By Dr. Cat Baker, PhD, BCBA-D and Brittany Williamson, MS, LMHC
If you have been following FCI for a while, you have heard us talk a lot about brain breaks. If you want your child to be attentive, stay on task, follow directions, manage their big emotions, and, most importantly, learn the information you are giving them, their brains need to be ready for learning. However, if they are physically or mentally tired, or they are in “go-go-go” mode, that just isn’t going to happen. You have to give their brains regular breaks and rest.
Much of what children do at school requires the use of their prefrontal cortex (PFC), the part of the brain responsible for “thinking.” This is the very front of the brain right behind the forehead, where things like logic, reasoning, self-management, and organization occur. You may also think of these skills as goal orientation, concentration, memory consolidation, logical thinking, executive functioning, and impulse control. That’s a lot of work going on in that small part of the brain! All of these skills are dominant in a classroom setting, which is why some of our littles are so tired when they come home from school.
If your child has ever “fallen apart” as soon as they get home, they are likely experiencing PFC fatigue. This can happen because their brains have been left to run on overload most of the day. When this fatigue occurs, your child will struggle to retain new information and/or give a task their best effort. They are also more likely to melt down, be defiant, and engage in problem behavior because they just don’t have any more energy left to manage their emotions.
So, how often should our kiddos be taking brain breaks? For elementary school students, researchers suggest 10-15 concentrated minutes in a task warrants a 2-4-minute break. For middle and high school students, every 20-30 minutes of a concentrated task earns a 5-minute break. These short breaks don’t just repower the brain, they are also beneficial to the physical and emotional health of children as well. As parents or teachers, it’s important for us to know when PFC fatigue occurs so we can determine the most appropriate times to give our kiddos breaks to maximize learning.
Here are 4 benefits of incorporating brain breaks with your children:
- Increased productivity: Giving the PFC a break allows it to replenish energy, leading to increased creativity, motivation, and refocused attention.
- Improved learning: While sleep is the best way to replenish the brain and convert skills learned during the day into our long-term memory, a 2009 study found that a simple rest period also allows for the hippocampus to store recent knowledge to long-term memory.
- Oxygen: Oxygen is vital to an active brain. In order to replenish this vital resource, we have to get our blood moving and our lungs breathing deeply.
- Mood perks: Stress hormones cause the learning parts of our brains to shut down. When we take a break, our stress hormones reduce and our happy hormones increase. These happy hormones help our brain to feel safe and ready to learn.
If you are looking for new coping strategy ideas, or your children aren’t wanting to do more typical calming strategies, give these ideas a try:
- Animal Role Play: Have your kiddos pretend to be various animals complete with noises and body movements. Call out a few in sequence and make-believe together!
- Popular Movement Songs: Dance along with a song that encourages whole-body movements, such as “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes,” and “Shake Your Sillies Out.” Check out YouTube to find other fun dance songs!
- Would You Rather: Ask your child “would you rather” questions and explore the answers with them. This is a brain break and a communication skill tool all in one, and can increase your parent-child bond.
- Find It Fast: Call out a color or other trait (e.g. something round, something yellow, something wooden) and your child must find an object in the house and get to it as quickly as possible. This is also a great brain break idea for students in the classroom!
- Yoga: Yoga is a wonderful way to promote mind-&-body balance and decrease stress. Poses that are fun and challenging for older children and students utilize core strength, like airplane and eagle poses.
- Mindfulness Apps: Encourage your teen to download one of the many mindfulness meditations apps. Smiling Mind and Calm are two of our favorites! Both apps have short 2 to 5-minute energizing, refreshing, and grounding-guided meditations that will reset their system and help them push through the homework blues. There are even meditations available for sleep as well, which are perfect to incorporate the night before a big test or exam.
Now that you have some brain break ideas, don’t forget to take breaks with your children! The benefits are essential for tired adults and children alike. As with all skills you’re teaching your children, your good-buddy modeling will help them learn quickly.
Ready to learn more about brain breaks? Dr. Baker also wrote about the importance of brain breaks for parents in “Brain Breaks for Parenting Self-Care.” You might also like “4 Tips to Help your Child Stay Organized” for ideas on how to prevent mid-week permission slip emergencies and lost homework epidemics.
At FCI, we love sharing our favorite books with clients & families, which is why we are so grateful to work with Bookshop to share books with you! We made a list of our Must Read Parenting Books below. If you make any purchase at Bookshop within 48 hours of using our link below, we receive 10% of your purchase, which we use to buy more books to use in session with our kiddos. It’s a win-win!