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Give Me a Break: The 3 Rules of Implementing Brain Breaks

Updated: Aug 4, 2020


At a Glance:

  • Brain Breaks allow your child the opportunity to recharge and regain focus

  • How and why you are implementing brain breaks are important components to consider

  • Implementing the 3 Rules of Brain Breaks allows you to formulate an appropriate and effective break routine for your child


Whether your child is participating in a structured activity, a therapy session or remote learning, it’s important to remember the necessity of breaks. We as adults rely on things such as lunch breaks and coffee breaks to give us a chance to mentally and physically recharge. And kids need breaks, too!

But what exactly is a "brain break?" What is the best way to implement breaks into the day? How long should they be? And what exactly should be done during these breaks?

Brain breaks are short activities that allow the child a mental break during the learning process. Research supports that brain breaks improve behavior, attention to task and the ability to process novel information.

Research shows that some benefits of brain breaks include:

  • Boosting blood flow and oxygen to the brain

  • Assisting with information processing and retention

  • Encouraging sense of community in the classroom environment

  • Allowing opportunity for emotional and mental release and decreasing anxiety

It can be daunting trying to figure out what works in terms of productively implementing breaks for your child. So without further ado, we present to you - the 3 S's: Structured, Simple, and Specific.

1. Structure Your Break: Prior to letting your child off the hook, make sure the activities that they are doing are clearly discussed. If a child is not sure of the expectations for the break, there is much higher chance you're looking to get bargained with (i.e. our favorite “can I watch the iPad during my break, pleaaaaaseeee?!”)

2. Keep it Simple: It’s best for the break to include one, at most two activities, depending on the time allotted. Again, this allows for more clarity and understanding of expectations.

3. Be Specific: Perhaps the most important of the 3 S’s is the need to be specific - particularly time-specific. Let the child know exactly how much time they have for the break. Because different approaches work for different children, we discuss some potential intervals below. However, our general suggestion is around a 5 minute brain break per 25-30 minutes of work.


Now, let's talk about when you should be including these breaks. As a parent, you may be able to tell when your child needs a break, however it may be more effective, and create more ease for the child if they have some idea of when to expect to have a break. Here are three options for how to make breaks more predictable throughout the day.

Planned Breaks

Children who thrive with structure and routine would do well with this method. Consider adding “breaks” into your visual schedule and make sure to go over this with your the child before the day starts. It may be helpful to collaborate with the child, asking things such as "when do you think you'll need a break?"

Earned Breaks

Whether you’re using a behavior chart or you base it on working for a set amount of time, you can allow the child to have a break after they have “earned” it. This works well for a child who is motivated by positive reinforcement, or doesn’t need the break for sensory reasons. Again, make sure the expectations for earning a break are clearly discussed or explained.

Child-Led Breaks

Let the child decide when he wants or needs a break, but keep it structured by limiting the amount of breaks allowed. For visually motivated children, you can implement these free downloadable break cards so they can see how many breaks they have left.


Now that you’ve decided when to include breaks, let’s revisit how long these breaks should last.

As a general rule, breaks need to be shorter than the amount of time they are working for. We loosely stick to a 10:1 ratio, that being, if the child works for 10 minutes non-stop, the break can be 1-2 minutes, if the child works for 25-30 minute the break can be up to 5 minutes. You may change this ratio up depending on the difficulty of the work task or the type of breaks you’re providing.

Tip: It's a great idea to use a timer to keep things predictable and to stick to the allotted time frame.


So, now we know when and how long these breaks should be, let’s get to the bottom of what we should be doing during these breaks. The ultimate goal is to allow an opportunity for your child, student or patient to recharge and regain focus. To get there, consider the following:

Incorporate proprioceptive play, or “heavy work”

Proprioception is the most calming input we can provide our sensory systems. It’s organizing and regulating - and can benefit kids (and adults) both with and without sensory processing differences. Scroll down on this page for a list of indoor and outdoor heavy work activities.

Get Moving

Getting active is a great way to increase energy and focus with the mind and body.. Check out Move to Learn, GoNoodle or Action for Healthy Kids' Pinterest board for some quick break break ideas.

Utilize a desired activity

This looks different for every child and family. This may include a preferred toy, activity or object. If you have questions about the specific things you’re implementing during your breaks at home, inquire with your child’s therapist or set up a consult.

Trial and observe

  • If you’re having difficulty implementing breaks at home, observe the situation and ask yourself:

  • Is my child overwhelmed or overstimulated?

  • Is the activity we chose actually motivating or rewarding to them?

  • Is the activity we chose distracting or is it creating an even bigger issue when we attempt to separate from it and transition back into work?

In order for a brain break to be effective, it has to be both an appropriate activity and given at an appropriate time/interval.


Key Takeaways:

  • Make sure the breaks that you provide are beneficial, and aren’t overstimulating or distracting your child.

  • Use additional supports if needed (a timer, break card visuals, etc.) when implementing breaks

  • Don’t be afraid to experiment with planned, earned or child-led breaks to find out what works best for you and your child


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