How busy is too busy?
How quiet is too quiet?
Whilst we recognise that spending all our time at home, not interacting with others is not beneficial to children’s mental health. What happens when they over-schedule their time and have little time to do nothing?
The issues that often arise are either:
- Teens whose diaries are too quiet and have no focus, leading to isolation, to
- Teens whose diaries are so busy they leave little/no time for downtime and lead to overwhelm
Careful monitoring therefore becomes paramount to helping strike a careful balance. As the world operates 24/7, our diaries become filled with back to back events, commitments and social situations. However, for a child this can quickly make their world feel overwhelming and out of control. Their inbuilt desire to meet expectations can often mean that they will push through these emotions and the first indicator we see is at the point their symptoms become quite extreme. Therefore, ensuring that we structure their time carefully is vital.
So what do we need to be aware of?
- What is the balance between school, extra curricular, sports and social opportunities alongside downtime?
- How much time do children/teens have to just ‘be bored’ and rest – this is when we process our days
- Are our expectations in the right place – encouraging them to achieve but not pushing to the brink of collapse
- Are there signs that they are struggling?
Each child has a different threshold for how much they can juggle. Some children and teens can very easily manage to juggle huge timetables full of activities and still thrive mentally. Others don’t want to disappoint but quickly feel that they are wading through quicksand and cannot maintain the pace.
An easy way to review this is to consider:
- Are they looking happy about their activities?
- Are they excited to take part?
- Do they talk positively about what they are involved in?
- Are they sleeping well?
- Are they making progress in all aspects – school, sports, hobbies, friends?
- Are they optimistic and generally happy?
- Are they becoming more withdrawn?
- Are they talking less about their activities?
- Are they sleeping / eating/ isolating more than previously?
- Are they acting out? behaving differently? avoiding? trouble at school?
- Are they falling behind or talking less/negatively about school or activities?
- Are there signs of overwhelm/trying to control things – self-harm, eating issues, reckless or risky behaviours?
Whilst we would hope that our children always tell us when something is wrong, often they are scared of disappointing us, fearful of challenging conversations or sometimes, worried that their thoughts may not be taken seriously.
We can review where they are by considering:
Stress often occurs when our lives become out of balance. Very quickly, our world can become dominated by one or two activities and lose it’s sync. For children, a balance should include their lives having:
By regularly evaluating your child’s diary and ensuring that there is a good balance over a month of all areas, you can support your child to regulate their emotions and feel able to decompress. By ensuring that no one/two areas are dominating a child’s timetable you can also support them to learn important life skills. For instance, a child whose studies dominate over social experiences, overtime will find that their concentration or confidence may be affected as they do not have time to socialise, laugh and have fun. A child whose hobbies dominate may feel that they cannot commit to school and a child whose downtime dominates may find that their social opportunities are limited which affects social interactions, self-esteem and confidence.
So what can we do?
1 – Create a timetable so we can keep check – you might colour code this to look at the balance of activities – consider if there is time for homework, seeing friends and just relaxing/downtime alongside clubs, hobbies and school/homework.
2.Create a plan – It can be easy to feel that we need to be revising, studying or doing homework ‘all the time’ to get better at skills. However, research has shown that we need downtime to process information. Help your child plan their time so that they can complete their work and studies, as well as have time to see friends, enjoy hobbies and have some down time to read for fun, play or get outside for physical activity.
3. Keep plans consistent and secure – Being aware that a child who is feeling overwhelmed feels out of control can help you, help them to manage their stress. Help them to: – Plan uninterrupted time to study, revise or do homework – Ensure that other events do not overwhelm their diary – Before springing events on them, consider if they have any important deadlines or exams coming up – the stress of unexpected obstacles can be a tipping point to a child who has planned their study or revision timetable.
4. Recognise that boredom and doing nothing is important – We can be fearful that our children are not doing enough, or not working hard enough, but we need to be careful that our expectations are not impacting their mental health. The circle of balance helps us review this. But do consider that boredom is important as: It stimulates creativity, It allows us to develop new ideas, solve problems and become more innovative, It teaches us to be more productive, It allows us to process information, emotions and feelings, It teaches us to feel more fulfilled and find value in experiences, It helps us to learn about ourselves.
5. If you notice that there are behaviours that are out of the usual – open conversation, with judgement about how you can help them, consider reasons why they may feel out of control, discuss any help or support they may require, praise and compliment the successes that they have had. Look at how adjustments can be made to help or give them some time to catch up and feel back on top of things.
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