Homework Help: Brain Breaks and the Calm Kit

Does anyone have a really easy-going child, until it comes time for homework? (Raises hand emphatically!) Is anyone a homeschooling mom that loves teaching their child, until they come across something difficult and they become difficult in return? (Still raising hand emphatically!) My 10-year-old son has his fair share of challenges with school and having ADHD. It is not the lack of focusing that gets in the way, it is what is happening in the brain when faced with a challenge that gets him. ADHD or not, the brain reacts the same. I’ve heard it called the “amygdala highjack” and it can happen to anyone. This happens when a person gets so frustrated, anxious, stressed, worried, angry, scared, etc. (any high-power emotion) that the amygdala takes over, and the rational thinking of the frontal cortex is shut off. In my son, I liken it to a steel door being shut between his rational thinking and his irrational thinking. Luckily, we have tons of coping skills to either keep that door from shutting or to get it back open. We take “brain breaks” or use a “calm kit.”

“Brain breaks” are when the child steps away from learning or homework to go do something else. Yoga is the perfect brain break! Have your child lead you through a sun salutation, or maybe a yoga activity with their favorite yoga song or book. If yoga isn’t their thing on a given day, just put a song on and dance. Get them singing, jumping, moving, and shaking. Do you have a trampoline? Can they go ride a bike? Anything to get the blood pumping, and oxygen moving, while decreasing the amount of cortisol (the stress hormone) in the body. This sets the perfect stage for what the brain neurotransmitters need to do to get back to learning. That’s a win-win in my book and helps keep your child from going down the “amygdala highjack” road. For a child that has been in school all day, and then has to come home and do homework, it would be amazing to get a “brain break” in right before starting on that homework.

The “calm kit” comes in when they are already going down the frustration road. Ideally, the child will start to recognize when they are starting to get too frustrated to think clearly. We have a “thermometer chart” by my son’s work area. The green area is when he is feeling fine; the yellow area is when he is starting to feel annoyed or uncomfortable; and the red is when he is frustrated, feelings are starting to boil, or when he feels he is no longer in control of his feelings. Of course, I can give him verbal cues or he can go right to his “calm kit” to get a tool to help calm himself back down. Use a container for your kit and store it by where your child does their work.

Ahhh, the calm kit. Everyone should have one of these. Brainstorm with your child different ways you both can calm down. Write them down for a handy list that is used as a reminder when frustration makes it hard to think about anything else. For us it is simple things like giving each other a hug, finding a stuffed animal to hug, petting or playing with a beloved household pet, using Kidding Around Yoga’s “Peace Begins With Me” meditation, getting a drink of water, playing a laughing game like “Pass a Laugh” where we go back and forth with made up laughs, jumping or shaking together until we laugh, and using different techniques for breathing like Star Hand (inhale up the thumb, exhale down the other side, inhale up the pointer finger, exhale down the other side, continue with other fingers). Keep this list in the calm kit. The calm kit can contain other items like a flameless candle to practice Tratak, a favorite yoga book, a Hoberman Sphere to practice deep breathing, squeezable items, items with different textures, bubbles, coloring pages, etc. Anything in the calm kit can be also used as a brain break. Remember to allow your child to determine when they need to step away to clear their head.

Like what you read here? There’s so much MORE to explore and learn with Kidding Around Yoga. Check out our website for our live and online teacher trainings, Yoga Alliance-approved 95-hour RCYT trainings, specialty online courses, original music, merchandise, and beyond! KAY even offers a 6-hour workshop designed to teach school educators and homeschool families how to bring yoga and meditation right into their classrooms (EduKAY).