Child development

Children overloaded

Overload is when the child’s complete energy is focused on only one area, e.g. obligations, excluding all other developmental tasks and interests, like playing with friends, which are crucial for healthy growth.

Long-term high exposure to stress at work leads to a state of psychological, physical and psychophysical exhaustion and apathy in adults. It is not fatigue but burnout syndrome. Tight schedule can also cause stress and a feeling of overload. Children with insufficient free time often feel exhausted and distracted.

It often happens that parental expectations are too high and inappropriate, put pressure and overload the child, these parents sending their child a message that they expect the child to succeed in all areas of their life. However, it is also possible that the child misunderstands parents’ message and participates in some activities only because s/he thinks parents expect that s/he does so.

Overload is when the child’s complete energy is focused on only one area, e.g. obligations, excluding all other developmental tasks and interests, like playing with friends, which are crucial for healthy growth.

Studies show that there are three phases of overload:

1. The pressure causes that the child experiences disappointment. S/he wants to talk with someone about it, but does not know how, which leads to discouragement manifest as irritability, difficult and demanding behaviour. These behaviours often confuse parents, who do not know how to detect if the child is overloaded or having some transitory problem.

2. In the second, or mild phase, the child starts having difficulties in functioning, “sleeps to escape” in order to avoid the problem, has eating disorders and problems with doing school tasks, becomes moody, low mood lasts longer than a few hours, is often tearful and feels helpless and hopeless.

3. In the third, or severe phase nothing functions any more. The child is not only in the low mood, but becomes depressive and cannot function within the family and other systems in which s/he is involved. S/he may withdraw from everybody and everything, become extremely rebellious and have difficulties with emotions control (rage, anger, sadness).

Some studies show that girls in the sixth, and boys in the eighth grade are most vulnerable to overload, because at that age they are trying to grasp who they are, why and what they should learn and how they can be themselves, and at the same time satisfy their parents, teachers and the society.

Changes in the child to take care of:

Irritability

Anxiety

Combativeness

Melancholy

Apathy

Fatigue

Difficulties with concentration and/or sleeping

Sudden fits of rage

Headache and stomachache

Appetite loss

Stress and sadness

Lack of interest and motivation

Low academic achievement, avoidance of school practice, intensive anxiety before competitions and performances, inappropriate behaviour, low mood and hostility

Parents can help by

1. Paying attention to the child, recognising their child’s feelings

2. Talking with the child and encouraging him/her to say what bothers him/her, making the child aware that parents care and will listen carefully

3. Adjusting expectations to their child’s abilities

4. Taking care of the balance between their child’s school obligations, extracurricular activities, free time, life within and outside the family

5. Spending quality time together – organising excursions which are interesting to all family members, having at least one meal per day together, being, talking and having fun together

6. Helping the child to set appropriate and achievable goals (both short and long term), teaching him/her planning strategies, organising and coping with problems in order to facilitate achieving the desired goals

7. In cases of overload, helping the child trim the schedule which is too demanding, distinguishing between the activities which take too much time and burden the child and others and analysing if the child is equally into all of them

It may be necessary that parents themselves first slow down! Children of overloaded parents are often overloaded, too. Think about yourself, your values and priorities, what kind of a role model you are. Do you take proper care of yourself and your needs?