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Anger Management Behaviour Management Inclusion parenting

4 Key Questions Before Using Break Cards

Do you know a child that has a full meltdown when asked to try a task they feel is new, demanding or scary? Here is a simple strategy to overcome it with four key considerations to ensure success.

Using break cards can be a fantastic strategy if a child is having a true meltdown when faced with work or a situation that they feel is challenging, new or too demanding. The Break Card is a simple, easy-to-use strategy that allows a child to opt-out of a task for a short time before reengaging with the situation afterwards.

Although the concept sounds simple, I have made numerous mistakes over the years trying to implement it successfully. It is easy to fall into the trap of designing an attractive card, laminating and displaying it without ever really putting in the groundwork to ensure it is a success.

To avoid the mistakes I made, here are four questions you need to answer clearly before using a Break Card successfully:

Who will supervise their break?

A fundamental principle of a break card is that the teacher has to honour it as soon as the child asks for it. If the child is opting to take a break, the teacher cannot tell them to wait for five minutes or that they “may” get it later when someone returns to take them. The teacher cannot decide that the child does not need it. Ensure that a break is granted instantly if you are implementing this strategy. If you do not have an extra pair of hands in the room, create an area inside the classroom for taking a break.

What will they do on their break?

Distractions techniques work best as a break. This can be engaging with one of their special interests. It can be breathwork. Their break can entail some light or intense exercise. The idea of the break card is that it is a true break. Make it engaging and take their mind off the task that was agitating them so when they return, they have rid themselves of any negative emotions.

What changes after their break?

This is an area that needs attention also. The work that was presented before the break was a trigger. It will still be a trigger after the break so teachers need to make a change. We can reduce the difficulty of the task. We can reduce the quantity of work. We can change how it is presented. Perhaps a worksheet could be changed to a similar task on an iPad? We can make it look less scary. A good rule to keep in mind is the 80/20 rule for children who find task completion difficult. Keep the first 80% of the task easy and achievable before having the final 20% as the challenge.

How will I implement the Break Card?

Take the time to explicitly teach how to deal with a task or situation that is new, challenging or too demanding. Teach them to:

  1. Try a little.
  2. Ask to watch someone else do it or ask for help.
  3. Take a break.
  4. Try again.
  5. Make a deal or negotiate how much has to be done.

We need to teach this repeatedly. Remind the child of it. Before assigning them a task, ask them how they are going to try it. Reward them when they follow the steps. It is so important to teach this skillset and then constantly remind them and reinforce it before they become stressed at a task. We do not let them tantrum to get their break. We ensure they ask for it calmly. Constantly reinforcing them for attempting difficult tasks despite whether they get the right or wrong answers will help them overcome their trigger point. The break card can be a key step in this process if harnessed correctly.

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By Barry Whelan

A teacher with a huge interest in improving behaviour, communication and inclusion.

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