Is It Okay For Schools to Use 'Calm Down' Rooms?
by Lisa Fogarty
A 5-year-old boy was recently taken to the hospital after suffering an anxiety attack because he was placed in a small padded room that his NYC charter school used as a "calm down" room. He and another little boy were reportedly sent there often for their behavior and were then expected to get a grip over their emotions while sitting in a room that resembled a walk-in closet and that contained just a single light on the ceiling, a padded mat, and a partially covered window that allowed teachers to look in but prevented students from looking out.
Basically, this sounds like a padded cell. A jail created for very young children who have yet to even understand their own emotions.
In the school's defense, New York State law allows for students to be placed in a time-out room where they can be seen and heard and an adult does not have to be present in the room. The charter school that is coming under attack for this room says it is just one part of the behavior plan they use and that children are only sent there if staff suspect they are endangering themselves.
I feel better knowing the room is not being used as a solution to the problem, but placing kindergartners or first graders in solitary confinement for 15 to 20 minutes is way too long. There are other, far less frightening ways to help them calm down -- ways that mimic what actual adults do to try and get a grip on their emotions.
Have a staff member take a long walk with the child. Give him or her a few minutes of supervised outside time in a secure and protected courtyard. Teach the child simple breathing techniques he can use while trying to calm down. These are all examples of helpful and healthy ways children can be taught to get a grip on their emotions.
Being placed in a small room and told to calm down wouldn't work for me, and I wouldn't expect it to work for my child, either.
Do you think it's okay for a school to use a small padded room as a "calm down" space?