Work / Life Balance and the Increasing Stress

A Child's desk with a plastic family. Image 43604582, 123RF stock photograph.










Iseult Catherine O'Brien

Montessori Teacher & Supervisor | Volunteer Tutor  





Thankfully, there is now frequent coverage in the media, and in general conversations amongst adults, on the pressures from the workplace on people’s work / life balance.  The significant, detrimental, effect of too much stress, and too many hours spent at work, are hot topics.  


The deleterious effect of constant, excessive, stress is being acknowledged, at last.  People are realising the long-term dangers of not having sufficient daily exercise, free time to relax, social time with family and friends, and eight to nine hours quality, sustained, sleep per night, for an adult.


Now, Let us Consider the Younger Perspective

Many children have to get up earlier than their parents ever did, because of the need for them to be dropped off very early at childcare or school, as their parents, guardians and carers (PGCs) frequently have much longer commutes, to and from work, than used to be the case.  These workers are also under increasing pressure to be in work earlier and to stay later.  A consequence of all this is that, too often, children and youngsters are spending too long in childcare and after-school arrangements.


The Necessity of Adequate Sleep for Physical and Mental Health

The days are getting shorter, and the evenings getting darker earlier.  However, this darkening does not affect children's and youngsters' inclination to sleep, if the ambient light levels in the house are as bright as daylight.  Sufficient, sustained, sleep, is imperative for children, youngsters, and everyone. 


Families need to start lowering light levels in family rooms from around 5.00pm, just using side lights where possible. 


The television has to be turned off at least one full hour before children and youngsters are due to head to bed. 


This will probably require some rearranging of where the television is situated, or where the children and youngsters relax in that time after homework and dinner are over, and before bedtime.  This is a good time for relaxed chats  about the day that's just ending. 


Did mother get stuck in traffic behind a delivery lorry all the way to work? 


Did James sneak in his shot on goal in the penalty shoot-out by just half an inch?! 


Did Maria have one of those moments when looking at the white board, and the fractions suddenly made sense?!  Suddenly, she could read them like reading her own name!


To become more inclined to sleep, children and youngsters need the setting to be right.  Bright lights, and especially the noise and flickering lights of a television keep them awake, even if they are utterly  exhausted - they can get cranky as a result.  Staging the setting for a natural calming down and settling down, letting children become sleepy and ready to go to bed, leads to an easier transition to bed for everyone, and a better night's sleep.  


Children, youngsters and young people grow during sleep, and their bones continue to develop.  It is understood that 90 per cent of bone growth takes place at night.  NINE TO TEN hours of good quality, sustained, sleep give a child, youngster, and teenager adequate rest.


The human growth hormone is released during this time, resulting in growth spurts. Sleep is essential for the body to rest, and adequate rest means better physical growth.


Sleep is also essential for everyone ~

for physical recuperation,

the development of the immune system,

brain development,



and information processing,

as well as many other systems of the brain and the body.


Please see my Article, Beware the Light!! on the effects of sleep deprivation on everyone, adult and child, caused by late evening and / or prolonged use of electronic devices with a blue-violet light spectrum, such as mobiles, Smartphones,  televisions, laptops, iPads, Kindles, Tablets, and other devices.


I know from friends and family who teach at junior school level, they all have students who arrive at school, hang up their coats, sit at their desks, and promptly fall fast asleep.  Others arrive daily without breakfast, and many teachers have taken to keeping a supply of plain, halal, and kosher crackers, water, and fruit, to give these children their breakfast.  Please do not jump to the presumption these children come from deprived backgrounds, because they do not.  


This falling asleep on arrival in the classroom also happens with second level, college, and university students, due to poor sleep patterns.



What is a Child's or Youngster's Social Life Like?




The long Summer break is over, and many PGCs feel relief everyone is back at school / college / university.  Filling children's and youngsters' days during holidays can be seen as a major strain. 


Our offspring are only children and youngsters for a short period of their lives, and this time is the 'golden time',  the 'crucial time', for their emotional, intellectual, social, and cognitive development.


When planning for family excursions over the week-ends and mid-term breaks from school go to the local Library and see what they have to offer, and discuss ALL the options with your children and youngsters, IN DEPTH, before any decision is reached. 


Let them know if a lack of finance is what is curtailing a possible option.  Children and youngsters are reasonable ~ if the family cannot afford a particular activity, they will understand.  It is much better for them to know the real reason, rather than imagining versions where what they like is of no interest to the adults in their lives.  


Bear in mind the Learning Styles of your children and youngsters.


Children and youngsters cannot be 'busy' all the time.  They need time to daydream, to consider recent, new, experiences; to just BE.


Please my Articles, Children's City Life Autumn / Winter,  Youth's Autumn Project, Nature in the City, for further comments on and suggestions for developing the social activities of our youngsters, and very inexpensive ideas for the whole family to get involved in projects plus, how I see them broadened to include activities generated and managed by young people themselves.  Friends from school, your own family from grandparents to aunts, uncles, and cousins of all ages, could be included.


As with most people, children and youngsters can accommodate one or maybe two extra strictures in their lives, but when they find there is no space left for being a child, and doing the NECESSARY childhood things ~ watching clouds and day-dreaming ~ is it any wonder some act out, appear always to be grumpy, or become disruptive? 



They feel they have no space, anywhere, physically or mentally.


I have a sense of foreboding 

If children, who have all the benefits of a stable, secure, home life, and a good attendance record at school, who are supported financially in respect of the necessary accoutrements of youth, feel like kicking the wall and yelling as loudly as possible because of THEIR levels of frustration ~ WHAT MUST IT BE LIKE for those children and youngsters under the same constraints, PLUS the extras: living without the benefits of a stable home; with a patchy attendance record at school, usually not of their making; taking on responsibility for younger siblings; and doing their best with studies despite challenges at home?


I fear for the general mental and emotional health of our children and young people.  The subject of overweight and lack of physical fitness in a significant percentage of children, and the physical and mental health consequences, has not even been touched upon in this Post. 

Those are for another day.


You may wish to see my Article Eating Disorders, which I hope helps remove the stigma of having an eating disorder, and goes some way to explain these chronic and very difficult to cure diseases.


We have all heard of a youngster with a reputation for being a 'bit wild', and parents are advised not to let their children hang around with him or her.  How easy is it to get a bad  reputation if a youngster loses the plot, just once, due to an overdose of frustration, resulting from a lack of exercise and an unspent excess of energy?


There appears to be a mania currently for labelling everyone, activities, and occurrences.  

Labelling seems to mean anyone or anything is manageable and, magically, is then managed!  


TAKING THE TROUBLE to find out what is going on in a youngster's life is one of PGCs' many jobs.  Please see my Article, 'Parents Need to ...', to help you navigate the pitfalls of the quickly evolving world of electronic devices, large and small.


Could we please take a breath, and consider where this juggernaut we built is heading?


I know the World has changed.  I don't wear rose-coloured glasses.  I do believe, however, an atmosphere of manufactured fear restricts unnecessarily the activities of children, youngsters, and young people.


Part of childhood is learning responsibility, it's learnt very early, along with self-reliance.  

Does it not seem a shame that many of these young people cannot express their sense of responsibility because their lives sometimes leave them with no room for decisions, choices, options, or any of the necessary developmental elements? 

It's difficult, but PGCs need to learn when to back off and let a child or youngster make his or her mistakes.


"If a child is acting disruptive within the school system,
don’t be too quick to assume there is something wrong with
her.  She simply may be doing her best to say that the
system is not large enough to house the fullness of her
creative spirit."
~ Vince Gowman



Maintaining Connection and Communication

Family at table eating freshly prepared food.
Image 41461610m, 123RF stock photograph.


 Children who are emotionally connected at home are more likely to measure their behaviour according to their PGCs'  possible response. 


They would be more likely to seek their adults’ advice, ideas, and opinions, and to let their connection with their PGCs influence the development of their own values.


They are likelier to consider ‘What would my parents want me to do here?’  or ‘What would they do in this situation?'


However, if, from Monday to Friday, the whole family’s life is led at a rush, from leaving in the morning, to arriving home in the evening, exhausted, in a tizzy to do chores, start the homework, and prepare to feed the family, this degree of connection is strained.  Children and youngsters may feel less able to ask for an opinion or advice from PGCs.


No-one would wish for this situation to arise, but concentrating on preparing dinner in a hurry, while putting on a load of washing, and clearly very tired, makes an adult seem less accessible for a chat to a youngster.  If all were more relaxed, they would probably work on the food preparation together. 


As we all know, starting an awkward conversation is always easier if both parties are working together, with their eyes on the job!


Please see the Articles, as already mentioned above, Child's City Life Autumn / Winter,  Nature in the City.  Please also have a look at City Winter Nature, Youth Autumn Project, and Nature and Decorations.


No matter the age, dexterity or skills of your children and youngsters, there will definitely be parts of the above Articles which they can manage and enjoy.  Also introduce some of the arts and crafts learnt from your grandparents or from neighbours when you were growing up. 


Children love to imagine their PGCs as children themselves, and to learn what they did with their families.


Children have a deep need for connection and to feel part of their family and group.  These activities will not only help develop skills for all types of learners, but will give the children and youngsters glorious family memories to look back on in years to come.


This Article is NOT about attributing blame. 


Please see my Article, Youth & Decisions, which supports PGCs with suggestions and examples when making big decisions with their young people.


Parents, Guardians, and Carers, are under considerable pressure already.


Increased Physical & Other Constraints in School & Consequences

Copyright: fasphotographic / 123RF Stock Photo





Additional and More Frequent Tests and Exams

It strikes me that children and young students submit to more frequent tests, assessments, and examinations, than was the case some years ago.  What is the advantage for these students, their families, or the schools of spending more time answering questions orally or in writing, and having such frequent assessments made of their on-going work which are noted on their school records?  


I should like to know the answer to this question.  I want an explanation for the rationale behind the increasing stress experienced by even very young children as they are subjected to frequent, pointless, tests. 


Childred are being marked as failures while they are being tested for skills that are not age appropriate.  One size does not fit all!  Not all children develop specific skills at the same rate and there's nothing wrong with that.


If children are not given the opportunities to develop physically, learn spatial awareness, and get sufficient exercise in a school day, they are being tested without a valid basis, not having been prepared properly.


This is not education.  It's bean counting!


Is there any evidence that more frequent examinations result in improved work produced, or enhanced study skills?   No!


While the necessity of keeping track of pupils’ attainments and challenges is recognised and accepted by teachers and PGCs, a  bureaucratic requirement for a constant flow of statistics, is another matter.  I know many teachers are unhappy with what they see as too frequent assessments, including the requirement for the constant updating of  comments and remarks on each student’s efforts, in every subject.  


To do this job diligently takes a great deal of time,  effort,  and consideration, and many teachers believe it is not the best use of their time.


Further, the assessment criteria only suit a certain percentage of any class. 

If a student sees ideas in, and works with, ‘mind maps’, or is kinaesthetically-minded, their abilities attained and work achieved, are never reflected fully in their written exam results.  


That HAS TO BE deflating and discouraging for these students, who know they are DOING THEIR BEST, and know they ARE mastering the skills required of them. 


Youngsters feel very strongly about what constitutes ‘fairness’, and not to achieve results that reflect their skills acquired, and the work they've put in, is seen as very unfair by children and youngsters.  


One may well ask, AT WHAT STAGE might a youngster feel excluded by this system, and decide to SWITCH OFF his or her engagement in school?


I am aware that yard time, or school breaks, have been curtailed in many schools because the number of teachers has been cut to a degree that there are not sufficient of them for full, proper, supervision of the students playing during a proper length break. 


Many teachers get no break at all, all day.  They are frequently on yard duty for every session, every day, and also supervise their class during every lunch break.


This is a disastrous development which can only undermine the development of gross and fine motor skills.


Gross motor skills and spatial awareness are gained through playing on climbing frames and hanging on trees branches in the garden or park, through playing sports and having the freedom to play physically and freely for at least three hours a day. 


Fine motor skills are required to learn how to hold a chubby crayon and later a pencil with which to start drawing and writing.  However, this skill cannot be attained without firstly developing the strength through gross motor skills to hold a pencil.


I read a suggestion from a very well-known American professional in early childhood education, that minutes should be docked from 'recess' for the whole class, as punishment for misdemeanours by a few students during class. 

I find this a startling, retrograde, anti-child welfare notion!  


Children need MORE exercise, not less.  Further, if a child is seen as the cause of 'recess' being shortened for everyone, it is hardly likely to support good interpersonal relationships in the classroom.


As we know, there are three basic Learning Styles: Auditory, Visual, and Kinaesthetics, with many other more specific styles. (Please see my Post, 'MEETING THE TEACHER', which gives a short outline of each Learning Style.)  Kinaesthetic learners learn through movement.  They tap their feet or swing their legs in class, they cannot sit still, and are punished for being the child they are.


Due to insurance constraints, the call of "No running in the playground!" is heard nationwide.


One of the many consequences of curtailed yard breaks, is that children and youngsters do not get enough time to expend their excess energy, which they have tried to keep cooped up during classes.


In a radio programme on the National Broadcaster, RTE Radio 1, we heard that one in four Irish children is overweight or obese.   It appears that there is an acceptance of overweight to the extent that some parents do not recognise that their children are an unhealthy weight.


According to Bill Murphy Jr, of, students, and especially boys, need hours of physical activity every day; and they do not get enough because their schools will not let them.


Bill Murphy Jr outlined the following research results in points 1 to 3.

1.     We over-protect children, trying to keep them safe from all physical dangers, which ultimately increases the likelihood of negative health issues.

2.    We inhibit children's academic growth (especially among boys), because the lack of physical activity makes it more difficult for them to concentrate.

3.      When they fail to conform quietly to this low-energy expenditure regime, they may be subjected to over-diagnosis (ADHD, and the like), and may be punished for reacting the way they are naturally built to react.


[Many boys, especially, seem to be in a state of constant motion ~ running, jumping, playing, pushing, getting hurt, getting upset, and then getting right back into the physical action.  

The exception is at school, where they are required to sit still for long periods of time.  


When they fail to stay still, sadly, often, they are punished for their exuberance by being denied their next yard break, and so end up sitting in their classrooms while their friends are outside playing in the yard!  My comments, ICOB.]


[See the following Link from Rae Pica, a highly regarded Childhood Educationalist.  She writes of the alarming results for children who spend too much time sitting. 


 Children understand what they learn by doing.


Further, children who sit for too long do not develop a proper sense of spatial awareness, which has physical, emotional and social ramifications of real  significance.  The Early Childhood Education Network, which contains many of Ms Pica's Posts, can be found on the LinkedIn Site.]



Researchers at the University of Eastern Finland recently tried to document if boys actually achieve less in school when restricted from running around and being physically active.


They studied 153 children, aged six to eight years, and tracked how much physical activity and sedentary time they had during the day.  Unsurprisingly, according to a report by Belinda Luscombe in 'Time'the less "moderate to vigorous physical activity" the boys had each day, the more difficult it was for them to develop good reading skills.


The more time children ... spent sitting and the less time they spent being physically active, the fewer gains they made in reading in the two following years.  [It] also had a negative impact on their ability to do mathematics.


These results appear not to apply equally to girls.  Researchers offered a couple of possible explanations for this difference: (i) perhaps girls have physiological differences, or (ii) maybe the girls were just as eager to move around as the boys, but were better able to set aside that disappointment and concentrate in class. 


My observation on this is that many girls are still expected to wait, to please - and not to express their thoughts or feelings.


These findings are not just about poorer academic achievements.  Many observers and researchers now say limited physical activity leads to real physical and mental harm to youngsters, even in the short termlong before they are grown up.



Angela Hanscom, a paediatric occupational therapist, interviewed young children, asking what their school break periods and play are like.  Some of their replies follow.


"We have monkey bars, but we aren't allowed to go upside down on them.  They think we are going to hurt ourselves.  I think I'm old enough to try going upside down."


"We have woods, but can't go anywhere near them. It's too dangerous."


"When it snows, we can't touch it with our foot, or we have to stand by the teacher for the rest of recess."


Restricting children’s movement like this, leads them to  increased anger and frustration, to a reduced ability to regulate their emotions, and to  higher aggressiveness during the limited times they are allowed to play.  


Angela Hanscom wrote "Elementary children need at least three hours of active free play (my italics) a day to maintain good health and wellness.  Currently, they are only getting a fraction."



Definition of ADHD and Reduced Physical Activities

In the United States, ADHD diagnoses in children are likelier now than they were in past years, and the percentage is rising at an alarming rate.  In 2003 it was diagnosed in about 7.8 per cent of children, it rose to 9.5 per cent in 2007, and to 11 per cent in 2011. 


That is a 40 per cent increase in eight years.


The definition of ADHD, in the United States, has also been changed to make it more expansive.  Many critics argue this is because of pharmaceutical industry interests; given that the leading treatment for ADHD is use of a particular prescription medication.


Angela Hanscom, in a separate article, said the problem is exacerbated because we are forcing children and youngsters to sit still longer, and they are simply reacting as nature intended.


"Recess times have shortened due to increasing educational demands, and children rarely play outdoors," she writes.  "Let’s face it: children are not nearly moving enough, and it is really starting to become a problem."


She goes on to state "In order for children to learn, they need to be able to pay attention.  In order for them to pay attention, we need to let them move." (My italics.)


This is a crucial statement, the crux of which should be central to the planning of all aspects of children's and youngsters' lives, in order to help them reach their maximum possible learning and developmental opportunities ~ to fulfil themselves.


It is much easier to control a classroom in which the students are obliged to sit quietly, than one where students are free to move around to check information in the class library, or to collaborate in work with others, which would involve discussions, and moving materials about the room.


 Pupils and teachers need a good level of mutual trust and respect for this type of classroom activity to work.  


Teachers also have to bear in mind constantly the potential conversations resulting from probable reactions of over-protective parents, who get very agitated if one of their children trips or falls in the yard.


Students who get adequate time to play outdoors freely, are "less fidgety and more focused," one teacher said.  They "listen more attentively, follow directions, and try to solve problems on their own instead of coming to the teacher to fix everything."


Surely, this simple idea is what we all wish for our children's school experience?



Flowers from the meadows of Kilruddery House and Garden, Co Wicklow, Ireland.

Regards, Iseult

Iseult Catherine O'Brien


If you have any comments, positive or negative, I should welcome hearing your views.


If you find any errors, either typographical or of fact, or if wish to disagree with any of the above, I should be very glad to hear from you.


If I quote a person, group, organisation, or establishment, I do my very best to source the material quoted, and to attribute it properly.  If I cannot satisfy myself I have found the author or speaker who voiced a quote, I resist using it, no matter how tasty a bite!  If I refer in passing to views expressed by others, I attribute the views even if they have not been given verbatim in the text.  


I work on a basis of goodwill and good intentions.  I shall make errors, being human, and when I do, I apologise now, and should always welcome a correction, which I would insert in the relevant Post prominently, in clear unambiguous text and type, repeating the apology. That's is the best I can do!