earn more respect when you are in control and better protect everyone’s peace of mind.
You are the king or queen of your home, it is not a democracy. Make reasonable and fair rules, enforce the rules with an iron hand at first, and then relax bit by bit, and live in a peaceable kingdom (with problems you can handle).