“It’s too much”
“I don’t care anymore”
“I give up”
“I don’t remember anything”
“I hate school”
“I’m stressed out”
“I don’t know”
These are the phrases I hear daily from several of my students, between the ages of nine and eighteen. The ages where children should be having that healthy balance of schoolwork, extracurricular activities and socializing. An era of life that typically, yes has growing pains and some turbulence, but should be remembered as fun, and have positive emotions. Instead I interact with students everyday who are suffering with Student Burnout. It is not a secret that Trinidad and Tobago has a competitive, heavily academic curriculum, but how can we balance the fast-paced academics to prevent children from burning out?
Firstly, lets define Student Burnout – Burnout is a state of mental, physical or emotional exhaustion. It happens when students are faced with ongoing stress or frustration with no chance to relax and recharge. Yes we can say, “But these students don’t have to pay bills or have to manage a household, what can possibly be so stressful for them?” However, when we break down their days, most of the students once they hit Standard Four tend to have extremely long days, often over ten hours. Longer than a typical adult work day, with little or no time to relax or recharge. Therefore other than the phrases listed above, here are some more signs of Student Burnout to look out for.
Your child procrastinates: You have to be on top of them to get their work done and remind them several times. Which is met with complaints, stalling and outright refusal.
Your child is apathetic: They don’t seem to care about things like they used to. When you used to ask, “How did school go today?” they would provide at least one detail. Now they shrug and say, “Normal” or “Okay, I guess”.
Your child avoids situations: They were willing to attend extra-lessons, tutoring or remedial classes. Now they come up with excuses not to go.
Your child is anxious or fearful: Studying for exams is always difficult, but the fear of exams has become so intense during the term that they may cry each night during revision or they may be unable to sleep before exams and are having stomach-aches and headaches on the day of exams.
Your child is negative: You often hear them say, “What’s the point?”, “I don’t care”, “I hate school” “Why do I have to learn this?” And they no longer find activities fun that they used to.
Your child has trouble concentrating: They can only study or do homework for about 10 minutes before becoming distracted. When they used to last twice as long.
Your child is testy: They seem to be easily annoyed or upset by little things that didn’t bother them in the past.
The good news is Student Burnout can be managed and prevented. The most important factor is trusting your child’s limits. Every single person has a learning saturation point, where the brain cannot absorb any more academic material. If after back-to-back classes and lessons they keep saying, “I can’t do it!”, or are fatigued and irritated, take these signals seriously. Be open with your child to build a schedule that allows recovery time in their workload.
The next step is to swap fun for work sometimes. If your child is involved in an extracurricular activity such as a sport or music don’t stop them from participating because, “There is not enough time”. It is possible to build the schedule to include the time, even if it is once-a-week. It is tempting to try and cram as much learning into your child’s day, but they need that moment of relaxation and recovery. If they are not in extracurricular, find a fun activity at home. Play a card game, watch a game show together, dance to some music.
It’s important to keep work sessions short. “It’s a series of sprints, not a marathon.” That’s how your child should look at completing homework or working on longer projects. Help them break up their homework, studies or projects into 12- to 20-minute blocks, 30- to 45 minutes as they get older. After that, have them take a five-minute break. They can grab a snack, walk outside, text with a friend, use social media. But when the five minutes are up, they need to return to their seat and move on to the next task. While they’re working, it’s important that they give it their all.
Lastly, it is essential that daily routines are enforced. Routines and predictability can be comforting for students especially when overwhelmed. It helps them manage time and stay on track, gives them a sense of control of what to expect in their day which can reduce stress. Having consistent routines and schedules can help your child gear up for the tasks they struggle with.
Recognizing the signs allows you to make changes at home to keep Burnout at bay. Start by talking to your child about what they’re feeling, and what they think might help.