With the start of the new school year, many children are excited, though sad to see summer’s end. They are eager to get new school supplies, have a new teacher, see their friends from school and make new friends. Older children may already be involved in school activities through band, football, drill team or cheerleading practice. As children become adjusted to their new routines, anticipation, eagerness, and excitement begin to fade. Some students keep on sailing through the school year with little difficulty. Other students may find themselves besieged with school work, peer, teacher and parental expectations, and too many extra-curricular activities. A happy, seemingly well-adjusted child on Friday afternoon may become irritable, panicky, disinterested in activities, and downright miserable by Monday morning.
At first, parents may believe their child is becoming difficult, uncooperative, hormonal, or full of teenage angst! But, something else might be happening and parents need to stop assuming and start investigating. One problem facing children is the inability to apportion the right amount of time for their endeavors. With too many activities, there is never enough time and school work could suffer. Older children involved with school, other activities and part-time employment, may find they have little time for sleep, study or down time, as they rush from school to practice, to employment to home. It isn’t long before physiological, emotional, cognitive or behavioral symptoms emerge. Migraine headaches and other body aches and pains, sleep problems (falling asleep, staying asleep, nightmares) can occur. Emotional outbursts, upset stomach, fatigue, anti-social acts and withdrawal are obvious signals that a child is overwhelmed, stressed-out, and heading toward depression.
Unfortunately, some children do not verbally communicate when they are having difficulty. They don’t want to disappoint or be considered failures. Children may be fearful of their parents’ negative reaction. As a result, inappropriate and even dangerous behavior could occur. Running away, skipping school, using drugs, self-mutilation, anorexia, bulimia, and panic attacks are examples of these acting-out behaviors.
Parents need to pay attention and listen to their children. If a child is juggling too many activities and struggling with grades, it is time to cut back. One extra-curricular activity, preferably something physical or expressive…soccer, piano, wherever a child’s talent lies may be enough. Children need to excel and feel good about an activity, or they won’t stick with it. A big clue for disinterest could be the continued desire to skip gymnastics or not practice a musical instrument. Children should have time to rest, enjoy proper nutrition (not skipping meals because there is no time to sit down and eat), socialize with their family and friends, develop their spirituality, laugh and just take a deep breath or two, with peace of mind!