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"Mom, I'm burned out."

“Mom, I am burned out.”

These are not words you expect to hear from a ten year old. Yet here I was, listening to my normally chipper, curious, and school-loving kid utter them. He dipped his head and rubbed his eyes for several seconds, and then said it again: “I am so burned out.”

Overworked and stressed-out adults complain about burnout. But kids?

Everyone Burns Out

According to Katrina Rozga, the BFDC’s Managing Director and Psychotherapist, burnout can happen at any age, and children are not immune.

When adults burn out, it is typically from job-related stressors, including (from

  • lack of control, not being able to chose or set your own schedule, assignments or workload
  • lack of resources to do your job properly
  • dysfunctional workplace dynamics, such as being bullied at work, undermined by colleagues, or micromanaged by your superior
  • extremes of activity, when a job swings between monotony/inactivity and chaos/overactivity
  • lack of social support, when you feel isolated in work and in your social life
  • work-life imbalance, when work takes so much time and effort that there is no time for friends or family or other activities

If you look more closely at the causes above, it is clear that many of them could easily apply to students attending school online for months at a time.

Children taking online classes:

  • have no control over their own schedule, and how much work they are given
  • may not fully understand their school work, and may not have immediate access to teachers to ask for help
  • may be misunderstood by their teachers who believe them to be lazy, when in fact they are struggling and too embarrassed to admit it
  • sit for most of the day in one place, interacting with others through an awkward digital interface that can not reproduce the dynamic environment of a real classroom
  • have limited contact with friends due to social distancing rules
  • without the benefit of extracurricular sports and activities, have little else in their lives aside from online school
What does burnout look like in kids?

Some kids might simply say, “I am burned out.” Others may not know the term, or may have difficulty articulating their feelings. Parents should look out for these signs of burnout:

  • your child procrastinates, not starting school work or home work without being repeatedly prodded to do so
  • they have lost interest in activities and subjects that used to excite them
  • they feels anxious about logging into school or certain classes, and may cry before or after the school day
  • they report more physical ailments, such as tummy aches or head aches
  • your child has trouble concentrating and focusing during online classes
  • their grades drop, especially in the mid-to-end point of the year
  • your child is frequently late for class, or starts cutting class
  • your child is irritable and seems generally unhappy

These signs may indicate that other problems are present, but they are all potential symptoms of burnout as well. Check in with your child to understand how they are feeling.

What Parents Can Do

Burnout in children is real. Think of how you feel when you are burned out, and then consider how you can help your child.

Take a sick day

Allow your child to take a mental health day, just as you would if they were physically unwell. Avoid screens during that time so they get a full break from online activities. Plan for some outdoor activity and fun to take their minds off school.

Maintain a healthy routine

Routines are reassuring, and should include regular breaks from work. Make sure that your child is taking proper breaks away from their screens and having healthy snacks and meals. After school, ensure that they have free play time, exercise, and the opportunity to get outdoors in a safe, socially-distanced manner.

Talk to your child

Your child may know exactly what is causing them to burn out. Ask them about changing work areas, getting different equipment, or reaching out to a “scary” teacher with questions about a big assignment. Rewards can be helpful, too.

Look behind their behavior

Remember that burnout can look like bad behavior. A child who is irritable, angry or otherwise misbehaving may be struggling in school. If you child has changed from cheerful and engaged to sullen and irritable, consider that it may be a sign, rather than a behavioural problem.

Get help

If your child seems to be struggling with burnout, contact the BFDC. We can help.