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Children - Restless For Need Of Rest

( Originally Published 1916 )

To say that a child is fatigued but does not feel tired may seem like splitting hairs, or refining the use of the scientist's new-fangled words. But there is a real difference between being fatigued and feeling tired; and it is well for parents to know how it applies to their children.

When one feels tired, he knows it and usually takes the next opportunity for rest or sleep. Young children show by their behavior that they do not feel energetic enough to go on with the work or play in hand, when they feel tired. And it is thus a comparatively simple matter to provide the conditions for suitable recovery from the " tired feeling." It is an unusually inexperienced person that would not be able to distinguish between the actions of a " naughty " child and those of a really tired child.

It is different, however, when it comes to dealing with a child that suffers from what the physiologists call " chronic fatigue." Such a child, instead of preferring rest and quiet, is likely to be constantly restless and eager for something to do, or for some new adventure. He is not likely to stick very long to any occupation or game, and his eagerness for something new is not satisfied, but continues to reject every novelty in his insatiable search for something else.

A little girl of eight who is ordinarily capable of working at a single task from twenty to sixty minutes at a stretch, showed her fatigued condition one morning by doing all of these things in much less than half an hour: She jumped about aimlessly until directed to find something to play with. She took down her little express-wagon and pulled it at full speed up and down the road several times, finally abandoning it in the middle of the roadway. She declared she would go Towing, went down to the boat and sat there several minutes, swaying to and fro, without pushing the boat into the water. She ran up to the house and asked for materials to write a letter to her cousin ; by the time the paper, etc., were ready, she had changed her mind and decided to cut out some paper dolls. She finished nearly one doll, and shifted to a box of puzzle pictures, which she left without making any progress.

The characteristic thing about the conduct of the child that is " fatigued " is the lack of concentration. This shows itself not only in the rapid shifting of interest and activity, but also in the inability to attend consecutively to conversation, or study. In school fatigue is one of the common causes of " inattention." The connection lies in the fact that the child has lost the ability to resist impulses. Every sensation, every suggestion, every thought that pops into his head impels him to a new line of action, and he is too feeble to do anything but obey the impulse.

We know that the trained person, the " able " person, is just the one who selects what sights and what sounds he will attend to, what impulses he will obey and what ones he will ignore. To make this selection requires experience, and a large part of our education consists of training in this kind of selection. Moreover, the selection requires energy, and this the over fatigued child cannot command.

Certain types of children are much more apt than others to acquire this state of chronic fatigue. The very sensitive child is most likely of all to develop the condition, because here every sensation starts an impulse that either produces some muscular action, or it stretches the muscles without leading to any obvious movements. In either case the muscles are actually expending energy in a way that contributes to the fatigue. Not only impulses that come from the outside through the senses, but the wanderings of his own imagination are likely to start muscular contractions that add to the fatigue without seeming to produce any " real work." In addition to these sources of wasted energy is the further fact that this type of child usually does not " know when to stop."

It is therefore particularly important that those who have the care of such a child should know when to make him stop. For this kind of child we often need to devise interesting and restful occupations. An experienced teacher made the observation that certain of her pupils showed on first coming to school in the morning that they had before them a restless and unprofitable day. On comparing notes with the parents she found that the restless day in school was also the irritable and " naughty " day at home. She then wished that school work could be so arranged as to permit her to relieve the fatigued child of the usual programme, and let him spend his time more profitably in the shop or laboratory, the playground, or perhaps the library. Even a vigorous and exhausting turn in the gymnasium, until the child is " good and tired " and feels like taking a rest, is to be preferred to the aimless and disconnected fidgetings.

It will no doubt be a long time before the schools can undertake to adjust their daily work to the varying needs of each• individual child. But it is certainly not too much to expect the home to take note of the more common symptoms of chronic fatigue, and to adjust itself accordingly. In addition to restlessness, irritability and lack of concentration, the child's fatigued condition may sometimes show itself in uneasy sleep, or in lack of appetite, or in general languor.

When any of these symptoms show themselves, it is well to increase the amount of sleep, adding an afternoon nap where possible. The attention of an adult who can help to hold the child's interest in some continuous occupation, and the removal, so far as possible, of all distractions, would be helpful.

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