Saturday, November 14, 2015

Supporting Self-Regulation: Using a Cool Down Towel

The safe place has always been a tough sell for the students who need it the most.  As the saying goes, what we need the most we resist the most.  

In some cases, students are unaware that they need it, while in other situations when we suggest it, they have a hard time getting there and/or taking our advice.  To support these students, I suggest offering them the choice of a cool down towel. 

A cool down towel can be made with any beach or bath towel, so you can adapt it to the students' special interests, or favorite colors and then incorporate choice.  For example my staff use the phrase, "your body is not calm and quiet let's take a break." Then we offer them a cool down towel by sharing the basket towels with them . . .

Or by saying something like "would you like the Toy Story towel or the Star towel?" 

This gives them some choice so they don't have to give all their power away in a moment when they are already feeling powerless.  Notice that the basket has the phrase we say right on it so all staff can use the same language consistently.  We say it in a calm, caring and non-threatening manner out of respect for the student and to support them in not escalating further.  If needed, we state the choices over and over again in the same calm tone using the parroting technique that we learned through Conscious Discipline.

Next we designate a place for them to sit on their calm down towel or offer them two choices we are okay with, "would you like to cool down in in the library center or by the window?"  Again giving choices, but in a way that we can insure the safety of the whole class. The two choices or designated spot will be a place where other students are not present in that moment and places the child can get to pretty easily as we know in a moment of upset if we ask them to go across the room to a specific place they may hit or throw anything in their path or simply resist the transition all together. 

Think about a time when you were upset, angry or sad, did you go to a place that was designated for you or did you go to the place that felt good in that moment... your car, the hallway, the bathroom or a quiet place in the room were no one was.  It is important to take cues from the student and observe for what might feel best for them in that moment as they may not be able to make those decisions on in their own.  For example, I had a little guy a few years back that would always crawl into a corner beside the art easel.  This space was a way from his peers and felt safe to him so that is where his cool down towel went. 

Once a student has found their space in the moment of upset, they can use the expectations that have been ironed on the towel to support them in using the towel appropriately.  If you are interested in making your own cool down towels click here to get the images. All you have to do is print them on fabric paper and iron them on your beach and/or bath towels! 

NOTE: It is not as much about the space, whether it be a cool down towel, a Safe Place or break area, as it is about teaching students how to use the space.  Just like any other space in the classroom, you must have expectations that both students and staff know and you must teach those when the student is a calm state.  In some situations, you may model their use by using one yourself, or share a video model of how to use them.  

I also iron on an aided language board to the cool down towel:

Just like any other center, students need a way to communicate their wants and needs.  For example, by using the communication board on the towel, students can communicate:  "I'm not ready" "I need a hug" or "I need help." This is especially important for students who are non-verbal or have limited language, however in a moment of upset, we know that all children are less likely to use their words or use them appropriately because they can't access them in that moment.  Think about the last time you were really, really angry, did you use your words appropriately, or did you scream and curse? 

By offering children the words visually, they can express their needs in an appropriate way.  Remember: ALL BEHAVIOR IS COMMUNICATION!  When a child doesn't have the words to say "I feel angry" or "I need help!"  They may communicate those messages by throwing things, tearing down posters in the safe place, or screaming at the top of their lungs.  Yep!  You guessed it, our safe place also has an aided language board and expectations posted:

I think the most powerful words we have to offer children in the moment of rage and upset are "I AM NOT READY!"  I have written two posts prior about this very concept however I do want to mention here that every student's Cycle of Escalation is different and sometimes a student who appears very calm is not yet calm enough to return to classroom activities.  If we ask them to rejoin the group from their cool down towel and they are not ready but have no way to communicate "I am not ready,"  we can restart the cycle making the child more angry and frustrated than before.   To learn more about the Cycle of Escalation, I suggest Colvin and Scott's book Managing the Cycle of Acting Out Behavior in the Classroom.

I want to stress one more point, before I sign off, a student who is upset, whether they are using a Safe Place, break area or cool down towel, needs OUR HELP!  We must stay with them through the process and support them with self-regulation.  When a student is upset, they may be developmentally at the level of a baby or infant, and where do babies and infants go when they need help to self-regulating, they go to the lap or chest of someone who cares greatly for them, someone who is going to make it feel all better!  Now that being said this may look different depending on the age of the child and the situation but in a lot of situations students are looking to us to be calm so they can gain their own calmness.  In the words of Dr. Becky Bailey, this is called downloading calm.  For more information on how to do this I  recommend you check out Dr. Becky Bailey's work at  Her work has laid the foundation for me, my staff and my students, to be more successful. 

Until Next Time, Best Wishes,


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