Frequent meltdowns and emotional outbursts are signs of trouble. Soccer, martial arts, scouting, band practice, gymnastics…is your child over-scheduled and stressed out?
Dr. Adelle Cadieux, pediatric psychologist at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, Mich., says children need a certain amount of down time to be healthy and happy. “Most kids need at least some quiet time every day to promote good and adequate sleep. A half hour to an hour of quiet activity before bed is ideal. That can be hard with a super busy schedule,” says Dr. Cadieux.
It’s unlikely your child is going to call a meeting to discuss the family schedule. The stress of an over-scheduled calendar is likely to show itself in other ways. Cadieux shares some signs of a stressed-out child with Care2.
5 Signs of an Over-Scheduled Child
1. “I don’t feel good.”
Your child has frequent headaches, stomachaches or general complaints about not feeling well.
2. Sleep Problems
Your child has trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Some children react to stress by sleeping way more than usual.
3. Food Battles
Under stress, some children will turn to food for comfort. They’ll eat excessively or be drawn to junk foods. Other children will lose their appetite. If your child seems to be making excuses for not eating, it may be a sign of stress.
Your child is spending more time alone. He or she isn’t interested in spending time with the family and may even withdraw from friends.
5. Irritable & Emotional
Your child has over-the-top reactions to little things that normally wouldn’t be upsetting. Emotional outbursts are far too common.
To Quit or Not to Quit
When it comes to quitting, reasons matter. Children have different stresses than those of previous generations. Cadieux believes that this generation’s involvement with electronic devices has created a type of immediate gratification expectation that you simply don’t get in sports or most activities that require time and patience to acquire skills. You don’t want them to quit activities because they’re obsessing about performance or scores, because that won’t help them learn how to overcome those anxieties or develop their skills.
On the other hand, if your family is dealing with overlapping schedules, overlapping sports seasons, multiple activities and meltdowns that happen on a regular basis, it’s time to have a talk about priorities.
“When you don’t have enough down time, you have to decide what you can give up for a while in order to enjoy the things you’ll keep,” says Cadieux.
How to De-stress Your Child’s Life
Kids have a hard time telling parents there’s a problem. It’s up to parents, says Cadieux, to communicate with kids so they can be comfortable telling us what’s going on. It’s up to us to figure it out.
Sports and other group activities are generally a good thing, providing exercise and team-building skills that serve us well as we grow up. Just how much is too much, depends on the child. Cadieux points out that even within a family, children have different needs and tolerance levels.
If your child is exhibiting signs of stress, talk to him or her. If you don’t get anywhere, talk to coaches, teachers, and friends’ parents, so you can learn if these behaviors are obvious outside of the home. If you can’t pinpoint over-scheduling as the problem, don’t hesitate to take your child to the pediatrician or a licensed mental health practitioner. Negative self statements may be a sign that your child is struggling with something else.
“We can teach our kids how to cope by modeling good coping skills,” says Cadieux. “We need to improve communication about stress and provide them with a way to calm themselves. Make sure you give them good, healthy food to eat, provide for adequate sleep time, and plan ahead how you’re going to structure the week so everybody can get through it without a major meltdown.”