I was recently asked by an elementary school principal to help his teachers create Peace Corners in their classrooms. This entire district had recently undergone training in trauma-informed practices, and there was a new awareness that many children need extra help self-regulating. He came to me with a strong desire to support them, and to move away from the discipline-first paradigm.
When I spoke to the teaching staff, I explained the purpose of a Peace Corner: to give a child who’s in fight-or-flight mode a break, and allow them to take care of themselves—hopefully heading off a negative choice they might make in behavior or speech, or simply helping them re-focus on their work and on being a productive member of the group. It helps them develop self-awareness—the ability to recognize that they’re feeling triggered or upset—and take critical steps toward self-care.
A few key elements of a Peace Corner:
——It’s a small, defined space, ideally with some element of privacy (you can adjust bookcases or furniture to create a slightly separate space—just imagine you’re a kid making a fort! It doesn’t need to be big. Maybe it has its own small rug, or a little table and chair.)
—It’s uncluttered, soft, and as quiet as possible, to minimize stimulation
—It includes an element of choice (The first step to self-regulation is self-awareness. If we’re asking kids to become aware of and name their emotions so they can regulate them, we should also give them a choice on how to take care of themselves. Kids generally know what they need. Try not to dictate what they should do in the Peace Corner.)
From a wonderful article here by Kelli Love on Peace Corners, here’s a list of possible items to include:
1. Squishy "stress" ball
2. Glitter ball or make your own glitter jar
3. Emotional feelings sheet to help identify and record emotions
4. Mirror to help identify emotions
5. Blank paper, pens, and crayons to draw emotions, write a letter, or to reflect on strategies used in the peace corner
6. Hoberman, breathing sphere
7. A soft, small blanket or even a weighted blanket for sensory reasons could be great
Some appropriate books would also work well, such as I Am Peace by Susan Verde, my book Breathe Like a Bear, or Yoga and Mindfulness Practices for Children Activity and Coloring Book, by Jennifer Cohen Harper and illustrated by Karen Gilmour
Now to be clear: there is some ramp-up involved. You’ll need to practice the available activities in the Peace Corner, and set clear boundaries around the frequency and length of its use (a sand timer can be very helpful here). Some teachers also have a non-verbal signal with students who request a Peace Corner visit. Be patient—it will take a little time for its novelty to wear off, and for everyone to get used to using it for its intended purpose. But supporting a child’s ability to calm, soothe, and control themselves is giving them an incredibly valuable gift, and one that will serve them well throughout their lives.