From the time children start school, they are encouraged to excel academically. Before they can go outside and play, they’re told to complete their homework, even though they spent most of the day in a classroom.
Learning to balance schoolwork, clubs, jobs and extracurriculars as they get older can be a struggle for students. The expectation to succeed and to balance these responsibilities means sleep can be hard to come by, and exhaustion sets in.
Dr. Aarthi Vemana, a board-certified sleep specialist through the American Academy of Pediatrics, says, “When picking after-school activities, choose something that [the child is] interested in, but make sure you keep in mind [their] school workload so that you can plan the best sleep routine.”
Finding the time to rest is critical, but it is also crucial that students have downtime in their schedule. “Quiet time at the end of the day helps [the] brain to wind down,” Dr. Vemana says. “Sleep happens when the sleep signals in your brain overcome your brain’s activating signals. Time to wind down helps the brain turn down those activating signals so that the natural sleep drive can take over.”
But as they get older and their workload gets more strenuous, students will continue to stay up later and later, even though their clubs may require them to be there before school, which already starts early. Lack of sleep can lead to anxiety and mental instability.
“Remind your child that stress is temporary,” says Denish Johnson, a licensed clinical social worker who works as a therapist and is the associate clinical director of the Ashburn location of the Wellness Connection. “Reevaluate schedules, expectations and what is important. Find time for age-appropriate things such as birthday parties and time with friends as well as ‘me’ time.”
Brains are not washing machines, tumbling and tossing information that comes in at so many different directions. Our minds need a chance to turn off with mundane activity. As parents, it is critical to have students embrace self-care or “me” time. Johnson says, “Self-care should not be mistaken for selfishness, and it is important to encourage our children to take a few minutes a day away from their phones, their peers and their family.”
Parents and teachers need to support students by familiarizing themselves with the signs of strained students and acknowledging that it is necessary to take a step back and breathe, even though it may seem impossible as the assignments, group projects and exams are never-ending.
Hard work will inevitably lead to success, but maintaining sanity is equally important to the mental state of students. Standing up for downtime and encouraging students to work hard without sacrificing their mental well-being will lead to success in and out of the classroom. Cheers to a happy and balanced school year.
Tips for Creating a Balanced Schedule
Johnson encourages parents to implement the following steps to help students find balance in their schedules:
1. Sit with your child and help them develop a schedule. Finding balance is easier when we have a clear idea of what’s on our plate and a plan for how to tackle it.
2. Talk to your child about the classes and activities they are going to be involved in. As a rule of thumb, limit after-school activities to two or three times a week, especially if your child is taking Honors or AP classes. This provides a few open evenings to work on projects or difficult assignments or to spend time with friends and family that they may not be able to see due to the after-school schedule.
3. Help your child have realistic expectations of what they can achieve and what you expect from them. Reassure them that it is alright and they have your permission if they need to change their schedule either by taking less intensive classes at school or decreasing after-school activities.