The after-school meltdown is a very real thing. There’s even an official name for it: The after-school restraint collapse.
Many parents find their little one has big emotions when they get home from school. This is especially common among 4-5-year-olds in kindergarten, but it can even happen to kids throughout grade school.
There are two main reasons why these meltdowns can happen.
They Might Not Be Eating & Drinking Enough
Kids often struggle to eat and drink adequately throughout the day. They could be distracted (and more interested in perfecting their monkey bar tricks instead of eating snacks at recess), they’re new to being in charge of their food consumption and haven’t quite mastered spreading out their snacks, or they can’t access their food because the lids, snaps or packaging are difficult to open and they’re too shy to ask for help.
Whatever the cause, if a kid is hangry you’re headed for a meltdown post pickup. Good news – there are a few things you can do.
1. Give your kids a healthy snack right after school. It could be when you get home, or you might want to bring something for right at the pickup gates.
2. Make sure your child knows how to operate all their food storage containers. A lunch “dress rehearsal” in the morning can help them practice and master the snaps and lids.
3. Get a dual compartment lunch bag. This is key for kids who don’t know what to eat and when in the day. Show your kids that their snacks are in one compartment and their lunch is in another – and practice this at home. This helps them space their food out throughout the day, keeping them more balanced (and feeling good!)
They’ve Been Self-Regulating All Day
Another reason why these big emotions come out right after school is that they need a release. Your child has been self-regulating all day, so as soon as they get through the door they need to release their pent up emotional, mental or physical energy.
If you think about it, kids are expected to show self-control and regulate themselves and their emotions all day long in the classroom. At school, there are many expectations, even on quite young kindergarten kids. Sit cross-legged in the circle, follow the leader down the hall, wait your turn to answer the question, share materials with others – the list goes on and on. All of these expectations are important for our children, helping them to learn and be successful at school. But for some children all these expectations can take a lot of self-control, and when they get home, in their safe environment around the people who love and support them, they just let everything they’ve been holding in all day out.
To prevent meltdowns, try some of these tips
Hold out on asking your child about their day as soon as they get home. Parents are eager to hear how the day went (I get it, we’re excited to hear all about it!) but having to share and present all the ins and outs of their day might not be what they want to do right when they get home.
Build downtime into your child’s after school routine. Providing your child with an opportunity to relax their mind and just chill helps them decompress from the school day and reset themselves. Children decompress in different ways. Some children benefit from being physical – shooting some baskets or riding their bike, for example. Other kids need to chill out, and quiet activities like listening to music or colouring can be beneficial. Some kids need to connect with their parent – a cuddle on the couch might do the trick. The most important thing is that the activity is child-directed and that it’s a ritual that happens each day.
If your best-laid plans backfire and the meltdown happens (and it’s going to happen sometimes), the best thing to do at the moment is show patience and compassion. Sitting down on the floor next to your child creates a supportive space. Also, validate your child’s feelings – my favourite phrase to say over and over is “buddy, I can see it was a hard day – I’m here for a hug when you are ready.”
Good luck, parents!