From Break to Meltdown in 30 seconds – How Did that Happen?

At mile 20 of a 21-mile bike ride, my husband and I stopped to take a little break.  It had gotten warm and we wanted to remove a few layers.  When we started riding again, my legs let me know that “enough is enough” and I thought, “I really don’t want to ride anymore.”

It made me think about a couple of students that we tested recently whose parents reported that their kids try so hard on their homework, but have a terrible time coming back from a break.   In fact, one of the students refused to take a break, saying, “I just won’t do anything after a break.”

You would think that after all their hard work, kids would welcome a break, and I’m sure they do, but when students have dyslexia, learning disabilities, attention deficit, or other struggles in school, the amount of effort, energy, and motivation that they have to muster in order to do the task can be monumental.  Building that back up again after a break can be extremely daunting.

People Need Breaks.  Brains need breaks.

An overloaded brain is less productive, so periodic breaks are necessary for optimal performance, especially if what you are trying to do is as taxing as homework is for many of our struggling students.

As an employer, I’m required to give my staff members breaks.  So how do we give our kids a much-needed break without losing the focus, momentum, or determination that we’ve worked so hard to establish?

Try Building in Brain Breaks

Brain Breaks are not as definitive as a coffee break or a play break, which completely re-routes your focus and energy.  They can be done without ever leaving the homework space and are a quick and easy way to revive attention, mental resources, and energy.  They help students of any age get “unstuck.”

We work with students on recognizing when they need a Brain Break – when they feel too frustrated, sleepy, bored, emotional, or confused – and let them choose a brain break.

Here are some Brain Breaks that we suggest for students:

Five-Count Breath (3 – 5 times)

Student instructions:

  • Inhale slowly through your nose and count to five on your fingers.  Without holding your breath, begin exhaling slowly through your mouth in five counts as you put your fingers back down.

Deep breathing immediately forces oxygen into the brain, which improves thinking and encourages muscles to relax as they are flooded with oxygen-rich blood.

Palming (2-5 minutes)

Student instructions:

  • Warm your hands by rubbing them together briskly.
  • Softly place the heel of your hands gently over your eyes.
  • Keep your neck and back straight; shoulders relaxed. Rest your elbows on the table.
  • Breathe in and out slowly, feeling the warmth and darkness soothe the muscles of your eyes and whole body.

This is an excellent way to rest and refresh the mind and eyes.

Heart Breathing (1-5 minutes)

  • Place your attention on the area around your heart or center of the chest. It helps to put your hand over your heart area.
  • Now pretend to breathe in and out of your heart. Take three slow breaths. (This is called Heart Breathing).
  • Think of someone or something that makes you feel happy, like your mom or dad, your friends, or a special place that you like to visit. Feel that happy feeling in your heart as you do your heart breathing.

This technique is good for reducing anxiety and increasing focus and attention.

Arm Swings (5 – 8 cycles)

Student instructions:

  • Stand barefoot with your feet about 12 – 18 inches apart.
  • Loosely swing your upper body and arms from side to side. At the furthest point in the swing, look over your shoulder.
  • Do 5 – 8 left-right cycles.

Breath Stretch (3-5 times)

Student instructions:

  • Breathe in deeply through your nose as you bring your arms up above your head and come up on your toes.
  • Hold for a slow count of 2.
  • Exhale through your mouth as you bring your arms down and come down off your toes.


All of us need Brain Breaks once in a while when we are working hard.  Children and teens struggling with attention or learning may need these little breaks more often, as they are exerting much more energy than their peers to do the same task. Building these little brain breaks into your homework or learning session gives students the mental break they need in order to shift into a more productive and resourceful state without the trauma of coming back after a break.

These activities are also very effective to use before going to school, starting homework, or when transitioning from one task to another.

Do you or your child struggle with dyslexia, learning, or attention challenges?  These challenges can be changed.  While there are no simple, overnight solutions, most learning and attention challenges can be dramatically improved or completely corrected through developing the weak underlying skills that are causing the student to struggle and remediating the affected academic areas.  Need to know more?

TUNE IN to Facebook Live, March 26th @10A

 for a discussion on Processing Skills and how the brain CAN be retrained!

Find us here:

“Helping smart but struggling students dramatically improve or completely correct their learning and attention challenges by developing the underlying learning skills that are not supporting the learner well enough.”
We serve children and adults with diagnosed or undiagnosed learning and attention challenges including learning disabilities, dyslexia, ADHD, auditory processing disorders, and autism spectrum disorders.
Jill Stowell, M.S.
Author:  At Wit’s End A Parent’s Guide to Ending the Struggle Tears, and Turmoil of Learning Disabilities
Founder and Executive Director – Stowell Learning Centers

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