How To Deal With Distractions When Revising

By Clare Josa | Revision Tips

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We’ve all been there: thinking our child is upstairs in their bedroom, revising hard, only to discover that an hour has passed and they haven’t even got started yet. It’s tempting to yell with frustration, but the stress that would trigger just makes revision harder. So what can you do if they keep getting distracted when they should be revising?

How can you help them?

Here are three strategies for dealing with distractions when you’re revising.


1. Remember that revising requires concentration and that takes effort – and practise.

In our modern world we take multi-tasking to new levels, adding in multi-screening to keep our minds constantly active. Back in 2008, when I was studying to become a meditation teacher, I discovered how hard it was to let my mind rest on a thought – to concentrate – rather than having it grasshopper its way through my library of inner distractions.

It took practice and commitment to learn to concentrate – it’s something I have to teach the adults in my meditation and mindfulness workshops, because most of us have forgotten how to think of just one thing at a time. And even now, a decade later, one of my early warning signs that I’m stressed or tired is that my mind wanders.

Revising takes concentration - that's a skill that needs practice. How To Deal With Distractions When You're Revising: #beatexamstress #examstress #revisiontipsClick To Tweet

So one of the first things to check if you find your child looking for distractions while they’re revising is whether they’re tired and need a break. Taking five minutes out can help them get much more from the rest of their revision time. Maybe some exercise, drinking some water or doing something you enjoy will reboot their brain? The key is to keep an eye on the time this takes!

For younger children and teens, we also need to remember how much they still live in the moment and how quickly they can forget something they agreed just minutes before. Our kids need our help to develop the self-discipline needed to revise – in a way that doesn’t cause them stress. It might mean some tough love, like taking away their phone during revision periods, or you could use the ‘carrot’ instead of the ‘stick’ by offering treats and rewards. Either way, gently checking up on them and showing an interest in the progress they are making will help them to keep going, when they’re not in the mood to revise.


2. Distractions do something for us…

In the world of psychology, there’s a term called ‘secondary gain’, which is about what that ‘crazy behaviour’ is doing for us. So if your child is drowning in distractions and putting off revising, chances are they’re getting some kind of inner reward, even if they’re super-stressed about your exams and know what they ‘ought’ to be doing. That distraction is meeting a hidden need.

Find a healthier way to meet that need and the distractions lose at least some of their appeal.

Those revision distractions are doing something for us - even though that sounds crazy!Click To Tweet

How can you help them to find that hidden need? Here are two questions that unlock it:

  • What are the distractions doing for me?
  • What do I get to avoid, by being distracted?

The questions might send their head into a spin, so it’s best to let the answers bubble up, without judgement. You might need to add a second layer question to dive in more deeply:

  • And what is that doing for you?

Typical comments include:

  • I don’t have to face my revision.
  • I don’t have to think about how stressed I am about the exams.
  • I’m too tired to concentrate.
  • I’m missing my friends.
  • I’m worried I won’t be able to answer the questions.
  • I’m bored / the subject is boring.
  • I don’t know where to start.
  • I feel overwhelmed.
  • I don’t have enough time.

When you uncover the real reasons behind the distractions, you can do something about them. Maybe the way they’re revising needs to change. Maybe they need to plan in friend-time. Maybe they need help to deal with some exam stress fears. When they understand what is feeding your need to procrastinate or be distracted, it’s easier to focus on their revision.

Those revision distractions are doing something for us - even though that sounds crazy!


3. Learning how to motivate yourself is an important life skill

We live in a world where people expect instant gratification. That instant gratification gives us a dopamine hit – the neurotransmitter that plays a role in reward-motivated behaviour – that becomes addictive. Exam revision doesn’t usually give much of a dopamine high, so it can feel hard to motivate yourself to put in the hours you need, when distractions like social media conversations provide that reward in seconds.

But motivating ourselves to keep going, especially when we’re not in the mood, is a vital life skill. In the world of yoga and meditation there’s a special word for it – abhyasa – it’s that dedication to keeping taking the actions you need, to produce the outcome you want, even if there’s no instant, obvious reward.

So one of our jobs as parents or teachers is to teach our kids how to do this – to cultivate patience and dedication in our modern fast-moving world.

Learning how to motivate yourself is an important life skill - and revision is a great place to start.Click To Tweet

When it comes to letting go of distractions during revision time, instead of banning them, how could you turn it around? How could you child come up with their own solutions to give them an incentive not to get distracted, to put in the focus and effort needed to get results?

What questions could you ask them, to help them come up with their own solutions?

What could they do to make their revision more – dare I say it – fun?

How might you help them to feel motivated by the final goal, so they commit to putting in the effort?

It can feel easy to fall back on ‘have to’ and ‘because I say so’ when we’re all stressed about exams, but it makes it harder, all-round, in the long term.

Learning how to motivate yourself is an important life skill - and revision is a great place to start.


So there are three strategies to help your child with exam revision distractions. I’m curious: which resonate with you? Give them a go and let me know how they help, via the comments.

And do you have any of your own? What works for your family?

x Clare


About the Author

Clare Josa has spent the past 15 years teaching over a million people to feel less stressed and to make the difference they are really here to make in the world. But when her eldest son hit exam stress - hard - she decided she had to do something to help parents to help their kids, and How to Beat Exam Stress was born. Clare is the author of five life-changing books and her recent debut novel, You Take Yourself With You, has been described by readers as 'unputdownable'.


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