After a long day, your kids might be more agitated and less likely to want to do their homework—or anything, for that matter. But when do these outward expressions of fatigue become telltale signs of more than just that long-day crankiness?
We use the term “burnout” when talking about adults feeling completely overworked and overwhelmed. But kids can suffer from burnout too. It’s defined as physical and emotional exhaustion and having a lack of motivation.
Laura Wright, family therapist at Cook Children’s, defines the key elements of burnout. “[It’s] a breakdown of being overstimulated and not having enough down time to recharge,” she explains. “A physical, mental, emotional collapse.”
Wright, who’s been practicing for 10 years, says she has seen several young patients experiencing burnout, even kids as young as 5––yes, 5. One particular 5-year-old patient has a full plate: soccer, T-ball, family outings almost every night and on top of all that, kindergarten.
The new kid culture is a culture of busyness: While involvement in after-school clubs and lessons has fluctuated over the past couple of decades, the number of children ages 6–17 involved in sports has increased according to the U.S. Census Bureau—in 1998, 36% of kids were involved in sports compared to 42% in 2014. And younger elementary kids seem to have more homework than they did in the 1980s, per data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress—more homework but less recess and free play time.
All of this activity can add up to burnout. As your kiddos’ first line of defense, you can watch for burnout symptoms and find a plan to help your kids truly feel and do their best in the things they love.
Courtney Polk noticed her two young kids, ages 3 and 5, were showing signs of exhaustion from their long commute to and from school in South Dallas (a drive of a little over an hour––multiply that by five days a week). She explained that her 5-year-old son would become frustrated when he would do his homework and would sometimes cry.
“[He] would just give up,” Polk says. “I want him to be excited about learning and want to learn. It’s hard to find that balance, pushing him to do it, and knowing we have to do it, but also not overwhelming him––that was really difficult with us getting home so late.”
Aside from school and long commutes, extracurricular activities can also add to that feeling of exhaustion. Remember Wright’s 5-year-old patient?
As parents, it’s natural to want our kids to excel in all aspects of life. You might sign your kiddos up for extracurriculars such as basketball or dance, on top of taking them to social events on the weekends because you want them to make new friends.
“[Parents feel pressure] to get their kids involved in so much more because they feel like their kids are going to get left behind or left out, or they’re not going to be successful later in life, and so they’re just kind of guilted into that path of overscheduling,” Wright says.
“Giving unstructured time helps kids learn to manage their feelings, to cope with uncomfortable feelings.”
Signs that your kiddos are burned out include a sudden disinterest in things that they used to love, complaining that they don’t want to do something, and procrastinating. “[They are] just having less enjoyment or pride in what they’re doing,” Wright says.
Sometimes an extreme change might be needed to address your kids’ burnout symptoms. Polk and her husband decided to move—now in Rowlett, they’ve cut the school commute by more than half. But smaller steps can be taken to prevent burnout too.
Wright recommends taking a step back and doing one thing at a time. For example, don’t enroll your kid in soccer and baseball at the same time. And help them manage the time they spend on day-to-day activities such as school and chores.
“Teach them how to take effective breaks,” she says.
This is something Polk does with her kids––they tackle homework piece by piece.
“[My son] will work on it a little bit, while I’m making dinner,” she explains. “And in the morning, while I’m preparing breakfast, I’ll say, ‘Hey, let’s start your homework, let’s see if we can get a little more done. Or we’ll just practice spelling words while I’m cooking.”
Wright stressed the importance of checking in on your kids. Talk to them about how they’re feeling. “Ask about their needs,” she says.
She also mentions giving your kids unstructured time, which she says shouldn’t be synonymous with screen time. This should be a time where kids get to play freely.
“Giving unstructured time helps kids learn to manage their feelings, to cope with uncomfortable feelings,” she says. Take your kids out to the playground or a walk (weather permitting, of course).
Polk tries to make sure her and her kids’ weekends stay free of work for the most part. One of her son’s favorite pastimes is going to the discount store Five Below.
“He looks forward to the weekends and going to Five Below if he’s had a great week,” she shares. “Even if he doesn’t do that great, we still celebrate his accomplishments.”
Recharge & Reset
Although this might seem like you’re adding one more thing to your and your kid’s to-do list, yoga classes can actually help them learn how to refocus their energy and cope with their emotions. Consider replacing something on the schedule with one of these kids’ yoga and meditation classes, and we’ve included a few at-home resources to try too.
Just released earlier this fall, Stress Stinks by Bryan Smith tells the story of little Amelia, who is overwhelmed by school, extracurricular activities and social worries. The book talks about her feelings and stressors and how her mom helps her through these feelings. Recommended for ages 5–11.
If your child is more of a visual learner, check out Cosmic Kids Yoga’s YouTube channel. Episodes incorporate stories and themes—such as cats, Pokémon and Frozen—with yoga poses and guided meditation.
In Dallas or Collin County:
Get a well-deserved workout in while your littles learn their poses at Craig Ranch Fitness’ yoga classes. Classes are on Wednesday and Thursday from 9:30–10:15am for ages 5–12. You do need a membership, but you can get a complimentary one-day pass to try the gym out.
7910 Collin McKinney Parkway, McKinney; 214/383–1000
DFW Sahaja Meditation hosts meditation classes for kids all throughout the Metroplex, including Dallas, Carrollton, Richardson and Frisco. RSVP for a session near you online. If you can’t make it to a class, join the online meditation class on Saturday mornings at 11am (in your PJs, of course).
Multiple locations; dfwmeditation.com
Classes for ages 4–13 at the Kadampa Meditation Center Texas consist of a short meditation followed by a themed craft and instruction. Plus, there’s food afterward. Classes are free, but donations are accepted.
1875 Laws St., Dallas; 214/238-3331
Stop by We Yogis with your little ones for Lil Yogis, offered at both locations for ages 4–8 (Lovers Lane) and 3–8 (Mockingbird). Sign up for classes online.
5600 W. Lovers Lane, Suite 150, Dallas; 214/351-1229
6465 E. Mockingbird Lane, Suite 362, Dallas; 469/206-3311
Kiddos ages 4–12 can get their zen on at Yoga on Main in downtown Frisco. Classes on Tuesday at 5pm focus on basic yoga poses and calming techniques.
6726 Main St., Suite 310, Frisco; 214/407-8337
Yogees Yoga 4 Kids offers a variety of classes in Dallas and Collin counties for age 18 months and up. Search for classes near you and sign up online.
Multiple locations; yogeesyoga4kids.com
In Tarrant County:
Every Saturday at 10am (except holidays), Cook Children’s Medical Center offers free yoga for kids and parents. Located in the Family Support Meeting Room, these classes focus on breathing with the goal of reducing stress and pain.
801 Seventh Ave., Fort Worth; 682/885-4549
DFW Sahaja Meditation hosts meditation classes for kids all throughout the Metroplex, including Fort Worth. RSVP for a session near you online. If you can’t make it to a class, join the online meditation class on Saturday mornings at 11am (in your PJs, of course).
1300 Northeast 35th St., Fort Worth
Kids ages 6–12 are welcome to the once-a-week classes at Keller Yoga. Here, kids will focus on breathing, poses and emotional regulation exercises—in other words, they’ll learn how to differentiate their emotions and redirect or get rid of negative energy. Classes start at 4:45pm. For teens ages 13–18, classes every Monday focus on breathing and poses, with an emphasis on stress reduction. Classes start at 5:15pm.
5761 Park Vista Circle, Suite 201, Keller; 817/591-1702
In Denton County:
The Aubrey Area Library has yoga on Wednesdays after school beginning at 4:30pm, lasting about an hour. Classes are geared toward age 6 and up and include a warmup, games and a book. (We can’t have a yoga class in a library without a story, right?) Parents are welcome to the classes too.
226 Countryside Drive, Aubrey; 940/365-9162
DFW Sahaja Meditation hosts meditation classes for kids all throughout the Metroplex, including Coppell and Irving. RSVP for a session near you online. If you can’t make it to a class, join the online meditation class on Saturday mornings at 11am (in your PJs, of course).
Multiple locations; dfwmeditation.com
The yoga classes at Yogi Kids and Fit Family incorporate songs and games while teaching breathing techniques, mindfulness and guided relaxation. Classes for the littles (4–8) are Tuesday at 6:15pm and Saturday at 10am; classes for ages 9–13 take place Tuesday at 7pm. Be sure to RSVP for classes online.
3051 Churchill Drive, Suite 250, Flower Mound; 214/325-2547
Image courtesy of iStock.