As a parent, we know there could be any one or many things contributing to kids feeling tired after school—mental exhaustion, physical activity, lack of sleep, poor nutrition, or something else entirely.
That's a wide range, right?
Some of the reasons are perfectly normal and somewhat unavoidable, while others can certainly be addressed and worked on to see if correcting them makes a difference.
So, here are those reasons why kids might feel tired after school, other potential factors, and things we can do as parents to help them get the most out of their after-school routines.
First, the most obvious reason–mental exhaustion. While we expect school to take a toll on all kids' brains, it can be especially impactful for those who are constantly "on" without much of a break throughout the day.
Meaning, some kids get to school early and relaxingly make their way to class. They then might make the most of their breaks between classes to turn their brains off and wind down before having to wind back up again. They might also have the luxury of simply heading home once school is done.
On the other hand, some students might show up to school in a frenzy, sit through class, and then on their breaks do their homework or involve themselves in every conversation around the lunch table. After school they might have to run off to a club or sport.
Either way, school days can be long (and there are benefits to shorter school days) and things can get pretty exhausting, but any combination of the activities above can push things even further.
We have all been students before, and while the day of a first grader revolves around recess (at least in their minds) older kids still get their share of physical activity too.
Physical education classes are still common place, and while "recess" might be a thing of the past, there are plenty of students who do things like play basketball, work out, and more either during school breaks or in the mornings before school even begins.
Add in the fact that kids are walking or biking between classes, and perhaps to and from school, and you've got a lot of physical activity; enough to where it might be impacting just how tired your kids are after school.
Lack of Sleep
Maybe the number one reason most of us jump to whenever we find ourselves or our kids tired. Either we went to bed too late, woke up too early, or simply didn't rest well throughout the night.
What's the right amount?
According to kidshealth.org, school age kids (ages 6-13) should be getting 9-12 hours of sleep, while teens 14-17 should aim for 8-10 hours.
Without enough sleep, it's not only that kids may feel tired after school, but they might also have difficulty concentrating, become irritable, and experience negative effects on physical health as well.
Speaking of negative effects on physical health, poor nutrition could also be a cause for tired kids coming home from school. A lack of nutrients could be to blame thanks to an imbalanced diet that's missing fruits, vegetables, and protein.
And it's not only that kids aren't getting the proper nutrition, but, as Public School Review notes, that the food they are eating might contain too much of the sugars, caffeine, and other things that could leave kids not only tired, but jittery, and even sick...
That's right, don't forget illness. While all of the reasons already stated could contribute to a weakened immune system and illness, actual physical illness could be the main reason why kids are coming home feeling tired. While the range of reasons or potential illnesses is too wide to cover here, even the most common of colds or flus can cause fatigue.
Other "Sub" Reasons
While the above four reasons are general umbrella categories, touching on some of the more specific reasons that fall under each of these might help parents identify the route of the tired problem.
For instance, we all know school can be one of the most stressful environments our kids ever find themselves in. Social dilemmas, academic pressure, and other contributors can exhaust kids mentally, and ultimately wear them down.
And while we talked about illness, allergies not only cause physical annoyance, but can also contribute to fatigue, as mentioned here by Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
Poor nutrition isn't only about food, either, as dehydration can lead to fatigue if kids aren't drinking enough water.
And last, if your child has a busy schedule, it could be impacting all of the above, right?
Alas, making improvements—much easier said than done, right? Especially in a school setting that is constantly pushing kids to be on, present, participating, enriching, socializing, and more.
Not to mention that every family and set of circumstances is different, which makes it tough.
So, here are some general guidelines that might help get you thinking a bit deeper about how to combat the challenge.
Have a routine
So many potential issues have a better chance of cropping up in the absence of a routine and structure. This includes all parts of the day. For example:
Mornings with a regularly-scheduled wake up time, nutritious breakfast, and reliable modes of transportation.
During school where kids can either work on homework if that's a problem area (or take a break from homework if it's causing exhaustion, etc.).
And the after-school routine which again has time carved out for homework and study, free time, dinner, and a regularly-scheduled (and abided by) bed time.
As you can see, a routine could check (or at least help check) the boxes of de-stressing, getting enough sleep, eating right, exercising, and even filling one's cup with social time and non-school activities.
Talk to a trusted resource
As much as we try as parents to have all of the answers, sometime it just takes the voice of another to really help things stick. In this case, if a student is feeling stressed or overwhelmed, and feels these things to be the root of their after-school fatigue, then a teacher, school counselor, or even outside family member could help things along.
The main thing is that your child feels comfortable talking to the adult they choose.
Also let kids know it's OK to ask for help. One of the biggest things that can make matters worse is the feeling that they are fighting a battle alone without anyone to talk to. This is also a good time to remind them that, if and when they are reaching out for help, opening up and being honest will help get things going in the right direction.
Last, while this could fall under establishing routines, it's important and big enough to stand on its own. Keeping track of assignments, activities, and other responsibilities can really help reduce the scramble that contributes to mental exhaustion.
For those who need to write things down to remember, a simple planner or to-do list are useful tools. And while the benefit really comes from remembering to write things down and checking what has been written on a regular basis, sometimes the simple act of writing this down is enough for some students to make improvements in this area.
Another overlooked organizational activity that can really help clear one's mind is keeping a clean workspace. For kids, that might mean designating a homework area and making sure it's stocked with writing utensils and whatever else they might need, and clearing out any clutter that doesn't belong.
In the end, kids get tired, it's a fact. But, if after-school exhaustion is getting in the way of productivity, with other pieces like homework and grades suffering as a result, consider enacting some of the above.