The Busy Parent’s Guide to Managing Exhaustion in Children and Teens – Excerpts
The Parental Intelligence Way
Exhaustion carries a message
It’s an invitation for understanding
While individual parents all face unique challenges, I have discovered many commonalities that affect their varied situations. To help parents face these challenges effectively, I have developed five powerfully valuable steps that allow every busy parent—no matter how different their circumstances—to find meaning behind their child’s exhaustion. Beyond that, parents can intelligently and compassionately resolve any underlying problems.
The five steps to Parental Intelligence elaborated on in “Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior” (2015) are:
1. Stepping Back
3. Understanding Your Child’s Mind
4. Understanding Your Child’s Development
5. Problem Solving
Together, these five steps provide a road map to help you get to your destination: the place where you understand the meaning behind your child’s exhaustion. What was once obscure will become clear. When the meaning or meanings behind the exhaustion are understood, it is much easier to decide the best ways to handle the situation. Although the unfolding steps are described in sequence, it is valuable to go back and forth among them as you unlock your Parental Intelligence. Especially when handling step five, the problem-solving step, it can be helpful to look back at step two, self-reflecting, and step three, understanding your child’s mind. As new information comes to light, empathy between you and your child will deepen. Going through the five-step process with your child often uncovers problems that are of greater significance than the original behavior. What had been unspeakable will become known, and a new and stronger alliance will form between you and your child.
Learning About the Exhausted Child The Parental Intelligence Way
Two-year-old Cal is curled up on the couch at five o’clock in the afternoon, sound asleep, when his mother returns from work. It’s the second time this week she’s discovering him in a deep sleep at this odd time of day. He usually races to greet her when she arrives home from work. She is not only disappointed in missing the warm hello hug but is also concerned and worried that he’s oversleeping. Daria, the child-minder that Cal’s mother has come to rely on since she went back to work when Cal was four months old, assures her that Cal has had his nap and played happily during the day; Daria, too, finds this exhaustion bewildering.
Strongly committed to using the five steps of Parental Intelligence, Cal’s mother quickly turns to step one, stepping back. This means she pauses without reacting quickly in order to consider the major premise of Parental Intelligence—that a child’s behavior has meaning. She attempts to experience her wide range of emotions without taking immediate action. If she didn’t pause but rushed to awaken her son without suspending judgment, he might see her panic and become unnecessarily distressed.
Learning about Adolescent Exhaustion
the Parental Intelligence Way
Fourteen-year-old Leslie drags herself up the stairs to land on her bed right after school on most days, falling into a deep sleep that can last for three hours. She’s always shocked that it’s six o’clock when she opens her drowsy eyes and that her mother is calling her down to dinner. Like most good academic kids, she can’t sleep like this every day, because she is a member of the debate team and editor of the school paper. She almost always feels exhausted. Sometimes she falls asleep in class, only to get kicked under her desk by her friend to wake her up. At night she sleeps like a rock. Her mother thinks her problem is that she’s picking the wrong friends who aren’t as smart and goal oriented as she is. She fears her daughter is getting lazy. But her mother is off the mark this time.
Leslie and her mother have constant arguments about these friends. Her mother is afraid she’s learning bad habits and is going to get into trouble sexually if she doesn’t regroup with her old steady friends, who are polite and steadfast with their schoolwork. But Leslie needs to experiment with different kids. She feels it’s really harmless, but she and her mother of course disagree.
Leslie spends hours a day preoccupied with her anxieties: she worries about expiration dates on foods, avoiding any leftovers, and separates each food from the others on her plate. She also spends a lot of time lining up her old stuffed animals in a specific order on her shelf. She’s begun skipping lunch at school entirely, because she likes eating by herself to avoid inquiries from her friends about these habits. But they all actually accept her compulsions and treat her normally. Her mother doesn’t realize that she’s adding to Leslie’s obsessive thoughts by constantly telling Leslie to wash her hands after school and to avoid those nasty germs all around her that will get her sick. Leslie has now added this obsession to her repertoire and uses her shirt to open doors; she doesn’t want to touch the doorknobs in school that everyone is handling. She’s become what kids call a germaphobe.
Leslie is well liked and no one except her therapist knows about the excessive sleep. Her exhaustion is hidden, because her mother thinks she is doing homework and visiting kids on the computer. But her mother is still worried about her. Leslie’s excessive sleep interferes with her homework, which causes its own problems because Leslie is a good student with a lot of advanced placement classes. If Leslie doesn’t write something perfectly, according to her excessive standards, she rips up her work and rewrites it. Writing on the computer helps her, but then she gets preoccupied with the margins, spacing, and spellcheck—once again deleting all her work until it’s perfect. On the standardized tests that have become so common, she must pencil in the little answer circles perfectly or she erases her work and does it over. This takes time from solving the problems that she’s supposed to be focusing on.
What does exhaustion have to do with OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder)? Well, Leslie is avoiding her obsessive thoughts and compulsions just to get a mental break from them. Sleep is her escape.