Calm Down Corners & Break Cards: What You Need to Know

Do our students need a break just as much as we do? You can bet on it. Students need the ability to remove themselves from difficult or negative situations.  As adults, we might take a walk or feign some excuse to get out of a bad situation, but in the traditional model of education, a student in a desk is often trapped and unable to leave the situation which is causing distress. 

School counselors can assist their school in the development of options for the entire student population or specifically identified students. School Counselors will help develop plans for certain students to have the opportunity to safely leave the classroom to receive counseling or they might help their schools develop safe zones within the classroom to help kids take five minutes to decompress. If you’re currently at a school where desk flipping and big outbursts are the norms, this post is dedicated to you.


If your school is relatively relaxed and you don’t have a large number of student outbursts, I’d suggest using a ‘BOLT CARD’ to allow the identified student(s) to escape the class without panicking the teacher because they think the student has absconded. If you’ve ever been so angry that if you spoke a single word you would yell or cry; you too have needed a bolt card. This card is intended specifically for those moments where the student needs to leave an environment to avoid an outburst while also following the rules and ensuring their safety.

A bolt card is a small square of laminated paper that speaks on the students’ behalf and explains to the teacher that the student is upset and needs to go to a designated location; they need to bolt. I would suggest arranging this plan with all the parties in advance and would never implement this method for young students or those who have a history of fleeing campus.


If your school has more than a handful of students who regularly explode, I would suggest implementing schoolwide ‘safe zones’ or ‘chill zones’ if you’d prefer.  These safe zones are dedicated space within each class that allows students the opportunity to take a brain break for five minutes or less to decompress. Ideally, once the student has had five minutes to relax, they will be able to return to learning with the rest of the group.  In some cases, students might try to take advantage of the safe zone, but those situations can typically be dealt with through a conversation. Teachers need to be sure that they notify the school counselor of students who frequently use the safe zone because those students might need additional counseling to develop coping strategies or conflict resolution skills.  


Neither method should ever be used as a form of punishment and no child should ever be “sent” to the safe zone. An instructor might ask a student if they feel the need a break in the safe zone, but it should never be used as a consequence. You might want to add some tools to help kids decompress while in the safe zone such as fidgets, sunglasses, or written reminders about breathing and relaxation tips. Some classes might use a traditional desk while others will use a bean bag or a rug on the floor. Ultimately, the teachers will determine how space looks within their classroom and our job is to help support their decision and make sure it runs smoothly.