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Signs of Burnout in Children

We constantly hear the saying that “children have it harder these days” or “there is so much pressure on our youth.”  It seems like over time, we are piling more and more expectations on our children as they are having to deal with the pressure of academics, peers, and parents while learning to become independent and self-sufficient.  We are seeing the statistics of increased mental health concerns amongst young people, including anxiety and/or depression.  As we support our children through these pressures, we should recognize the signs of an over-whelmed child.

  1.  Irritability
    1. The child may seem agitated or easily upset by simple situations such as simple questions or circumstances.
  2. Exhaustion
    1. The child may appear fatigued.  This may show up as napping when they have outgrown naps or even showing signs of exhaustion such as irritability or foul mood.
  3. Depression/Anxiety
    1. The child may display signs of depression or anxiety or both.  They may have low mood, frequently make negative comments or have a “just give up” mentality.  They may be excessively worried or preoccupied on their performance which can lead to interference of sleep or even physical symptoms such as chest or abdominal pain.
  4. Apathy
    1. The child may demonstrate sudden lack of caring.  He or she may be easily distracted from or have no interest in completing tasks.
  5. Academic performance
    1. Children who are stressed to the point of burn out may start to have a decline in grades.  Or they may start to miss assignments or have incomplete work.
  6. Substance Use
    1. Some Adolescents may turn to substance use as a way of “coping” with stress or burn out which can include prescription medications, alcohol, tobacco and/or illicit drugs.  Signs of drug use can include loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, decline in grades, irritability, poor concentration, school avoidance and defiant behavior.
What Can We Do?
  1.  Encourage Routine
    1. Children of all ages tend to thrive when routines are implemented.  Routines can help with coping with stress and anxiety and keep the child on task.
  2. Examine and Re-examine expectations
    1. Understand when a child is putting in the work, they may not always get the perfect score whether academically or with sports.  Children should be praised for their hard work either way.
  3. Remind kids their worth is not dictated by winning vs losing
    1. Of course, we encourage kids to participate in physical activity daily and to consider joining various sports or teams that peaks their interest.  They can learn the skills in working with others.  Also exercise can be a great coping activity.  However, children should understand that not winning does NOT determine their self-worth.
  4. Allow for some down time
    1. Taking frequent breaks or scheduled breaks can be very helpful for relieving stress.  Spend time doing fun activities as a family.
  5. Talk it out
    1. Children should practice expressing their concerns and feelings.  Having discussions with children about pressure and stress can help them understand the feeling.  They can learn when to speak up when the pressure is becoming excessive.  These conversations also give parents insight into whether their children are approaching burn out.  The child and parent can consider options to relieve the stress, including changing the routine or limiting the number of academic or sport activities.
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