How Break Cards Can Help your Child with ADD/ADHD at Home

Children with learning differences may receive specialized instruction at school, but what about outside the classroom?  Professionals in the field of pediatric psychiatry have developed methods to support ADD/ADHD students and their families at home as they tackle challenges both personal and academic.

Break cards are an effective, adaptable learning tool that help children recognize when they feel overwhelmed or anxious.  They give children a set of productive options to deal with their emotions; i.e. breathing exercises, taking a walk, stretching, or talking about their feelings with an adult.  Parents and children can work together to choose break activities.  By giving children agency over their decisions, parents make the break cards an incentive rather than a demand.

Here are some tips for parents and children making their own sets of break cards:

  1. Inform the whole family about break cards and how they work.

Every member of the family should understand how break cards will be used.  Parents should schedule family meetings where everyone discusses break cards openly, without judgment.  Parents can answer questions and set guidelines.  They can also establish that break cards are not just a tool for one child, but a new form of communication for everyone in the household.

  1. Sit down and create physical cards with your child.

To give children a sense of security and control, parents should provide a variety of choices.  Parents can write their own list of suggestions beforehand, but they should allow the child to make additions or exclusions as they see fit.  Families can sit down and craft the cards together with fun materials.

  1. Put break cards in an accessible location.

Parents should consider making multiple sets of cards for any place in the home where they might be needed.  Break cards may start as a homework tool, but they can also be helpful during other stressful situations.  For example, children can use break cards to step away from arguments with siblings or complete routines they find challenging.

  1. Normalize everyone at home using break cards.

Every parent and child in the household can find a practical use for break cards.  When children with ADD/ADHD see neurotypical family members demonstrating how the cards are used, they will feel validated and confident putting them to use themselves later.  

  1. Set guidelines for when break cards can be used.

Not every situation is ideal for break cards, and parents should consider the unique needs of their child.  Break cards are meant to help a child complete a task rather than escape responsibility.  Parents should set limits on how many break cards their child uses each day. 

  1. Practice using break cards together.

Before families put break cards into action, parents and children should practice using them together in different imaginary scenarios. Families can test out different activities to see which ones work best.

As families integrate break cards into their at-home routines, they can add new activities and decide which work best in particular situations.  Over time, break cards can help children with ADD/ADHD tackle homework and other stressful routines on their own.

Information from the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Utah’s College of Education: https://ed-psych.utah.edu/school-psych/_documents/Break-Cards-How-to-Use-Them.pdf

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