It is just passed Valentine’s Day and my grade schooler is suddenly cranky, acting sleep deprived and testing boundaries. With a lot of patience, I try to find out what is upsetting her. Here’s where it gets a little sticky. Because every time I ask, “What’s wrong?” My daughter says, “Nothing!” –or–“Leave me alone!” –or–simply gives a roll of her beautiful brown eyes as she turns her back and walks away from me.
She seems tired. Maybe she needs more sleep. I set a 9pm absolute bedtime and then I find her reading under her covers. I take away all the electronics. This does not please her.
“When you are no longer cranky and look tired, you can have your electronics back,” I said.
“I’m not tired!” she wails.
“Go to sleep!” I wail back.
Each day I look for signs that she is back to normal. Each day starts with grumbles and ends with tears or moaning or both. School bag gets dumped on the floor along with coats and boots. It seems as though it takes too much energy to pick up after herself or follow our home’s expectations. Maybe I should take her to the doctor. Maybe she has some infection or horrible illness.
“I’m not sick!” she screams, as she grabs an apple and a cookie and heads for her room.
To be fair, she doesn’t look sick. She eats okay and I know she’s sleeping. It’s just she seems to be so lethargic in getting through her normal routines of school, dance (it’s only once a week and she loves it, used to love it), and home.
The above is a snapshot of children in February. After Christmas, before Spring Break. It was my therapist experience that I often received unhappy children in February. I went to the experts: teachers. And yes, there seemed to be a correlation between droopy, tired, unhappy children and the month of February.
Quickly, let me give an adult understanding of our own work lives (work is to the adult: as school is to the child). We have built into our lives an expectation of when we can NOT work–go on vacation. A vacation can be a weekend or a month-long respite. The important thing is that we can experience a change in our routine that makes our routine less boring and perhaps less stressful.
But what about children? For most, thankfully not all, the adults have decided that they can work for NINE months and then have a THREE month vacation. (Hint: when we adults were children, how long did it take for Christmas to roll around every year? Compared to being an adult?)
Time is very different for a child than an adult. NINE months can be a very long, long, long time. Happy are the children who are in a school program that works on quarters and they get a vacation every THREE months. And yes, shorter summer vacations–but fewer grumbles and burned out students.
But what about the child who suffers from being chained to the duty-bound prescription of NINE months of school? Teachers and I agree: they need to PLAY more. Move around, laugh, learn through experiencing. A lot of teachers plan to have learning activities that involve a sense of play during the l-o-n-g months of February and March.
My tired, whinny, tearful, angry, droopy daughter came home from school much brighter after her teacher told the class that they were putting on a play about a dragon who was rescued by the town’s children. (And yes, the teacher found a way to work in math, language, spelling, memorization, and of course, interactive play into the script.)
So before you take your sad and temper-prone student to the doctor–try out a vacation from the routine–see what happens.
Be gentle through the long days of February and March.