THE BLOG

The Exhausted Child

01/19/2016 11:43am ET | Updated December 6, 2017
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What if you are waking up 5:30 AM because your divorced parent works, driving to the other parent's home to be greeted by a babysitter while the other parent goes to work, and getting to school by 8 AM as the beginning of your day?

As if living in two homes is not taxing enough for a six year old, these early morning awakenings stress the child out before their school day begins!

This is the plight of thousands of children across the country with divorced working parents. Then after their school day, presuming all goes well, they head off to after-school-care, some structured activities, homework, dinner, TV perhaps if there's time, and off to sleep to start the routine again.

This exhausted child has no time to play! And if this little soul acts out by with a tantrum crying when he's reminded to do his chores or throws a book or hits his brother, we label him with an Oppositional Defiant Disorder.

Does he have a disorder, or does he have the right to try and communicate he's exhausted, overstressed, and beyond his limits emotionally and physically?

Some of these children act out in school as well and are given the same diagnosis followed by a meeting of the Committee on Special Education to find them resources to help them do their school work when they don't complete it.

What's disordered isn't their mental status but their environment. Their lives are beyond what a young child can tolerate and he needs some way to send the message to the adults that they forgot he's only six years old. He doesn't have the words to say my life is a mess because he doesn't know another life.

He doesn't know some kids sleep until they need to get ready for breakfast and school, take the bus cheerfully wide awake, and enjoy school because they have the energy for it. They may balk at chores, but they're just learning responsibility, not being taxed beyond their ken.

What's to be done? Here are a four ways to relieve the situation:

1. Have a babysitter come to the first home and stay with the sleeping children while their parent goes off to work. Then they can have breakfast when it's time to get up and start a more normal day without traveling except on the school bus.

2. The antagonistic parents must go for co-parenting counseling to learn to put their child first so their little sons and daughters don't bear the brunt of their hostilities.

3. Instead of modifying the child's defiance, modify their environment. The defiance will slip away. Noisy after-school programs sometimes are fun. But other times a one-on-one sitter is a better choice in one's own home where there's time to do homework and then play.

4. Play must be included in a child's day. It's a great way to relax, learn, express oneself, and be creative. It's not an extra. It's an essential ingredient in a child's life.

Let's give our exhausted children a break by providing them a normal day time and evening existence.

Reduce anxiety, opposition, defiance and increase pleasure, communication, play, creativity and fun!

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Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. is a psychoanalyst with a recent book, Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child's Behavior, found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Familius and wherever books are found.