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After School Meltdowns? There’s A Name For That

After School Meltdowns? There’s A Name For That - Parents Canada

If you’ve noticed more challenging behaviours than normal in the after-school hours, you’re not alone. Increased hyperactivity and meltdowns after school are so common, they even have a clinical name: “after-school restraint collapse”.

School involves a lot of stimulation; from the bright lights to heightened noise levels, not to mention interacting with a lot of kids and teachers. School also comes with a lot of expectations and rules to follow. Children are on their best behaviour at school, trying to follow all of the school’s rules. At the same time, their brains are working hard to recall information. The school day is also full of various emotions, which children often suppress in order to get through the day. Once they’re at home in their safe space – kaboom! All of these emotions that they’ve been keeping under their belt get released into behaviours that don’t seem to make sense to parents.

When you ask the teacher about your child’s behaviour, you’re told they’re calm and happy, yet at home they’re screaming about every little thing. “Children want to please and work hard to mask their symptoms throughout the day,” says Michelle McVittie, Child Life Specialist and Family Consultant. “Teachers will not notice their distress because they are listening and appear calm. But when they come home they unload.”

So what can you do to help your child work through these emotions in a healthy way to avoid these after school meltdowns?

Save the Questions for Later

Avoid peppering your child with questions about what they did at school and whether they have homework the second they get into the car. Their brains have been working hard all day and need a rest. Instead try saying something simple like “I’m happy to see you”.

Have a Healthy Snack Ready to Go

Being hangry is a recipe for a meltdown at any time of day. An after school snack can help refuel the mind and the body, making the transition from school to home easier.

Change Clothes

Think about how your mood changes when you change into your yoga pants and take off your bra at the end of the day. Getting out of their school clothes, especially if they are in a uniform school, can help your child to relax and adjust to being home.

Adjust After School Activities to Your Child’s Needs

Some children are more sensitive to stimulation than others. If your child is sensitive to bright lights, heightened noise levels and social interaction, they may be easily overstimulated at school. Build some quiet time into your after school routine. Have some quiet activities planned or go for a walk. If your child is understimulated at school, an after-school program or park play date may be what they need to fill their cup.

Be Mindful of Your Own Emotions

Are you stressed out, hurrying them along to the next thing on your to-do list? Are you agitated because you were late to pick them up and complaining about the traffic? Being mindful of your own stress and how your child is seeing your emotions can help set the scene for them to manage their own.

Allow for Moments of Connection

“Meltdowns are a communication,” says McVittie. “The problem is many parents get into fix-it mode. They want to make the emotions go away.” Allow space for your child to experience their emotions and tell them you are there for them. Don’t try to fix or figure it out, just offer to sit with them in the moment. You can talk about it later when they have calmed down.

Reassess Extra-Curricular Activities

Are you putting too much on their plate and yours? “We tend to do too much because we feel the pressure to do it all”, says McVittie. If your child is experiencing more after school meltdowns than normal, you may want to wait a month or so before adding any extra activities. Give your child time to adjust to the school routine before adding to their calendar.

Originally published in September 2022.

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