All learning occurs in the higher centers of the brain. Emotional upset —which is often acted out through behaviors like crying, hiding, yelling, whining, stomping and hitting — is an indicator that a child is in a lower brain state. If our goal is for children to learn, we must help them manage their emotions first.

What is the Safe Place?

The Safe Place is a self-regulation center from Conscious Discipline that children use in the classroom or at home in order to recognize their upset and then calm themselves. Distance Learning can be challenging; a Safe Place can help children notice, honor and manage their emotions so they can return to a learning brain state (an Executive State).

Conscious Discipline provides dozens of resources explaining the importance of a Safe Place and how to implement one. Check out the many podcasts, webinars and printables listed at the end of this article for additional support.

How to Create a Portable Safe Place Kit for Distance Learning

Students who are learning virtually have the same need for a Safe Place as those in a traditional classroom. A portable Safe Place kit is a helpful way to bring active calming basics into students’ home learning spaces. At minimum, a portable Safe Place kit includes a representation of Conscious Discipline’s S.T.A.R., Pretzel, Drain and Balloon active calming activities (via the Active Calming Icons free printable, the Safe Place Mat, etc.) and a few calming manipulatives (like a small stuffed animal, stress ball, notepad, sand toy, etc.).

Teachers can assemble Safe Place kits for students utilizing items from dollar stores or bulk sellers online for $2-4 per student. To do this, fill a hard plastic pencil box with 2-4 items you think will help students self-calm (see the list below for ideas) and then Velcro the laminated active calming icons to the inside of the lid.

Help Kids Calm with a Portable Safe Place for Distance Learning Safe Place Portable Kit

Parents can provide a similar kit assembled from items found in their homes. A hard plastic pencil case is useful for corralling these items, but any small box or bag would work. Parents might also choose to invest in tools like the I Choose Self-Control Board, the Safe Place Mat or the Feeling Buddies Toolkit.

How to Use the Portable Safe Place Kit

In order for a Safe Place kit to be helpful, adults must teach children how and when to use it. Teachers would teach the Safe Place use just as they would teach a learning center or academic skill: with demonstration, support activities and lots of practice. (Reading Shubert is a S.T.A.R. or Sophie is a S.T.A.R. can help!) Parents would do the same, and then use the kit with their children during actual moments of upset. After ample practice together, children will begin to use the Safe Place more independently.

During upset, children may recognize that the Safe Place would be helpful or an adult might suggest it. Adults can encourage children to use the Safe Place kit by using a phrase like, “Breathe with me. (Take a breath.) You seem __(name the feeling)__. See if there’s something in your Safe Place Kit that would help you become calm.” Children would then use the tools in their kits to guide them in regulating their emotions. Three deep belly breaths help shut off the stress response in the body, so deep breathing is a top priority! The active calming icons in the kit provide breathing strategies, while the manipulatives provide additional tactile support and mental relief as children continue to self-regulate.

It is helpful to set clear parameters and procedures for Safe Place use ahead of time, keeping in mind children’s temperament and the needs of other learners/workers in the home. Depending on their level of upset and general temperament, some students will be able to conduct the active calming activities in the kit from their seats during DL. Others will find it helpful to move away from their screen, but remain where they can see their class. (Sitting or lying on the floor while calming are helpful options for these students.) Some students will need to step away from their screens, but remain within earshot as they calm. Others will need to step away from school entirely, and may require significant adult help in order to self-regulate. Remember, a child cannot learn effectively while upset. The time we spend helping students learn to self-regulate is essential to their success in school, even when it means they are missing class time.

Self-regulation is a constant effort. A Safe Place is only helpful if children use it, so guide them to use their portable Safe Place kits both in and out of DL. Practice the active calming strategies together during times of calm so children can access these skills better during times of upset. Model the breathing activities and other strategies yourself when you are upset. DL provides many opportunities for all involved to calm. Consistent use of a Safe Place while reaffirming to ourselves and our students, “Breathe with me. You can handle this,” can help!

Additional Information About the Safe Place:

Safe Place Printables from Conscious Discipline:

Portable Safe Place Tools from Conscious Discipline:

Portable Safe Place Kit Items from Dollar Stores and Bulk Retailers Online:

  • Pencil boxes
  • Finger puppets
  • Hand cream— add stickers to make “Calming Cream” and “Cranky Cream”
  • Fidgets
  • Stress balls / Koosh balls
  • Bubble wrap
  • Squishy balls
  • DIY calm down bottles (use mini water bottles instead of Voss)
  • Pinwheels
  • Plastic leis
  • Mini slinky
  • Foam hair curlers
  • Ice compresses
  • Stretch animals
  • Pop beads
  • Car wash mitts
  • Small stuffed animals