After school meltdowns are quite normal for children from preschool to middle school. Here is what you need to know to handle these after school meltdowns and help your child feel better again.
Children can experience quite the emotional ups and downs while away from you. Maybe a classmate didn’t want to share a toy, an assignment felt just a bit more challenging than expected and recess was way to short. Your child puts on a brave face, deals with it all and keeps on trekking through the day.
Then…when they get home all those feelings they managed to hold on to just spill right out.
Everything is Stupid, Annoying or Just not Right…
Has your child ever come home from school and started complaining? Everything is stupid or the smallest little thing sets your child off.
- “Apricots for snack? Ugh, I didn’t want that!! I wanted cookies and apples…” they scoff and start crying.
- “Two sheets of math homework…OH man, I can’t do those…grrr!!!!”
- “Put away my laundry? OMG why do you hate me mom?!”
- “Get out of my room!!! I don’t care!!!!”
Ever experience something like that?
Why do some children meltdown, cry or tantrum after school?
What’s going with kids after school?
A day at school can actually feel a lot like a feelings powered roller coaster ride. With extra loops and twists on particularly challenging days (like field trips, testing days and conflict with friends) And after several hours of holding it all together kids are sometimes emotionally tired. A bit on edge. Their connection tanks are most certainly tipping towards empty.
Tears, tantrums, opposition and defiance. Complaints and all that unhelpful behavior starts to show up. Acting out we call it. And acting out really is just our kids showing us with their behavior just how terribly they are feeling. We want children to behave well so we show up with our consequences, lectures and expectations. But how often do these reactions just lead to more tears, tantrums, defiance and disconnection? This is because children really need our help and guidance to feel better. Jane Nelsen, author of the Positive Discipline series explains:
The truth is that children do better when they feel better—not when they are discouraged about themselves.
Loving connection Brings on Meltdowns
The comfort of home and your loving connection is the perfect place for a child to let those emotions on the loose…And well that is why challenging behaviors can sometimes show up right after school. Because your child finally feels safe enough to express some of what is going on inside. But your child is also emotionally immature and still growing so instead of saying “I had a really tough day mom” they might just find a good reason for complaining, telling you off or throw a big old tantrum!!
And we can help children feel and do better, we really can, especially by choosing to offer guidance and connection when the unhelpful behaviors start to show up:
Misbehaving After School
If you have noticed your child is having some difficult afternoons, tough bed times, siblings squabbles, meltdowns and tantrums now that school has started again, making some effort to restore connection after that day apart can not only prevent all that “misbehavior” but help your child feel and do better too . It’s tempting to turn to consequences and stern lectures about expectations but making time for connection, hugs and listening is just so very effective. These two positive discipline tools can transform after school meltdowns and defiance into cooperation.
Positive Discipline tool: Listening
Listening means letting feelings come and flow.
I remember one day when my son was in the second grade he was very upset. He got into the car, shut the door as hard as he could and said absolutely nothing. His face was square, heavy and his eyes had some hints of dried up tears. I didn’t ask him “what happened” or “how was school today” as I was sure that would just get me a dry F I N E in response. Instead sensing his need for just calm and care, after hello all I said was “I’m here for you.” And then I stayed quiet. That was all that was needed for my son to soften his face and take some deep breaths. Eventually he started talking. By the time our drive home was over he was smiling and ready to move on with the afternoon. He also added “Sorry I slammed the door mom!”
A first and very important step for young children to feel well is reconnecting with you. So if you want to help your child feel and do better after school and generally be cooperative with your requests, whenever possible, try to stay present and help your child transition into “being home” mode. Be willing to listen, ask curiosity questions and offer support. If tears show up, listen and validate first instead of trying to fix or jump into solutions mode.
Positive Discipline Tool HUGS: Making re-connecting a priority
Ideally, try to forget emails, cell phones and errands for the first fifteen to twenty minutes when everyone returns home from school. If your child is getting off the bus, make eye contact and smiling at them a priority. Offer hugs! This first moment with you as they arrive from school makes a world of a difference to a young child.
“Let your face speak what’s in your heart.” – Toni Morrison
Children love to know they have your full attention and it’s very reassuring that although you were separated, now you are reconnecting. Making hugs and a few moments together each afternoon can make a positive difference and reduce unhelpful behaviors. The effort you put into helping your child feel well when they get home from school is very likely to translate into a child that is eager to cooperate with you.
Oh also, if you have an introverted child that craves quiet and introspective time, try to honor that need before insisting you spend time together or asking questions about how the day was and what things the child needs to get done.
Beyond connection hugs and listening
Just a few other things that can help your child transition well into being home mode are having a routine, eating balanced meals (especially a good lunch), having a teacher that uses positive discipline and lots of opportunities to have meaningful time with you. Making it a priority to connect before you correct any unhelpful behaviors that show up after school can also help very much.
You can find more about all these positive discipline tools in the Fall 2016 Back to School issue of Compass Magazine:
Peace & Be Well,
(A similar version of this article is part of the Compass Positive Discipline E-Zine Fall 2016 Edition)