Positive solutions for after school attitude, meltdowns and tantrums.
Does your child seem to have a bad attitude, or throw tantrums right after school?
Meltdowns, difficult attitudes for the rest of the afternoon, homework refusal and defiance at home are quite normal in the weeks following the start of school. These meltdowns and bad moods are often a result of after school overwhelm.
Why do children meltdown after school?
“After school restraint collapse” is a thing, according to Psychotherapist Andrea Nair. A phenomenon where children just can’t keep it together and meltdown into tears and tantrums once they are home.
This is why challenging behaviors can sometimes show up as soon as your child walks in the door:
The comfort of home and your loving presence may be the trigger your child needs to let go of stored up stress, frustration and other strong emotions.
Since children are emotionally immature and still growing, instead of saying “I had a really tough day mom” your child will just use any small reason to vent out all they have been holding in.
What does “restraint collapse” look like:
Complaints about snacks, refusal to do homework, talking back, throwing a big tantrum that seems completely unnecessary. Challenging limits and boundaries that are otherwise usually respected…These are all signs that your child is full into “must decompress mode.”
When restraint collapse is in full on mode, listening to your child’s tears and being supportive can be helpful. It’s also alright to give your child some space to calm down and relax.
Restraint collapse and after school meltdowns can be prevented or reduced.
Here are 7 ways to stay connected & reconnect after a long day at school as a way to prevent after school meltdowns:
Hugs: Little ones love hugs. My three year old loves to get a giant goodbye hug that includes lots of kisses before we leave. We make sure to always have time for it, everyday, no matter what. Maybe your child is a bit older and thinks it’s not so cool to be hugged at school in front of classmates, how about hugging your child before heading out the door? Repeat those hugs after school too.
Bridge Items: Sometimes separating can be hard and having a little reminder of mom/dad or home can help a lot. My five year old took a small piece of paper that said “mom loves you” in his pocket on his first day of school. Later he told me “One time I felt scared of doing something new, I checked my pocket and then I felt much better trying.”
A friend told me her daughter kept a small ball in her backpack that was special for her first year in school. Just knowing there is that little thing that connects the child back to home can go a long way.
Disconnect to Connect: Ideally, try to forget emails, cell phones and errands for the first fifteen to twenty minutes when your child returns from school. This is a great time to be together.
Make a deliberate effort to listen to what your child has to say about school and any news, stories, jokes or “you’ll never guess what!” moments.
Children love to know they have your full attention and it’s very reassuring that although you were separated, now you are reconnecting.
Eat Together: Whether your child does a half day or a full day program, planning to have something to eat together even if just a small snack after time away is a great way to slow down and spend time together.
Relax: Everyone needs a little bit of down time, taking a moment to slow down and just be together, even if it’s just five minutes can make a huge difference to how the rest of the day will unfold.
If you can invest a few minutes into chilling on the couch together, reading a book or simply giving each other a long hug before hurrying on to an activity you can prevent most meltdowns.
Play: At home or at the playground, taking a bike ride or building some Lego, finding time to play together is a great way to reconnect and help your child feel loved.
Play and laughter is also an opportunity for children to release pent up feelings, which will surely prevent later meltdowns. Children also enjoy and appreciate down time to just play alone, so make sure not to over-schedule the afternoon with structured activities.
Rest: Protect bedtime and bed time routines to make sure your child is getting plenty of attention and care from you as they prepare to go to sleep.
While it is tempting to rush through the bed time routine, a frazzled bed time routine is like an invitation for a stored up meltdown.
Aim to slow down, work with your child as they get ready for the end of the day. These ordinary tasks like getting into pajamas, brushing teeth and talking is the ideal time to bond and end the day on a positive note.
When Meltdown Prevention Fails …
If your child does end up melting down after school, remember that this is quite normal behavior and that your child will do best if you are supportive and understanding. Just telling your child to “calm down” is likely going to backfire.
Somethings to try in the middle of a meltdown
- Stay close and listen to the tears (without trying to fix behaviors or feelings)
- Give your child space (you will know if your child prefers option 1 or 2 with time)
- Offer hugs or a favorite stuffed animal for comfort
- Just let the strom pass (rushing someone through their tears never speeds things up)
- When your child is ready, validate feelings and listen with empathy and care
- Breathe and remember these big feelings belong to your child
If meltdowns are happening often or your child seems unusually anxious and frustrated about school, try reaching out to your child’s teacher or talk to your child about school at a time when you are both relaxed and well rested.
Remember that your child is using a whole lot of energy to stay attentive and learn at school. Keeping things together takes a lot of effort. If your child is coming home and losing it on you, you haven’t failed. On the contrary, your child is trusting you to be their safe landing space.
Peace & Be Well,
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