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Taking Away Recess as Punishment – Find A Better Way

by Sharon Lutz

Update: Policy Statement (12/31/12):  The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that recess is a crucial and necessary component of a child’s development and, as such, it should not be withheld for punitive or academic reasons.

The Crucial Role of Recess in School

My sixth grade son, 12, is diagnosed ADHD with anxiety. His current IEP does not include ADHD, only another disability. He has difficulty finishing his homework.  The school takes away recess as punishment.  This type of punishment never works for him, but it does cause undue stress and depression.

Is there anything we can do to stop this missed recess?

We had the same problem you are experiencing. The school was taking recess away from my son. He was on an IEP for several years while in grade school for learning disabilities. He was also ADHD.

My son became overly excited in school. He got in trouble for “bad behavior” and could not settle down after recess.  The school gave him meds every 4 hours. He took his second dose right after lunch and before recess.  His morning meds were wearing off and his second dose had not kicked in yet. This was the time of day he would be most likely to get into trouble.

The school responded with in-lunch suspensions. No recess.

Taking Away Recess – A Type of Torture for an ADHD Child

When in-lunch suspensions started, we had several meetings with the IEP Team to discuss the type of punishment he was receiving.  We also discussed his ADHD.

I brought in copies of documentation from professionals to hand out to the Team. I read from professional books that documented how keeping an ADHD child in from recess or not allowing him to take gym class was a type of torture for the ADHD child.

A Creative Solution

We wanted the school to come up with an alternative punishment other than taking away recess. I suggested staying after school to clean erasers, desks, or some other type of punishment.  The school did not like any of those ideas. But the Team did come up with a plan that worked.

We determined that my son’s worst time was trying to settle down after recess. The Team came up with this strategy.

  • After recess, my son would have job every day.
  • He would take a document in an envelope the teacher gave him to the office.

Some days there would be a paper enclosed from the teacher to the office. Some days, the envelope would be empty but my son did not know this.

Instead he looked forward to doing his job.  It made him feel important.  It gave him enough time to settle down and be ready to get back to work when he returned to the classroom.

Once my son started his job, he never got in trouble or got punished for recess.

Sometimes it only takes a simple thing like this to get a child back in line.  This solution may not work for every child. But, a creative team can help a child have a positive experience instead of a negative one.

Physical Education Requirement in IDEA

The IEP Team, including parents, should be familiar with the PE requirements in IDEA. Information and resources can be found on the Physical Education and Adapted PE page at

On this page you will find links to podcasts from National Association for Sport and Physical Education Radio:

Withdrawing Recess as Punishment – Does it Work? This podcast answers the question “Is withholding recess harmful?” and discusses how recess activities can improve behavior for children with ADHD.

Why Recess Matters, How to Defend It? This podcast includes a brief discussion of research about the importance of recess for an child with ADHD.

The Crucial Role of Recess in School:  American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement



Sharon Lutz (Sharon L.) of Ohio is a parent of 3 sons with learning disabilities (ADHD and Dyslexia). Sharon is an advocate for her sons and has 25 years of experience working with school districts and the IEP process. She is a member of the Learning Disability Association.

Sharon is happy to share her information with parents so that others can benefit from her experiences in advocating for her children.

She started a parent advocate group that was successful in sharing ideas and strategies as well and providing information to parents and the community.

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20 Comments on "Taking Away Recess as Punishment – Find A Better Way"


My son is in 4th grade. He has trouble completing his school work. I think he may have ADD. He is disciplined by not getting any recess &/or his lunch break, just only enough time to eat. Do you have any suggestions?


My family and I encountered the exact same problem. It seems after lunch as we all know that medicines suppress children’s appetite that have Adhd. It became a problem for him in the first years while trying to figure out which meds worked for him. My son who is now 9 had a rough time getting adjusted to the school he was in. He has been in two different elementary schools and in each one he had counseling services by in school service counselors and home counseling. Long story short once we as a family decided that he needed to be in a more private setting we are very pleased with his grades and behavior. I can tell you that it has been a long road but there are schools that work with kids with their disabilities instead of against them. Consider Private schools /w income based Christians :)


I am new to this topic and trying to make sure I understand what “Behavior” includes with respect to “Discipline” and “Manifestation Determination”.

My Child has an IEP for a learning disability and is allowed extra time to complete some work. When my child falls behind on completing the work schools solution is to withhold him from recess until he gets it done. This trends towards a downward spiral for a child that also has weak social skills and benefits from the interaction recess provides.

I see this as a punishment for the “disability”, not as a punishment for “behavior”. My initial searches on the topic suggest “behavior” relates to activities the child should be able perform per their IEP or instances where behavior is harmful/disruptive to other students. Am I missing something?


When I was 4th & 5th grades, I had recess taken away from me as punishment for either forgetting homework, catching up on homework, or acting out for no reason. I had the same mean teacher in those grades, she was poorly educated about Asperger’s Syndrome and Autism because she didn’t know how to deal with me. What she did was wrong, and unfortunately she is still there at the school I went to 10 years after I left.


To Debra re 11/9/13 post abt discipline. The law you are thinking of is a federal law, originally known as Public Law 94-142, now known as IDEA 2004. It is on our website. The specific federal statute is 20 USC 1415(k). Look at that and also google the word “discipline” on our website and you will have a better understanding. If you are writing a book, I strongly recommend that you purchase both our law book and our FETA book. Your understanding of the law is incorrect. Such a child may be punished. The issue relates to “manifestation determination.”