I don't write this so that you can feel sorry for me.....I know full well (in hindsight) that I shouldn't have taken on the additional curriculum writing job. I didn't enjoy the job when I did it 3 years ago, so why on earth did I think I would like it now????
The overload came up on me so stealthily. One week I am in a routine of work, household duties and church commitments, and the next week I am mentally paralyzed by where to start on my multiple-page task list. I can always tell when I am in the place of cognitive overload. Firstly, I begin to spend a lot more time at the shops and buy lots of 'necessities' that I didn't seem to need last week. Saturday, the kids and I spent 2 hours at the shops looking for the ultimate additions to the childrens' lives. (We bought a small indoor tent, a skipping rope, an outdoor bat tennis kit, a large ball that looks like a watermelon, a small ball that bounces really high, a $1 bag of army men to go in the backyard and $6 worth of fairy paraphernalia for my daughter's garden project.) Monday, I wandered around one local shopping centre for 2.5 hours after I dropped the kids at school. Yesterday, I spent another 90 minutes at a different shopping centre buying more 'essentials'. (91 Storey Treehouse book, 8 boxes of cereal, two bags of hay and two half price scented candles.) As I walked to my car with three plastic bags stretched tight with breakfast cereal, I thought - yup - something is going on here. I am avoiding something......
Anyway, I drove into my driveway and admired my freshly weeded front garden. I watered the seedlings that I planted last week. Interestingly enough, weeding the garden and purchasing and planting seedlings was not on the to-do list last week either.....but it did get done ahead of EVERYTHING else on my to-do list.
Yup - I am in cognitive overload. I am so overloaded that I don't even want to be home near my laptop because I will see it and be gripped by guilt. At the shops and in the garden, I am totally occupied, but if I sit down on the couch, there it is - just over there.....my laptop and those maths books....whispering my name.....in a really annoying voice.
About now, some of you are saying - 'This blogger has lost her mind. Where on earth is she going with this?' The other half of you are saying 'This blogger is awesome. I do exactly the same thing. In fact, this blogger understands my way of thinking so well that I might just go and read all her blogs and then I will do an internet search on cognitive overload and then I might just check on the garden and.....' I suspect the latter readers will also have some pressing tasks that they should be doing instead.
I am happy for you to laugh with me or even at me, as I reveal the inner workings of my mind. However, I also want you to take a look at your kids.
Do your kids:
- come home from school and complain about this massive assignment they have to do and then sit on the couch and play on their phone for the rest of the afternoon?
- have meltdowns because they just don't know where to start on their assignment and when you offer advice they yell at you?
- leave stuff all over the house and appear unable or unwilling to complete any household chores?
- has your child recently developed an unusual interest in gardening, needlework, bird-watching or something else equally unexpected?
- does your child appear 'down' or 'moodier' than usual?
If any one of these sound familiar, you may have a child in cognitive overload. They are so overwhelmed by what they are meant to be doing that they end up doing nothing.
You may think that picking up the pile of clothes behind their door is a 'no-brainer', but to a kid who is feeling overloaded, that clothes pile is as challenging as a hike up Mt Koziusko.
Think of it this way:
- Teenager knows they have a HUGE assignment to do. They feel tired from school and are feeling mildly sick in the stomach with worry about how they are going to complete it.
- Mum says 'clean up your room'.
- They walk into their room. There is chaos everywhere.
- Teenager thinks 'I don't know where to start!' They pick up the pile of clothes from behind the door. But then they need to decide which items are clean, which items are dirty. Then they need to put away the clean clothes. Augh, but the drawers are stuffed full of items that were hastily put away last week. In order to put away the clothes, the drawers need to be re-organised. 'I don't have time for this, I have a massive assignment to complete,' they think.
- Teenager drops clothes back on the floor.
- Teenager goes over to their cluttered desk. Mum has dumped some random magazines on the desk that had been left in the lounge room. Teenager knows they need to work on their assignment, but the desk needs to be cleared. Magazines should be looked at before they are put away.
- 90 minutes later, magazines are thrown on top of the clothes pile behind the door, teenager now feels ready to study.
- Just as the laptop boots up, Mum asks teenager to come and set the table for dinner. Teenager feels angry because mum doesn't understand that they were just about to get into their assignment. Mum feels angry that teenager has been in their room for almost 2 hours and it is still as messy as it was when she asked them to clean up.
- Mum and teenager have argument after dinner about messy room and not helping out around the house
- Teenager becomes so upset and angry that they are no longer calm enough to work on their assignment.
- Teenager lays on their bed, texting their friends till midnight and thinking about how worried they are about the assignment and how unreasonable their mum is.
- Teenager wakes up next morning tired and stressed about their assignment.
- Return to step one.
I know, I know. Some of you are thinking, 'kids should just be able to do what they are asked and just get on with their school work.' But if they are feeling a sense of being overwhelmed, it is almost impossible to get started. If they can't get started, how are they going to finish it?
If your kids are struggling to get their schoolwork done- they may just be totally overwhelmed.
What can you do to help?
- Sit down with your kids and chat about EVERYTHING they feel they need to do. Find out what tasks they don't need to do, what tasks can be delayed and what tasks are a priority. Use task lists, organiser apps or anything else that will help them mange the tasks on their plate.
- Work out a plan of how they are going to tackle their work. Do they need an hour of down time before they get started? Would it help if you dropped them at the public library for a couple of hours? Do little brothers and sisters need to play outside for an hour or two to keep the house quiet?
- Try and eliminate any distractions to their work. Help them to keep their room clean during busy assignments times. Don't dump clean washing and random items on their bed and expect them to sort them and put them away the moment they come home.
- Keep non-essential devices out of their rooms after a certain time. These can distract from work and also keep kids up waaaaayyyyy to late.
- Work with your child to develop a schedule of working time and down time. It is unreasonable to expect them to work five hours every night until their assignment is done. Encourage them to invest an hour of work and then thirty minutes of downtime where they can play computer games or text friends.
- 'Chill Out' - This is only a season in your kids lives. Supporting them however you can during busy assignment times and then enforcing house chores etc in the quieter times will make for much happier household dynamics and will actually make it easier for your child to just get on with their work.
I know, I know. Some of you are shaking your head at my naievity about dealing with teenagers. 'We had to keep doing our household chores when we were in school,' you argue. Yes, that is true. But I can tell you straight up - times have changed. The constant stream of information flooding our childrens' head-space and the depth and diversity of information they are exposed to is so much greater than we had to cope with when we were in school. Although our kids lives are physically easier than life was in the past, it is cognitively more difficult. We need to lovingly support and coach our kids through this stage of life.