What is a Brain Break?
Brain Breaks are short, energizing bursts of activity that send oxygen to the brain and boost the flow of blood. They have been shown to help children to be more attentive, retain information, and be more fully engaged in teletherapy counseling with increased motivation. Nothing complicated; they can be as simple as standing up for five minutes, stretching or running in place.
When your teletherapy counseling student is feeling overwhelmed, a brain break can be the perfect tactic to get things back on track. It is important to remember that these breaks are not merely downtime for the student, but have been shown to contain genuine therapeutic value, aside from increasing the session’s productivity.
How Do Brain Breaks Help?
According to Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist, “Children naturally start fidgeting to get the movement their bodies so desperately need to “turn their brain on.” What happens when the children start fidgeting? We ask them to sit still and pay attention; therefore, their brain goes back to “sleep.”
Studies have shown that Brain Breaks increase students’ on-task behavior and ability to gain more fully from teletherapy counseling. Without becoming too scientific, the benefit of a brain break can be explained as follows.
The research has repeatedly shown that, by quieting our minds, our parasympathetic nervous system is activated, which reduces our heart rate. Reducing heart rate lowers blood pressure, which has the tangible effect of enhancing our thinking and enabling us to cope more effectively with challenges such as the demands of teletherapy counseling.
What’s more, research shows that the brain isn’t idle when it “takes a break.” During “the break,” the brain continues to work at making sense out of how we are experiencing and processing memories. In other words, brain breaks are critical in shaping how we understand our lives. Rest doesn’t mean idleness, nor decreased productivity.
And the benefits are not limited to the intellectual and psychological realms. For young students, in particular, brain breaks are very effective in minimizing disruptive behavior. Studies have shown that even minimal interruptions improved children’s ability to stay seated, attentive, on task, and less disruptive.
But there is another perhaps more urgent issue that brain breaks address. The trauma and adversity that many students are carrying into classrooms are changing how educators and therapists need to assess performance.
Once it is understood that adversity and trauma reside in a child’s biology, not merely in their psychology and cognition, it becomes critical to prime students’ brains for learning and therapy. This requires a clearer understanding of how the brain is affected by trauma and how it benefits from emotional regulation to maximize the learning and therapeutic experience. Brain breaks are a simple solution to a complex problem.
Some Ideas to Try
Brain Breaks allow for the creativity of the teacher or therapist. One approach to devising effective Brain Breaks is to stimulate areas of the brain that respond to curiosity and novelty. Here are some great ideas that are sure to get your child’s creative juices flowing.
Movement: While perhaps not the most creative brain break, physical movement is practically a sure bet for younger kids. Combining some movement with simple breathing can be very useful as a focused-attention practice.
Tongue Stretch: This is a fun one. Instruct your child to stretch her tongue as far as it can go, with clean hands. Aside from the fun, stretching the tongue has the therapeutic effect of relaxing the brain stem, upper neck, palate, and throat. What’s more, this provides the therapist with an opportunity to make it even more enjoyable by making it funny.
Hum: Did you ever think about humming with your student? There are so many ways to incorporate humming into a brain break. You could choose a popular song or some relaxing tune of your own. And while you’re at it, have your student move her arms and legs. This activity has been shown to release stress and blockages inside the brain stem.
Name Scribbles: Ask your student to write her name or her favorite word four or five times with her dominant hand and then with her weaker hand. After she’s finished, ask her how it felt, why it was more difficult with her weaker hand, and what was going on in her brain when she used her weaker hand.
Sound: Using sound can be potent in eliciting a calm response from a child. There are so many websites that you can access for relaxing, even meditative music. Have the child close her eyes and listen. Afterward, you can discuss what it felt like to listen to soothing music.
Breathing, perhaps the most versatile method, is in a league of its own. There are so many ways that breath can be used as a brain break. Among the many benefits are decreasing stress, reducing anxiety, promoting calm, strengthening the capacity to sustain attention, sharpening the ability to focus and learn, slowing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, helping to control emotions, and encouraging happiness.
Here are just a few:
Focus: Using the breath as a point of focus, ask your student to place one hand on her stomach and the other hand, close to but not touching her nose. As she inhales, ask her what it feels like for her stomach to expand. As she exhales, ask her to concentrate on the warm air passing over her hand.
Colors: As your student inhales have her visualize a deep green. When she exhales have her change the color to a smoky gray. Suggest that the colors become deeper with each breath so that the richness of the colors fills her mind the same way that the breath fills her lungs.
Energizing: Ask your student to pant rapidly for half a minute, like a dog with her mouth fully open, and her tongue extended. Then for the next half-minute, with her mouth closed, have her take short breaths. After repeating this, have her take a deep-dive breath. Just make sure she doesn’t pass out!