Belgian kindergarten teacher writes children's book about burnout

Belgian kindergarten teacher writes children's book about burnout
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Karen Vandoninck, a kindergarten teacher in the municipality of Turnhout in the Antwerp province, has written a children's book about burnout. While the book is about the problem affecting parents, it also gives tips to children on how to prevent burnout.

"I have been a parent with a burnout myself," Vandoninck told De Morgen when she was asked why she wrote ‘Pats Boem en plots stond ik stil’ ("And suddenly I stood still" in Dutch). "I noticed that it is very difficult for the children to understand what I was going through. I did everything for the children, but suddenly I was lying on the couch and they had to be quiet."

After 14 years in education, her burnout hit. "I have been home for a year and a half, and I just felt worthless. After talking with therapists, I had to go back to the things I enjoyed as a child." And so she started drawing.

The drawings in the new book were made by the kindergarten teacher herself. "But I don't explain what burnout is," she said. "It's about 'Karlijntje the little train'. She always wants to do her best for everyone. She keeps going until suddenly not herself, but the station master pulls the brakes. And then she's stuck." The book tells the story of how Karlijntje goes in search of herself again.

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The book also contains interactive elements. For example, there are questions for children about how they feel. "This way the children can already reflect," Vandoninck said. The book also gives some tips for children to avoid burnout themselves. "For example, it says they have to blow a bubble around themselves, which stops the harsh words. These are small tips with which children can de-stimulate and relax."

Belgium is in the top three countries with the highest number of people suffering from the effects of parental burnout, according to an international study carried out by the Belgian university UCLouvain.

Parental burnout is a complete mental and physical exhaustion as the result of a parent being subjected to excessive stress from parenting for too long without having enough resources to compensate and balance out the stress and affects people in Western countries the most.

In Belgium, one in 12 Belgian parents is suffering from this type of burnout, and according to the research, the country’s “individualistic performance culture” is one of the biggest influences on this, more so than socioeconomic factors.

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