Home Base – Creating a Safe Haven for Calming Down
“I call base!” my son would say at any place and any time in the days when he was first introduced to the game of tag. If he wanted to end the tickling or stop the chasing, he would claim a piece of furniture, staircase banister or corner of the room as his safe haven. No one could touch him there. And he relished the power and security of his base. I considered that as I recently heard from friends with multiple siblings who would experience an emotional game of tag during times when children were overtired or hungry or otherwise on edge. “Tag! You’re it!” was the sub-text as one upset child passed her mood to the other. Unfortunately unlike tag, the upset was not only passed on but also retained by the tagger and often grew stronger among all members of the family.
When emotions are high, wouldn’t it be nice to call “Base!” to stop the escalation? What if kids were taught to create their own safe base so they could, in those heated moments, select to go to their safety zone? Kids may tend toward this instinctually – reacting to the fight or flight response – and hide in their room or under furniture.
However, parents can use home base as a tool for teaching their children self-regulation skills and benefit during the most upsetting times. The process is simple. Here are the ways you can make the creation of a home base work for you.
Talk about the creation of a base when all is calm. Select a moment when you don’t have time pressures to get somewhere and it’s just playtime around the house. You might ask, “Wouldn’t it be helpful if you had your very own space to go to when you are upset where everyone knew they needed to leave you alone?”
Let your child pick his base (within reason). You may want to provide some guidance about how to pick a safe base. Ask your child to consider where it might be easy for him to be alone and quiet (the middle of the kitchen floor, for example, may not be the most practical choice).
Designate the space as his own. Involve him in deciding how he wants to designate the space. Would he like a pillow in the corner he has chosen? Would he like to make a sign with his name on it? Would he like to keep his favorite polar bear stuffed friend in the space to mark the spot? Some other items that could help him calm down are books, crayons and paper, music or a blanket. My son has a moving picture aquarium that has always helped him calm down. Consider what helps your child the most and encourage him to place that item there.
Do a dry run. Make it like a game so he tries it out in an enjoyable way. If you have multiple siblings, engage all in it. Pretend you are upset. Where can each go? When they are there, you may want to show each how to breathe (check out hot chocolate breathing) so that they can practice calming down. Then, talk about what happens after they’ve calmed down. You might add, “When you are ready, you can leave your base. Then we can sit down and talk about what was upsetting you.”
Create a family rule to respect bases. Ten year old Sydney would not want five year old Ben to invade her safe base and it works the other way around as well. If each member wants to retain a safe base, each member has to respect the others’. When a family member selects to go to their safe base, they need to be left alone by all other members so that it truly acts as the safe haven they need in those moments.
Remind. When your kids are upset, calmly ask, “Would you feel better if you went to your safe base?” If you cannot calmly remind them, it’s better to not mention it. I have marveled when my son has remembered on his own and gone to his safe base without prodding.
The concept of the safe base will not work if
- it’s used as a punishment. In other words, “Go to your safe base!” (said in a yelling or punishing tone).
- the space or content of the space has been chosen by anyone other than the person using it.
- the base isn’t respected by others. All family members, including parents, have to leave a child alone in his space when he self selects to go there if it truly is going to promote his own self-regulation skills.
The skill you will be promoting by the creation and use of a safe base is self-control. Not only will it serve you in the moments when conflicts are escalating, but it will offer your child the opportunity to cultivate his own ability to self-regulate for the future. Walter Mischel, the researcher who designed the famous Marshmallow experiment, found that even a child who feels vulnerable in his relationships can overcome that feeling if he is practiced in self-control. 1 In other words, the ability to calm down in the midst of upset, anger or frustration can promote greater resilience in any of life’s challenges. He claims it may just be the greatest factor in later success in life. Try your own at-home experiment and see if the creation of a home base with your child might offer the safe haven they need.
For further reading on similar topics, check out:
- Mischel, W. (2014). The Marshmallow Test. Why Self-Control is the Engine of Success. NY: Little, Brown and Company.