Month: May 2017

Effective Break Taking

Effective Break Taking

It is commonly agreed that taking a break increases efficiency and productivity in all tasks.  Revision is one such task where we generally understand that taking breaks can be helpful, but what should those breaks look like,  how often and for how long should we take them and which activities are most restorative?

How long should we expect children to concentrate for?

It is generally understood that an adult’s optimal concentration decreases after 90 minutes, but for children especially those with executive function challenges this can be much shorter. Teachers are trained to never have any classroom activity last for more than 20 minutes.  As a rule of thumb, most parents are taught that children should only be expected to concentrate for as many minutes as they are years old and this can be a helpful tool to manage expectations. I personally do not expect my students under 13 to concentrate on one task for more than 10 minutes, with some older students or those on medication sometimes being able to concentrate for a maximum of 20 minutes on one task.

So should I give my child a break every 10 minutes?

Not at all, shifting to another task allows a child to shift focus and start a new concentration period.  For children under 13, I suggest 4 x 10 minute activities followed by a break.  For older children, 4 x 20 minutes is plenty in one sitting.  Back in 1953, Nathaniel Kleitman – physiologist the university of Chicago discovered that the body worked in Ultradian rhythms of 90 minutes, in my view this understanding still stands and is an excellent reason for adults and older children to keep revision sessions to around 90 minutes before having a break.  All this said, each child is different so talk to your child, be prepared to try out different strategies and work out with them what rhythm of revision works best for them.

How long should I allow for a break?

This depends on how long it takes for them to feel restored. Most schools recommend 10 – 15 minute breaks, with a longer break for lunch. Nathaniel Kleitman recommended 20 minute breaks. Experiment with different lengths of breaks until you find a time at when your child is refreshed and able return to work ready to start again.

What are the most restorative activities to do during a break?

These days most of us gravitate towards social media during our breaks. Whilst connecting with our peer group and family can be restorative, it is often better done face to face if possible. Exercise is often heralded an excellent restorative activity; in a recent study at Princeton University they found that exercise releases the neurotransmitter GABA, which has a calming effect on the brain. Being with nature can also be important, indeed a recent paper in the Journal for Attention Disorders offered proof that a walk in the park was more restorative for children with attention deficits than a walk in any other environment. Other restorative activities include short naps, or short periods of meditation – I find the OMM app for one minute meditation an excellent resource.


We advise you to break revision down into small chunks, liaise with your child to help them workout their own concentration/productivity rhythm, and encourage them to take regular breaks of about 20 minutes: a walk in the park or the countryside has been proved to be the most effective activity to do on a break.

Mrs Victoria Bagnall, MA (Cantab), PGCE.

How to support and stay connected with your child while they are revising

How to support and stay connected with your child while they are revising

Parents want to do their best to support their children at all times, particularly during exam times, but it can be hard to know what and how much to do, especially when they can be grumpy and rude. There are some key things to remember and top tips here.

  1. Scaffold the young person’s life – this may well be happening anyway, but making sure that the structures and scaffolds of family life are securely in place during this time is important. This means having clear bedtimes, meal times, periods of quiet for studying etc. Routines make children feel safe and secure but supporting the brain and body with regularity is also going to be really helpful at this time. So now is not the time to have house parties, be absent as a parent or suggest all night box-set binges!
  2. Communication: Think carefully about what you say and how you say things to the young person. For example, try to make sure you always ask how the child is generally and focus on things they value before asking “what are you going to revise today?”. Use open-ended questions (“do you have a plan for how you are going to spend your day?”) rather than closed-ended questions (“are you going to do any revision today or just sit on your phone all day?”, with sarcasm). Show empathy for their situation (“it must be hard to have to work during your holiday period”) rather than disdain (“everyone else in the world does this too, you are not so special”).
  3. Watch your own emotions: we all want our children to do as well as they can in exams, particularly national exams, when stakes are high. This can raise our own emotions as we feel increasingly anxious about how they will do and frustrated by them not always seeming to do their best. We need to take time out when feeling overwhelmed and not pass on our anxiety or irritation to the young person as this will not help them. Be aware of your own bodily sensations and practice self-regulation and taking time out when feeling stressed. Notice thoughts you have that trigger feelings of stress (“he’s never going to get the right grades at this rate and then won’t get a good job and will end up homeless”). This is time when we can tend to catastrophize and over-generalise. Despite our desire to act when our children are stressed, what we really need to do is be truly responsive and listen to what they need. The more you are able to tune into how they are feeling, the more connected they will feel to you which they need more than ever right now. If a child feels like you are sensitive to their needs they are also more likely to be responsive to your advice.


Most importantly, remember that the results of these exams will not be the only determinant of the child’s success in life. Every child and young person will learn and grow just from taking part in the exams and offering an open space for reflection whatever the outcome is what counts.


Bettina Hohnen, Clinical Psychologist

April 2017