Young people have a lot on their plates these days, and while things may seem calm and cool on the outside, there could be issues under the surface that well up at inappropriate times.
That’s why the Boys & Girls Clubs of Elkhart County is working to help foster connections and a sense of belonging while they’re at Club. At the Nappanee Club, a sensory room has been installed to give kids support when they need it most.
Kids can be sent to the room when emotions are running high or they simply need a quiet place to reset. When they arrive, they’re asked by Mental Health Services Director Natasha Lantz to identify an emotional zone they’re feeling — guided by a color-coded chart. Different experiences and emotions are listed, ranging from panicked and angry to happy and focused.
Once the emotion has been identified, kids are encouraged to regulate that emotion through breathing and basic physical exercises.
“Sometimes they don’t want to regulate themselves right away. It can take many attempts with different activities to get those emotions under control,” Lantz said. “You can’t put kids in a box. You have to be willing to adapt to the individual.”
As the emotion is regulated, kids pick three activities to work with — anything from sensory toys, board games and physical activities. After spending time on those activities, Lantz will ask the kids to re-evaluate their emotional zone, hoping to show them improvement was made.
One activity involves sitting quietly inside a teepee Lantz has created in the room.
“A boy in one of our rooms got into the teepee and wrapped himself in a blanket to calm down and it worked. The rest of the session went fine,” she said.
Most of the sessions last 20-30 minutes and are done with just one child at a time.
“What do kids want? They want someone to listen and guide them. This helps them know they have control over their decisions and the actions they take,” Lantz said. “It also helps them learn how to manage their emotions and lets them know that an adult is listening to them.”
Nappanee Area Director Mandy Gerber said she’s glad they can provide this service to Club members.
“We want to do everything we can to make the Club experience positive for our kids. If they’re feeling anxious, we want to provide a place for them that helps them relax,” Gerber said.
Similar room exist in Elkhart, Middlebury and Goshen.