As adults, when we are experiencing a high level of discomfort or frustration, we know that an important coping strategy is taking a break. Stepping away from a challenging task, environment, or person can be an effective way to self-regulate emotional and stress levels when things get challenging. The same applies to our children and students. Explicitly teaching them how to take a break when needed can support them in independently regulating their behaviors in a variety of situations.
The Take a Break Strategy (TABS) supports the ability of the student to take some time out from a stressful activity when experiencing a high level of anxiety, providing the student with an opportunity to use appropriate behaviors to handle a stressful situation and return to that circumstance without incident. TABS can be used throughout the day in any setting and is effective when we provide structure around these options:
When will the strategy be used? The strategy is useful when a student is overwhelmed and needs to step away from a problematic task, environment, or person.
Who will initiate it? Initially, the student may be prompted by an adult. The adult supports the student in determining what break activities will best meet his needs and enable him to return to the classroom or other environment upon completion of the break. Ultimately, the goal is for the student to recognize the need for the strategy and initiate it on his own.
Where will the student go? There may be an area that is predetermined, such as another area in the classroom, the campus Learning Center, or the office of another adult who supports the student.
What will the student do? Purposefully specify break time activities. For some students, this may be calming activities such as reading, drawing, listening to music, or talking to someone about a highly focused interest. A chance to move may be more appropriate—stacking chairs, wiping down whiteboards, or taking a walk on campus.
How long will the break last? Set limits and implement an easy-to-use tool, such as a three-minute egg timer or a digital timer.
What is the transition or reentry plan? Have a plan for how the student will transition back to the environment or activity once the time is up or the break activity is finished.
What visual support can be provided? A variety of visual supports can be used to support the student in taking a break effectively. An adult may provide a cue card to prompt the student to take a break, or the student may be provided with a card that he can use to initiate taking a break. Other visual cues that support the student in taking a break appropriately can be provided. This can include information regarding prescribed break time activities or activities the student can choose from. This information can be posted in the classroom for all students to view or, for individual student supports, might be accessed in a reminder binder or on a digital device.
Teach students the meaning and the value of TABS to regulate their behavior when they are in a situation where they feel overwhelmed. Model how to take a break when initiated by an adult. Directly teach, reinforce, and practice how to take a break appropriately.
It’s important to remember that TABS is not a punishment. Encourage the student to use the TABS Strategy Card to regulate his own behavior in all environments. Ensure that other adults who support the student are aware of the strategy so that it can be used across settings