I don’t know about you, but when I’m exhausted my emails usually have a lot of typos. I pause too often in conversation trying to catch my thought. I may very well bite your head off if you ask me to do something — anything.
Do you know when your child is exhausted? And I’m not talking about the obvious drowsy heads like when you’ve had a full day at Disney World.
Did your child wake up at an ungodly hour to accommodate your work schedule and then head to school, after-care, dance, piano, homework time, and finally, Dad’s house for dinner?
Think about your child’s weekly schedule. How much time a day is spent on instrument practice, sports practice, homework, religious instruction, and chores? As they get older there is the addition of test prep, college applications, tournaments, and perhaps a part-time job.
What happens when Mom and Dad are divorced and there is back and forth between homes, possible step-siblings, and parental tension?
The National Sleep Foundation says that 30% of preschoolers don’t get enough sleep, and a recently released study by the University of Colorado at Boulder found that sleep-deprived young children consume 20% more calories than usual.
As the author of Unlocking Parental Intelligence and a practicing psychoanalyst for more than 30 years, these are the signs of exhaustion I look out for in children:
1. Increased crying and tantrums.
2. Acting out in school.
3. Not getting enjoyment out of certain activities they used to love.
4. Loss of appetite or overeating.
5. Telling you they are tired or bored when they’ve had enough sleep.
6. Increased fears.
7. Withdrawing into their rooms for too long.
8. Erratic sleeping or wanting you to sleep with them.
9. Losing interest in friendships.
10. Seeming to lose a sense of pleasure and vigor in general.
Enriching your child’s life with extracurricular activities is not the problem at hand. The problem is not giving our children enough time to just be kids — playful, silly, imaginative, and social for older children. Dare we say, we need to give kids the time to do what they want to do.
Everyone in the house needs time with no agenda. Additionally, parents need to curb their own anxieties about their children’s performance in their various activities.
How should a parent handle their child’s extracurricular life? Here are six tips for listening to your child about their life outside of school:
1. Don’t scrutinize and judge your child’s performance on their activities.
2. Watch what you say about school activities, so you don’t push for a competitive edge too hard.
3. Make sure they have free time to do what they want to do.
4. Take a step back and don’t react immediately when you see puzzling behavior. How can you know what to do about a misbehavior before you understand it?
5. Collaborate with your child about which extracurricular activities they prefer.
6. Value your child’s thoughts, opinions, points of view, and desires by listening carefully. Listen to them without interrupting until they are really finished with what they have to say.
Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. is a psychoanalyst with specialized clinical training in infant-parent, child, adolescent, and adult psychotherapy. She has been on the faculties of New York University and the Society for Psychoanalytic Study and Research, among others, and has written extensively on parenting for various publications, including the Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, The International Journal of Infant Observation, The Inner World of the Mother, Newsday’s Parents & Children Magazine, Long Island Parent. Her new book, Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior, promotes a new parenting mindset that helps adults learn what their kids think, want, intend, and feel. To learn more, visit lauriehollmanphd.com.