People at any point in their life may experience burnout – yes, even children (Smith, 2020)!
Burnout is caused by large and enduring amounts of stress and can cause one to feel emotionally drained and fatigued, overwhelmed, pressured and unable to meet constant demands.
A study conducted by Christopher Munsey (2010) found that one in three children report experiencing headaches in a month.
Additionally, 44 percent of children report sleeping difficulties, and one in five children experience a considerable amount of anxiety. This may be due to finding transitions into school extremely stressful, continuous exposure to stressful or traumatic events, struggling with external changes, or being extremely driven to excel at school and more.
What does Burnout look like in Children?
The signs of burnout can look the same in children, adolescents and adults.
Sometimes the signs of burnout in children can slide under our radar, and may not become noticeable until sometime later where there is an observable change in your child’s behaviour. Being aware of signs on the road to burnout can help prevent your child from feeling mentally defeated, overwhelmed, and closing off.
Common signs of burnout in children:
- Loss of motivation – Your child may not feel motivated to participate in any extra-curricular activities, procrastinate or withdraw from homework and school work.
- Loss of care – Your child may have lost interest in things, for example; school, friends, a favourite sport or hobby. Observable changes in behaviour may include blunt or one word replies.
- Avoidance behaviours – Your child may be avoiding situations that he/she did not previously do. For example, your child used to love going on sleep overs, but now wants to stay at home.
- Worries, anxiety and fear – Your child may be experiencing an increase in fear, worries and anxieties. When anxiety becomes too much for children to handle, it may cause them to cry, feel sick (including tummy aches and headaches), shake, sweat and freeze to name a few.
- Attitude shift – Your child’s attitude has shifted into a predominantly negative mindset.
- Concentration – Your child may find it hard to concentrate, this could be in conversations with people, at school or when doing homework, and other activities.
- Emotional changes – Your child may be easily getting frustrated with situations or things that they previously did not get triggered by.
The good news is there are things that parents can do to help kiddos that may have experienced burnout, and therapeutic interventions that can help children express how they are feeling through play, as well as to process their feelings, build confidence, self-esteem and resilience, and learn coping strategies and emotional regulation.
How can we Help Children with Burnout?
Child Centred Communication – Sometimes it’s easy to fall into a pattern of putting words in our child’s mouth, assuming what is troubling them. By reflecting on content and feelings it allows children to open up and express how they are feeling.
Trust your child’s limits – Maybe you have seen a shift in your child’s emotions and behaviour depending on their workload, pressures, or changes occurring. For example, your child saying phrases like “I can’t do it” more than “I can do it”.
Quality time – Try to increase time together that doesn’t involve extra work, or focus on your child’s challenges. Finding something that you both find enjoyable, whether it be playing cars, or going for a walk together can help with self-care and develop a stronger connection.
Self-care – Self-care is so important, especially for children! When a child may be experiencing burnout, they may have an increased fight, freeze, flight response system. Doing self-care activities that align with your child’s interests can help decrease those signals. Some self-care activities may include; reading a book, having a bath, taking breaks between work, meditation, and play time to name a few.
Child Centred Play Therapy – Child centred play therapy is an extremely powerful modality as it allows the child to be in the lead due to its non-directive nature.
In life, it is easy to feel out of control and it can feel quite overwhelming. Because of this, I make it a priority that the child is the leader in the room, they have control of which toys they play with and this allows them to be in the driver’s seat in their therapeutic process.
Expressive therapy – Expressive therapies such as sand-tray, play dough, kinetic sand, drawing, painting and other creative tools invite clients to explore themselves through a creative lens. I often will invite clients to show me their world or create their ideal world in the sand tray. This allows the child to emotionally express their inner selves in a safe, non-judgemental environment which facilitates the healing process that is happening in the kiddo’s life.
Author: Larissa Watter, BA Counselling.
Larissa Watter is a Brisbane counsellor, passionate about working with children. She is currently furthering her studies by undertaking a Certificate in Child Centred Play Therapy.
To make an appointment with Larissa Watter try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Loganholme on (07) 3067 9129 or Vision Psychology Wishart on (07) 3088 5422.
- Cochran, N. H., Nordling, W. J., & Cochran, J. L. (2010). Child-centered play therapy: A practical guide to developing therapeutic relationships with children. John Wiley & Sons.
- Homeyer, L. E., & Sweeney, D. S. (2005). Sandtray therapy. Expressive therapies, 162-182.
- Munsey, C. (2010). The kids aren’t all right. Monitor on Psychology, 41(1), 22.
- Smith, M., 2020. Burnout Prevention and Treatment – HelpGuide.org. [online] HelpGuide.org. Available at: <https://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/burnout-prevention-and-recovery.htm> [Accessed 27 March 2021].