Dealing With After School Meltdowns
Updated: Aug 7
The teacher says your child had an awesome day! They're a great listener and get along with other kids. Then you get home and they scream at you and their siblings, and start crying over the smallest things. It's like having a toddler again!
This is TOTALLY normal, and even has a name: after-school restraint collapse (coined by Andrea Loewen Nair, the London, Ont.-based counselor and parenting educator). Think about a time when you've had a tough day at work or at home with young kids. You've kept it together (barely!), and then your significant other walks in and you snap at them for something small.
Our kids are going through the same thing. They have to listen to the teacher and try to follow all the rules- remember to stay in your seat, raise your hand, ask to go to the bathroom, manage social situations, learn difficult things. It's not surprising that they get home to their safe space and literally can NOT follow any more commands!
So now that you know it's normal and can be expected, what can you do to lessen the severity or get through it without yelling, punishing, and harming your connection with your child?
While none of these tips will necessarily stop a meltdown if they really NEED to get out these big feelings, they might help shorten the duration or intensity of the meltdown, and can overall help with the transition back to being at home.
Show your child how happy you are to see them when they finish school. Eliminate distractions and offer them a genuine smile and greeting with your whole face!
Don't start asking a bunch of questions about their day. Play some music in the car, share something small about your day, ask if they want to talk about their day now or at dinner time.
Have a small snack ready to go. It's often hard to eat their whole lunch in the short amount of time given, and with so many other distractions. And sometimes their lunch is at 10:30AM. Just assume they're hungry and have something ready to go.
Think about how your child likes to calm down or release energy and set aside some time for this activity when they get home. Alone time with Legos in their room, reading books, riding their bike, playing basketball. Typically it's something they feel really good at, which helps to recenter them after potentially having a hard time at school.
Screen time as down time is not necessarily a bad thing, just make sure there is also some genuine human connection time built into the day as well.
If/When a Meltdown happens
Despite your best efforts they still might lose it, and that's okay! It doesn't mean you did something wrong, it just means the day was that hard, and they need the release a good cry or yell can provide. Think about a time when you felt the pressure building and realized you just needed a good cry!
DON'T take it personally! Again, you have done nothing wrong. This meltdown is not about you (even if they are saying otherwise!). Your child just needs to release their feelings, they will get back to calm again. You can do this, be their calm!
Stay with them as much as possible, offer empathy and compassion for whatever they're saying. "You didn't want your sister to touch your car. You don't want to share anything. It must be so hard to share all day." Or "You don't think it's fair that I have to make dinner now, you want me to play with you instead. You just want my attention".
Let them know you're here for them and offer help as able. "Would it help you if we took a few big breaths together?" or "Do you want to race me to the front door and back to stomp out those big feelings?" or "Would it help you to draw me a picture of how mad/sad you are right now? I really want to see it!" or "I could really use a big hug right now, are you able to give me one?"
If you're starting to lose patience, take a break! Tell your child you're going to the bathroom but you'll be right back. Shut the door, wash your hands and face, take a few deep breaths and then go back out when you're able to remain calm.
Once they're calm again, take time to reconnect. Make sure they know that you love them even when they're having a hard time. Then talk about ways they can handle being mad/sad in the future, and see if there are any school issues they need help resolving.
These meltdowns will not last all year. As your child gets used to the new schedule and expectations they won't need to unleash these big feelings anymore. However, they may return after a particularly hard day, so keep these tips tucked away!
Do you have any additional tips for dealing with meltdowns?
If after reading this you still don't feel confident in your ability to handle your child's meltdown without losing it, I'm here to help! I provide 1 hour problem solving sessions where you explain what's going on and I empower you with a plan for how to handle the situation in the future. Click here to tell me more about what's going on, and I will reach out to set up a time to talk!
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