Practicing the Art of Itty-Bitty Breaks

practical tips self-care Jan 11, 2024


Many of us dream of whole days, whole weekends, whole weeks off. The ability to disconnect entirely. To unplug and reboot the part of our brain that is always scanning for regulation, counting the hours since the last food intake, fearing the next meltdown, and masterfully co-regulating with our strung out child.

We want a massive break.

But we don't get it.

What is realistic, achievable, and doable stands in contrast to what we truly, badly, deeply need. And this gap makes the unmet need fester. When we cannot meet the need for a break, this need curls up and melts down inside of us. It gets louder and louder and more angry to get our attention. It starts to cause us anxiety and panic. "I need a break! I can't get a break!" We feel trapped.

What if we practiced the art of tiny, itty bitty breaks?

This will be particular to you and what makes you feel alive. Take that fantasy vacation and ask what you would do if you had countless hours.

Rest? Close your eyes for a tiny nap.

Read? Try 2 pages.

Yoga? Touch your toes.

Zone out? Look out the window.

I learned this lesson when I was in labor with my first child. In those short windows of time between contractions, I said to myself, "It's not happening right now. This is a break. I can rest now."

Learning to rest in the itty-bitty breaks, the 2 minute windows that present themselves, is a skill that can save your parenting life.


Parenting a high-needs child can lead to hyper-vigilance, the state of constant threat assessment. This state is also associated with trauma and is exhausting for your brain and nervous system. Hyper-vigilance has lots of challenging effects on your body, including difficulty with sleep and digestion, and body pain.

Taking tiny breaks teaches your body to modulate between threat-assessment and rest. Like mindfulness or meditation, tiny breaks are grounding exercises, bringing greater awareness to the options available to you in the present moment so you don't feel stuck.

You are training your brain to notice when the threats have subsided, the meltdown is over, the child is happy and at ease. It feels like it never happens, like the meltdowns last forever. But they don't. Every challenge eventually comes to an end, and in the few moments in between, you learn to rest.


Tiny breaks are a realistic and sustainable way to interrupt the cycle of hyper-vigilance that makes life feel unsustainable for so many parents of kids with high support needs. We notice those moments when things are OK. We take a small step toward a restorative and restful activity. We train our brain to notice when we are at ease.

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