Your Official Guide to Creating a Trauma Supportive Cool Down Space
There’s a reason the name of my business is Safe Space Teaching. It’s not just because I love alliteration, although that’s wholeheartedly true. It’s really because when I sat down to reflect on my WHY of teaching and creating this business, it all went back to safe spaces.
When I go home each night from my classroom, or when I’m working on content and resources for SST, I always revert back to this foundational question: Am I creating a safe space for students?
It seems pretty basic, and it is, but that simple question is the basis for all of my teachings. It’s what I train my team on and what I preach. At the end of the day, if you can go to sleep feeling confident you offered a student with trauma history a safe space, you’ve done good.
In the spirit of this foundation, I wanted to bring you my official guide to creating such a safe space. Now, my definition of a safe space is an environment that does the following:
For me, this safe space is my classroom, as well as a designated “cool down” area. I truly believe your classroom needs to have a foundation of supports and systems that create those same three outcomes. However, it’s important that we have a smaller, more immediate space for when students are dysregulated and need greater support.
Use the following guidelines to craft your safe space in your classroom, space, corner, whatever your educational environment looks like.
Put your spin on these principles and get creative!
Guidelines for Regulation & Emotional Release
Feeling of safety
-Reduce peer interaction as best you can
-Have staff check in with students regularly and honor whether they want to remain alone or if they need support. (you’ll have to figure out a plan for students that misuse this space, as well)
-Take the lead of student with verbal and nonverbal communication-”read the room”
-Remind student this is a safe space and you are a trusted adult that will continue to keep them safe
-Teach other students what to do when a student uses this space.
-Allow for student to explore different paths to regulation and see what works for them.
-Allow students to vent without repercussions-that means allowing them to swear, tell you they hate the school and the teacher without your response.
-Allow for proprioceptive input for sensory seekers: joint compressions, teach Progressive Muscle Relaxation for release of physical tension, provide papers for ripping, things to destroy, theraputty, etc.
Guidelines for Physical Space
Reduce environmental stimuli
-Don’t have tons of posters on the wall
-Make sure it’s as quiet as you can make it
-Folder with targeted regulation materials
-Personal items of comfort, use of personal regulation material from SEL curriculum
Provide multi-sensory supports
-Different textures, calming music, etc.
-Have exercises available for heavy work
Ways to get anger/frustration out
-Provide an adult/counselor if the student wants to talk
-Have writing material & paper available for students to draw or write.
Guidelines for Public Safe Spaces
Provide more independent resources and regulation tools (students may be resistant to co-regulation when peers are around)
If you have a larger space you could create a labyrinth or a meditation spot-older students wouldn’t necessarily know it’s for regulating, they may just see it as an activity.
Use grounding techniques through writing or tech: 5 things you see, 4 things you hear, etc.
For students that come frequently you could have hats, or a heavy sweater that belongs to the student for them to use to regulate.
Make the space enticing and “cool” for older students with a funky chair (try Facebook Marketplace) or pillows/meditation cushions-I’ve used things from 5 Below a bunch!
Teach how and when to use. Make sure your students students when, where, how, and how not, to use this space.
Create verbal and non-verbal communication around its use
Create a system & plan for time, repetition, and over-use
Never change the rules without explicitly teaching them-students should know exactly what to expect
I hope you use the guidelines above as a springboard for your own creative ideas. Remember the most important aspects of a cool down space. regulation, emotional release, and trust building. As you’re brainstorming your ideas, ask yourself if the item, system, activity you want to include:
-Builds trust in your students, your staff, and your environment
If the answer is yes, you’re in good shape! Now, go on and create a safe environment for your students.
If you’re looking for a quick win in de-escalating students in crisis, grab my FREE E-Book here. In it, I teach you my top 3 tried and tested strategies for regulating students!