MOST parents are amazed at their children’s seemingly boundless energy. But, children often get tired – sometimes very tired. But while children get tired through natural liveliness, tiredness from other causes can be a worrying sign. Today, I explore some of the causes of tiredness in children. Children get tired just as adults do and, in some cases that can lead to a number of health problems. However, tiredness can be alleviated by early retirement to bed.
Children under five years of age usually show a pattern of activity when they are intensely active. A period of intense activity can exhaust them after a short while but their energies recharge after a brief rest.
This pattern can be repeated many times in a single day. Hunger can make tiredness more acute, especially in young children. But food peps up energy levels quite rapidly. The tiredness brought on by illness, however, is different.
If a child seems strangely or persistently tired, or complains of feeling tired, parents or other caregivers should look for a reason. Unexplained fatigue always has a hidden cause. In normal circumstances, physical illnesses that cause tiredness in children include any acute infection, especially throat, chest, ear, gut or tooth.
Other illnesses in this category include recurrent tonsillitis and enlarged adenoids which also cause sleep problems (apnoea). Glandular fever, tuberculosis and chronic kidney disease are other health hazards whose symptoms include tiredness. Many other physical illnesses can cause tiredness but the most common are infections.
Children suffer frequent coughs, colds and respiratory infections, which often are associated with a couple of days of low energy and fatigue. This usually gets better quickly, as the fever goes down and other symptoms resolve. Occasionally, especially after a bacterial throat infection, tiredness can persist, sometimes resurfacing intermittently for several weeks.
Tiredness may be an early sign of more serious conditions such as diabetes or cancer (particularly blood cancers such as leukaemia). But these are rare.
It is important that parents be alert for other symptoms such as weight loss, excessive thirst or frequent need to urinate, all of which are signs of diabetes. If symptoms get acute or life-threatening the child should be conveyed to a competent health worker.
Suggestions that may help parents to decide whether their child’s tiredness requires medical investigation include monitoring closely the symptoms or complaints about tiredness in order to detect their triggers.
Parents should also investigate if a child sleeps soundly and that nothing disturbs his or her sleep. The sleep of a child who shares a bed or room with elder brothers or sisters may be disturbed by their noises.
Most children need at least ten hours of blissful sleep each night. Bedtime should be as consistent as possible. Children’s diet should contain iron which builds red blood cells and defends the child against anaemia.
Anaemia, which is notorious for sapping energy, can be a problem for girls particularly when they start their periods. Tiredness rarely persists for long in children.
If it goes on for more than ten days, parents should look for other symptoms or consult a health worker. I must mention here that adults are not the only ones to get chronic fatigue syndrome.
This condition, which is often triggered by a simple viral infection, can cause prolonged and debilitating tiredness that can keep a child at home, isolated from school and friends, for months and even years.
Some children may remain silent and withdrawn for a long time. Other common symptoms include muscle weakness, memory and concentration problems, and pain, but chronic fatigue syndrome can cause a huge range of symptoms and every case varies.
Parents, however, should not mistake mood swings or behavioral change for tiredness. Parents will notice physical signs and behavioral change in their children at the onset of puberty.
The physical signs of puberty include a growth spurt.
They also include the growth of body hair and an increase in sweat production. Some children may look tired or even lazy at this time. Most children become clumsier at this time. Girls breasts start to project as menstruation (monthly periods) take off.
In most boys, voices may become huskier as a prelude to becoming thicker in a year or two. At this stage new emotional signs start to break out. These may include moodiness and rapid changes of temperament.
Strong feelings about various matters also break out at this time. These feelings may include embarrassment, love, hate and others. It is these feelings that often trigger behavioral change in children faster.
The adolescents, especially the girls start worrying about their appearances especially in connection with the unfamiliar body changes. Many become much more idealistic and aware of external matters.
So, children at this age become more sensitive about the appearances of their bodies. Harsh scolding or canning may not be appropriate. In most cases harsh punishments on children end up ruining them.
Some of the street children we see eating from garbage cans escaped harsh parental behavior. Mistakes made by a child can be talked over amicably with the child.
Parents, guardians and other people around adolescents should respect the children’s growing need for privacy. Most children at the adolescent stage will start to become self-conscious about nakedness.
Many will start realizing why people get dressed while animals remain naked. Mothers should give clear information to their daughters about behavior that might inadvertently invite unwanted sexual situations.
Girls should be told in clear terms that their bodies are private and that no boy or man had the right to do anything unwanted. Giving your child this information means that she will be less vulnerable to abuse.
Some adolescents become very shy, even though they may not have been like this as younger children. This trait of behavior depends on key aspects in childhood care.