Calm Corner, Calm Kids: Teaching Emotional Regulation with Terra LaRock

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Calm Corner, Calm Kids: Teaching Emotional Regulation with Terra LaRock

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Lately many parents have been spending more time at home with their kids, not only due to summer vacation, but also because regulations in the U.S. continue to encourage both children and parents to stay home as much as possible. With the new school year around the corner, many families still don’t know if schools will open at all this year. So many unknowns can cause stress for children and their families.

Terra LaRock, psychologist and mindful parenting expert of Mindful Mamas, shares some of her favorite techniques for teaching the all-important skills of identifying emotions, learning to self-regulate, and working through impulse control and conflict resolution in positive ways that build confidence and awareness in both children and their parents. Combining the Fussy Temper Comfort ritual with exercises such as the calm corner and “double dipping,” can help your children build their emotional toolkit, resulting in greater feelings of safety and communication.

Below is a transcript of the episode, modified for your reading pleasure. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, see the links at the bottom of this post.

Full Episode Transcript

Agatha Luczo: Hi, I'm Agatha Luczo, mother of four. 

[00:00:08] Dr. Greene: And I'm Alan Greene, pediatrician. 

[00:00:10] Agatha Luczo: Welcome to Bambini Fortuna's podcast, Mom driven 

[00:00:13] Dr. Greene: Dr. Aligned. So today as we're recording this, we're now having about 70,000 new cases a day of COVID in the United States.  And to put that into perspective, the entire Wuhan Crisis in China was 70,000 cases.

[00:00:29] So we're having about one Wuhan a day in the United States right now. 

[00:00:33] Agatha Luczo: That's stressful. It's no wonder our kids are having a lot of big emotions. I think that one big feeling is uncertainty. And I think it's a very new feeling that even us as parents and children are feeling. No one knows what the future is going to look like.

[00:00:49] And I think all we can do as parents is to be sure to create a safe and loving environment, to make them feel secure during these uncertain times. 

[00:00:57] Dr. Greene: I think that's so important and safe and loving, but also to know that they're seen and heard in whatever it is that they're experiencing. And it's not just the kids, it's us too.

[00:01:08] Agatha Luczo: Yes.  I can completely relate. But today we're going to be focusing on our little babies.  So, let's get started with our guest. Terra LaRock is a psychologist and the CEO and Founder of Mindful Mama's Community and the App.  And I love what you have created, and we're just happy to have you here to discuss this and to talk more about the Calm Corner. Do you want to tell us a little bit about the Calm Corner? 

[00:01:32] Terra LaRock: Yeah, sure. So I got my start in Child, Family and School Psychology. So I practiced in public schools for about five years before I founded Mindful Mamas and shifted from really working with children directly to working with their caregivers.

[00:01:50] The whole family unit, starting with the moms. And so the Calm Corner, which can be called so many different things, there's like a cozy corner or time-in, it was introduced to me through my experience in education. And what we saw with educators is that there can be a lot of dysregulation that happens from time to time.

[00:02:13] And when you are an educator, it can be hard when you're responsible for so many little bodies and so many little humans to always stay super attuned to what's going on in the classroom while you're teaching. And so the calm corner became a positive behavioral tool that we used in schools to help kids start to identify their emotions and do something about it that wasn't disruptive to both their learning process and the teachers.

[00:02:47] And so Calm Corner in a classroom looks a little different than it does in a home. And I can explain a little of the differences, but when you're teaching in, and you're inviting children to be able to communicate with the leader of the classroom in such a subtle way, and inviting them into a space where perhaps they are feeling overwhelmed or they're feeling like they are about to lose their cool or they're about to make a choice that isn't in line with their values or that breaks one of the class values. Then they can just take a moment to walk over to the calm corner and work through the big emotions. It's just a very easy and gentle reminder that we can have big emotions. But there are still rules that we need to follow. And so a calm corner really helps the adults to work through that with the child, the big emotion without condoning really big behaviors that might not be safe. 

[00:03:49] Agatha Luczo: So if parents wanted to do a calm corner at home, how should they approach that and introduce it to the children? Because I love the idea of the calm corner. I even tell my children mommy just needs, you know, five minutes. 

[00:04:01] Terra LaRock: Yeah. Right. I mean, I definitely use the word with my children, like mommy needs a time-in.  Sometimes time-out can be really associated with disappointment and there can be some shame or guilt that's felt by both the parent or the child.  The parent might be thinking, "Oh, I don't know how to handle this behavior or this big emotion. I'm failing them. Or I just am so overwhelmed, I don't know what to do."  And for the child, you know, they might really be seeking that connection and that relationship piece, that nurturance and not really know how to communicate how to give it. And so I tell parents often behaviors are largely a response to a lack of skill. And just like we teach a kid how to feed themselves and bathe themselves, we also have to teach them how to notice and how to understand and communicate our feelings and how to ask for help when we need help. And so the calm corner is just a space in your home and you can have multiple ones if you have an upstairs and a downstairs, you can have one on each floor or in your children's room.

[00:05:10] And it's just a designated area where the children are free to move in and out of, it's not used as punishment. It's not only used also when there's dysregulation, it can just be a place to elicit play and lessons in terms of emotion, regulation, emotion identification. A lot of times I tell parents, you just really go off of what your kids' likes are.

[00:05:36] Usually there's some type of soft texture, whether it's some pillows or a blanket or even like a little table and chairs and it houses a lot of their favorite things. So a lot of sensory experience, this can be really regulating to the nervous system. So things like playdough or glitter jars or coloring or books, just something that can help them really move through that emotion and get to a place where they're able to identify how they're feeling and return back into the community or the family, which is a community in a way that they feel really proud of and they feel welcome to join when they feel like they've regained that connection and that emotional control. 

[00:06:24] Agatha Luczo: So something I do at home, we, and as you know, we're launching Fussy Temper.

[00:06:29] Terra LaRock: Yes. 

[00:06:30] Agatha Luczo: So something I do at home can be mixed perfectly with the calm corner. It’s called Fussy Temper Comfort. We created Fussy Temper Comfort to trigger all the senses. I roll it out on the inside of my kid's arms by the wrist and have them take a few deep breaths.

[00:06:54] And I say, all right, let's take a moment to get calm and let's talk about what's bothering you. So I feel like the Fussy Temper Comfort works really great with the calm corner. 

[00:07:04] Terra LaRock: It absolutely does. And its' interesting because you'll see kids kind of gravitate towards the things that they love. And I just got Fussy Temper, which I'm so excited to have my hands on before it's released.

[00:07:16] And it's so interesting how my daughter, who is four and a half. She tends to get overwhelmed by big odors. And we have a dog, and we're gardening,  we're cooking and sometimes like smells just seem to really overwhelm her. And I've noticed her starting to grab the Fussy Temper and looking at me and putting like just the tiniest little bit under her nose.

[00:07:41] And that right there just totally regulates her and she feels like she is in control of her sensory experiences. And I just think that it's so wonderful to introduce kids to lots of different ways that they can maybe get their needs met and not, you know, force what works for you onto them and just invite them to explore those things.

[00:08:03] And then all of a sudden they adopt these coping tools and they're able to really regulate without you needing to hold their hand, so to speak, and walk them through every step. 

[00:08:13] Agatha Luczo: Right. So they can either do it themselves. Or as parents, we could put it on and create a nice bonding moment. 

[00:08:19] Terra LaRock: Yes.

[00:08:20] Dr. Greene: And a part of the idea behind Fussy TemperComfort  is that it has some beautiful oils from different plants. They're from chamomile, but also three different parts of an orange tree. There's bitter orange from the fruit and there's neroli from the orange blossoms and there's petty grain from the leaves, all of which is grown on Agatha's farm. I got interested in that because a few years ago, I came across a series of studies that were done in dentists' offices in the waiting rooms where people tend to be anxious and they tend to be fearful and agitated.

[00:08:54] And in the studies, on some days they had the aroma of the orange blossoms and other days they didn't. And then compared people's anxiety level and calmness level and positive mood level and found that people were more relaxed, more positive, less anxious on the days it was there. So we thought this would be a really nice trigger for a bonding moment with the parents, because it's really all about connection.  When kids are overwhelmed, and their emotions are huge or having a tantrum because they have these intense emotions.  They don't know how to get it across and for us to be there and say that we see you, we hear you. It's okay. It's so powerful. 

[00:09:35] Terra LaRock: It really is. And as a psychologist, there's a lot of thought that your smell is just so linked to memory and just so powerful in helping you to come into the present moment. And like you said, just almost taking an orange smell is often... I'm so sorry, my four and a half year old is currently banging at the door, which all parents can understand, but we just tell them one second. 

[00:10:04] Agatha Luczo: ...nine year olds banging on the door. 

[00:10:07] Terra LaRock: Yeah. The orange smell is still familiar too and I can just see how that can be just an inviting moment for your brain and your body to really get aligned and get grounded and, and notice like, okay, I'm here now. This feels familiar.  I'm safe in my body. And it's just such a wonderful product that I know my house is already loving. So thank you for creating it.

[00:10:32] Agatha Luczo: Thanks for loving it. I'm so glad that you're using it and that your baby loves it. And so how has your experience been teaching parents about Mindfulness? 

[00:10:42] Terra LaRock: It's been so wonderful. I love it. I'm obsessed with it. It's a practice that I found, you know, I always used it as a therapeutic tool to help the students and the families that I worked with, but I didn't really adopt it into my life until I became a mom and I struggled with postpartum depression and OCD. And what Mindfulness did for me personally, I think that there's this thought that when you learn meditation or mindfulness, which is really just single focused attention on one thing on the present moment, it's your ability to really notice the gifts and the miracle of life and the beauty all around you just become so much more heightened. But I think where I had some resistance in wanting to learn it was, I thought that in paying attention to the present moment, it meant that you were stopping your thoughts. And for me, like I tend to be a list maker and really busy. I am super creative. I'm constantly having new ideas and I just felt like that was going to be impossible. 

[00:11:47] And so when I had a Mindfulness teacher tell me that, you know, mindfulness and meditation is not at all about stopping your thoughts. That's impossible. Your brain is produced and is meant to create thoughts. It's all about changing your relationship to them and choosing which thoughts you cling on to and go for a ride, so to speak.

[00:12:07] And which ones you can just say, Oh, hi, I see you, but I'm not going to pay attention to you right now.  I'm busy focusing on my, my son's smile or the way that this food smells when I'm cooking it or the sensation.  I feel underneath my feet when maybe I'm about to go into a big meeting and that's really where I saw the magic happen.

[00:12:29] And that's the lens that I teach in is, you know, we're always going to have weird, bizarre, beautiful, huge emotions and thoughts. And if we can learn how to be the witness in that experience, instead of reacting to every little thing that comes our way, we can respond in such a more beautiful, more vibrant, more connective way than I ever did in the past.

[00:12:56] And so it was so freeing for me. And I love teaching it. It's definitely,  I feel very lucky to do it every day. 

[00:13:04] Dr. Greene: That's so powerful. A lot of times as parents, we don't want to see our kids be sad or angry or scared, but really all of the emotions that they have and that we have can be beautiful things as long as they don't take over everything. If we can witness them and name them, I love the phrase, name it and tame it. That if you can recognize what it is, then you can see what to do with it. 

[00:13:27] Terra LaRock: Yes, absolutely. And I often use the name it or tame it or the verbalization or labeling even [with] my own children. Like for example, you know, one of, one of my triggers is when I'm trying to get dinner on the table and my one and a half year old is  underneath my feet and I just feel like he's just always there and I'm going to trip on him or I'm going to drop something on him. And I will, even to him say like, okay, mom's feeling frustrated right now. So,I'm going to do this or mommy's feeling frustrated, and I wouldn't invite you to do this. Or I need you to do this because it's not safe.

[00:14:02] And I think even from such a small age, just seeing my children seeing me be okay, with difficulties and discomfort, it really gives them permission to not strive for perfection or for, you know, happiness all the time, because that contrast can really play this beautiful. It can play out in such a beautiful way where, you know, there's no rainbows without rain, so to speak.

[00:14:28] And so. I absolutely think that the naming and taming it is a very easy and powerful practice to model for your kids. But it's also so great for us to be like, "Oh! Hey, anger!  I see you". Like, I know what you're trying to do right now. And I'm going to take care of you and I'm not going to push you away. So you get bigger and louder.

[00:14:49] I'm going to invite you to sit with me so you can tell me what you need to tell me, and then I can move through it in a way that feels more supportive. 

[00:14:57] Dr. Greene: Yeah. I love that. So I was with an 18 month old yesterday, and at that age, a lot of what we're doing as parents is teaching them to name objects around them.

[00:15:07] Whenever they are staring at something or playing with something, just telling them what it is. It's really powerful for them. They just eat it up because they want to learn the names of things. And then a little bit older, when they are in the process of potty learning, they often don't know when they need to go.

[00:15:24] And what we do is we teach them, it looks like you need to go to the bathroom now and we help teach them the names of the experiences they're having. And then as they get a little bit older, [our job] is teaching the names of what they're feeling, their emotions, and it's really powerful.  I love your concept of the double dip emotions.

[00:15:42] Could you tell us a little about that? 

[00:15:44] Terra LaRock: Oh, sure. Yeah, that came... I can't take ownership of it. I didn't make it up. I don't know where I got it. It was just one of the things that I picked up being with kids, but we would often see that children were having a hard time doing some emotion recognition. So in the calm corner, in my office, for example, we would do a thing called check-in checkout where kids would come into my office and they look at a feeling chart.

[00:16:06] I would just say, you know, point to how you're feeling and they would not really know which one was capturing their emotion because a lot of times emotions are so complex. And so I started teaching them this idea that sometimes we have one scoop of ice cream on our ice cream cone, and we know that we're really angry and that's the most prominent feeling that we're having.

[00:16:30] But sometimes we have two scoops on our ice cream cone and we're double dipping and we might feel angry, but we might also feel really sad or really disappointed. And just having kids color in how many scoops of ice cream they have on their cone and talk about the different layers of the different feelings that they have, the different flavors.

[00:16:51] It was so interesting to see them make those connections [because] emotion is very fluid. It's not linear. It's not just you hop from one to the next to the next. It's like they kind of all blend and [together], and it's okay for me to be confused by this because sometimes, you know, I feel like my ice cream cone stacks up to the ceiling, I'm feeling so much.

[00:17:15] So that's really where that came from. 

[00:17:16] Dr. Greene: Yeah, I think that's great. I'm excited to use it. 

[00:17:18] Agatha Luczo: Yeah. I love that. Now with going back, you know, some states have school, some don't, it seems like everything's going to be online, but for small kids, you know, social, emotional learning is extremely valuable. Do you have any tips for moms about how to continue the social, emotional learning from home without attending school? 

[00:17:42] Terra LaRock: Yeah. I think that you know, we're such social creatures and so it's definitely stressful, even for me as a psychologist, like thinking about how I'm going to give my children those social experiences and those opportunities to work through conflict resolution with their peers and emotion identification and empathy building skills.

[00:18:06] But I do think that there is a lot that can start at home. I'll just give like three things that I love doing now that I think parents can really take is one spending time talking about emotions. So a couple of ways that we do that is we have this dinnertime ritual where we go around the dinner table and we say, what was our joy of the day?

[00:18:30] And we pick out one, you know, beautiful moment or beautiful thing that happened. And then we then flip it to what was something that happened that you felt disappointed by, or maybe didn't go your way. And so it just gives us an opportunity to really understand what's going on for our little ones.

[00:18:48] And you know, my one and a half year old, he says things like bird or mama, like he clearly is not participating, but even him. You know, we, we still give them a turn like, "Lennon, what was her joy of the day?" And I just think that that's been so powerful for my children to hear how mom and dad are doing, but also for us to hear how they're doing.

[00:19:11] So the emotional identification piece can be done just in these little, what I call like bookend moments. So, you're already reading a bedtime story. So instead of just, you know, reading the words, maybe at the end or the beginning or in the middle, you pick out one character and you talk about what their face looks like.

[00:19:30] Like, I'm noticing that this character, their eyebrows are a little furrowed and I'm noticing it looks like their fist is clenched. Like I'm wondering if maybe they're feeling frustrated or angry, what do you think? And inviting them into those conversations, you can do it while watching movies. You can do it while reading books, but you can do it at the dinner table.

[00:19:51] And so that emotion identification really helps with communication skills, which is so important to be able to articulate how we're feeling and when we need help. And then in terms of some other emotional skills, such as impulse control, I think we've all experienced it as parents where you're telling your child, like, stop jumping off the couch, you're going to get hurt, but they just continue to do it.

[00:20:17] They don't perhaps have that skill of being like, okay, I have this impulse, I really want to engage in this behavior and now I don't know how.  And so really helping to acknowledge their experience, one thing that I say when I see my kids kind of stuck in those impulsive behaviors is mommy said no more jumping on the couch.   I can see you're having a hard time with that.  So, let's pick out something to do together, or let's move out of this room or into a new activity together because that's not safe. 

[00:20:49] And it feels more like an invitation rather than, you know, now you're in trouble because you didn't listen, which  then goes up the ladder and I think all parents know sometimes your four year old wins, when you get when you get to those heated discussions.

[00:21:03] So that can be really powerful.  Just saying, like, I can see you having a hard time with this, or I can see you're getting frustrated or I honor your experience. That's another really big one to say, but I cannot allow you to keep doing this behavior because it's not safe. So that's great for impulse control.

[00:21:20] And then the third one I would say is really big is the conflict resolution and the empathy building. So really trying to understand other people's point of view which takes time and doesn't happen right away. I think as our little ones are growing developmentally, they're not always ready. They're very egocentric.

[00:21:41] They're very focused on how they feel and what they see and what they're doing. And it's not that they don't have a big heart or they can't empathize. It's just, that's another skill. And so being able to talk about how each person felt, again, you can use it in books or in movies or just noting it.  Like, I noticed this happens. How do you think they could solve that problem?

[00:22:04] And talking through it or giving them choices.  Choices are big because sometimes kids don't know how to formulate what they're thinking, but they have an idea. And so you can say, do you think that they should hit? No. Do you think that maybe they should take turns yeah. And model that for them.

[00:22:23] Agatha Luczo: That's such good advice, especially during this time right now.

[00:22:27] It's hard for kids to navigate and for moms. And I love that you offer your App for moms as well because taking a moment to learn how to meditate and to breathe properly really does help calm the whole entire system. It's so healthy. 

[00:22:41] Terra LaRock: I think one thing that I remind moms of is you can't regulate your children when you're feeling dysregulated.

[00:22:48] And so it's absolutely okay if there is a big emotion or a big behavior that is triggering for you. And like you said, Agatha, just taking like a moment, like mommy needs a time in, or mommy needs to take a minute or mommy's going to go in the pantry right now and take three deep breaths with the door closed, and then I can help you work through that feeling or what's going on.

[00:23:11] That's absolutely okay. And I think the calm down corner or the cozy corner or whatever you want to call it, can be such a good place where you know that your little one is safe and they're engaged and they can process. And you can take that opportunity to also work through and get grounded before you move to problem solving and working through that big emotion with your kid.

[00:23:37] Dr. Greene: I think that's very powerful and it's important to remember that our goal for ourselves as parents is not to be perfect. Kids learn as much from when we make a misstep and then own up to it and then ask for a do over as they do from the good things that we do. So it's really fine to get it wrong and say, "Woops, I shouldn't have been as angry and lashed out at you about that.  Being angry is okay, but I shouldn’t have treated you that way.

[00:24:03] I'm going to do better next time. Let's start again. 

[00:24:05] Terra LaRock: Yeah, absolutely. We in the Mindful Mamas App, we have a whole series called, The Art of Losing It. And it really is just giving women permission to mess up and to know that they can repair that relationship. They can repair the harm that they feel like they may have caused.

[00:24:21] And it's a totally normal experience to lose it sometimes and to snap or to do something that doesn't feel like you would have [done] if you were totally in control. And so I love hearing, women come back and say that they just laugh because it's a common human experience that we're not often giving parents’ permission to mess up in those ways to say, "I'm sorry, like I messed up and that's okay."

[00:24:50] Dr. Greene: That's a feature, not a flaw. It really is good for kids. 

[00:24:54] Terra LaRock: I love that. 

[00:24:55] Agatha Luczo:  Yeah, it's a great teaching moment for children. 

[00:24:58] Terra LaRock: It truly is. Well, you two are both just so aligned in both compassionate parenting and really wanting to give your, your littles and the kids that you work with, these skills that will serve them in their relationships and in their career and in their life.

[00:25:15] And so it's just been such an honor talking about this with you. 

[00:25:19] Agatha Luczo: No, thank you so much. It's fun creating products that help children with their health, but also giving parents a moment of creating rituals and a bonding moment with her children. 

[00:25:32] I mean, I know Dreamy Hush Times is my favorite. They can't go to sleep without rolling it on in the inside and taking a few deep breaths at night. And they love the smell. And as soon as they roll it on, they're like, I'm so tired mommy.

[00:25:45] Terra LaRock: That's so cute! 

[00:25:48] Agatha Luczo: So you've tried most of the Bambini Fortuna products. Right? 

[00:25:52] Terra LaRock: Yeah.  

[00:25:52] Agatha Luczo: Do you have any ones that you love? 

[00:25:54] Terra LaRock: Yeah.  I was just telling you my four-year-old loves the Fussy Temper Comfort, but my favorite, and I think I need one for every bathroom -- in every room, is the Boo Boo Be Gone. I just think it's…

[00:26:07] Dr. Greene: Love that!

[00:26:08] Terra LaRock: It's just the most, we've had just the most beautiful moments where I'm watching my four year old wanting to use it on her dolls when they get ouchies and hearing her reflect back, like what I say when she gets a scrape in the garden or falls off a swing set, or, you know, gets a cut when she's playing outside and it's just so beautiful and it smells so good and it really does, it works!  Like, I just feel like I slap a little of that on the cuts and where their boo-boos are. And I just feel like I'm supported, like, okay, we have something that can help this, you know, like you said, it's hard to see your little ones in pain.

[00:26:48] Agatha Luczo: Yes. It's one of my favorite products. It's always with me and I use it for myself for everything, even as a lip balm. 

[00:26:56] Terra LaRock: Oh, I have done that too. Okay. I'm glad I'm not the only one. I've totally done that. 

[00:27:00] Agatha Luczo: For travel, it's great. It's my one magic balm in my bag. And so I use it for everything. It's great.

[00:27:06] Terra LaRock: Yeah, you don't need to be Mary Poppins. You just need those few tried and true things. Yeah, that's what I always tell my husband when we were packing to go. I was like, no, we don't need to bring everything. We just need, like the two things that work. Bambini Fortuna is absolutely. They make the cut. 

[00:27:21] Agatha Luczo: Thank you so much.

[00:27:23] Terra LaRock: Thank you so much for today. 

[00:27:25] Dr. Greene: Yeah. Fabulous to be with you today. 

[00:27:27] Agatha Luczo: So wonderful talking with you, Terra, about the Calm Corner and big emotions. 

[00:27:32] Terra LaRock: It's really nice. Thank you so much for having me. It was an honor. 

[00:27:35] Agatha Luczo: And so the takeaways from today's conversation are: take a moment. It's okay to make mistakes. Teaching kids about emotions as healthy and great and creating a calm corner.

[00:27:49] And I think turning all moments into a positive. 

[00:27:53] Terra LaRock: Yes, absolutely. Just finding the silver lining and sitting with that discomfort in a way that feels safe and restorative and connective. That's really all we want for our kids is to feel loved through what they experience and not in spite of their experience.

[00:28:10] Agatha Luczo: Yes. Well said. Well, thank you again for joining us. 

[00:28:17] Dr. Greene: What a great conversation with Terra LaRock . I am really looking forward to using some of her tips with my patients. 

[00:28:22] Agatha Luczo: And I'm looking forward to using Terra's App, Mindful Moments, along with the Calm Corner and our Fussy Temper Comfort. 

[00:28:31] Dr. Greene: I agree. Great tools for big emotional times.  We'd love to hear your experience. 

[00:28:36] Agatha Luczo: Yes, we'd love to hear your questions and please rate, review and share Mom Driven, Dr. Aligned. 

[00:28:42] Dr. Greene: Until next time, stay well. [00:28:44]

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