6 Signs Your Student is Experiencing Academic Burnout and How to Help

Psychology Today says that burnout is more than simple exhaustion from work or school. While students can certainly work themselves to the point of exhaustion—and that’s something parents should be aware of and address—burnout occurs when students overwork for long periods of time while feeling a lack of control over the situation, with little or no passion about the work or a reason to continue.

Here’s a look at six signs that might indicate children and teens are experiencing burnout, and what parents can do to help.

1. Grades get worse

Many students start strong at the beginning of the academic year when their subjects, teachers, and classes are all new and exciting. As the year progresses, burnout with difficult subjects, workloads, family stress, or simply their own expectations for themselves can lead students of all ages to burnout. One common sign is grades trending down, especially in the mid-to-end point of the year.

2. Reduced engagement with friends or family

Burnout can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression, all of which can materialize as self-enforced isolation. Kids may say they are too tired or busy to engage in activities they normally enjoy. If parents see kids shrugging off social engagements they previously enjoyed, it could indicate burnout.

3. Falling asleep in class or in early evening at home

Some kids have a habit of staying up late for social, entertainment, or studying purposes, and that eventually becomes a problem when they are sleep-deprived in the classroom or at home. If kids are falling asleep regularly at their desks or the dinner table, it could be a sign they’re burning the candle at both ends and have lost interest in making an effort at school.

4. Being late to class or school

Older students may cope with exhaustion and burnout by sleeping in, making them late to school if they drive themselves. A sudden tardiness issue could be a sign of burnout, especially if kids don’t seem able to care about the consequences. Because burnout can become a more prevalent issue during adolescence, parents can’t assume everything is okay with older teens just because no one has called to report an issue.

5. Increasingly reporting physical ailments

Kids have been feigning illnesses for decades to get out of going to school, but if a studious child who normally enjoys school starts reporting suspect illnesses a lot, parents should be concerned. Trying to skip school doesn’t automatically mean burnout—kids could be trying to avoid a stressful test, friend issues, or bullying, among other things. But burnout is also a potential culprit.

6. Dropping out of extra-curricular activities

Kids who feel driven—or pressured—to succeed in one area of life may respond to burnout by cutting down on other activities. A child trying to manage a difficult academic schedule might drop clubs or sports; a teen relying on a sports scholarship might drop fun activities or difficult academic classes—even if he or she enjoys the subject.

How parents can help

First, parents have to know burnout is the problem. Many of these same symptoms are associated with children who are dealing with bullies, mental health issues, or substance abuse disorders. Talking to kids and remaining active in their lives helps parents understand what the true issue is.

If burnout is to blame, parents can:

  • Work with kids to develop challenging but realistic goals
  • Help kids manage healthy schedules that include stress-relieving and fun activities
  • Set a good example for self-care and moderation in all things—even studying and working
  • Vocalize realistic, positive expectations that encourage kids to succeed without pushing them to unhealthy habits
  • Let kids know that perfection isn’t necessary, and failure is a healthy part of life that can lead to success later

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