Have you ever noticed that when your kids come home from school, they start off all smiles but quickly descend into yelling, crying, and even throwing things, seemingly out of the blue?
So, what’s the problem here?
Children who frequently experience meltdowns after school might be grappling with something known as “After-School Restraint Collapse,” a term coined by psychotherapist Andrea Nair, based in London, Ontario, and a parenting educator. Essentially, it boils down to this: our children spend over seven hours at school, where they’re expected to suppress their true emotions and display good behavior. When they finally return home to their safe space, they unleash all those pent-up emotions and energy. Your child doesn’t intend to have a meltdown; it might just be their way of releasing these emotions.
Interestingly, many adults face a similar situation. How many times have we come home after a long, exhausting workday and inexplicably snapped at our partners or children? In fact, some adults continue to experience what could be termed “after-work jerk syndrome” because they never learned how to manage these emotions.
Of course, we want to help our children avoid these meltdowns before they happen. Here are some solutions you can incorporate into an after-school routine:
- Positive Reconnection: When you see your kids after school, greet them with a warm smile and a hug instead of immediately bombarding them with questions about homework or chores.
- Replenishment: Kids are often hungry after school, even if they don’t realize it. Have water and healthy snacks like veggies, fruits, and cheese ready for them.
- Decompression Time: Create a calm environment where your child can regroup and relax. Offer them opportunities for self-expression through art or engage in physical activities like taking a walk or going for a bike ride. Observe how they naturally calm down on good days and make it part of the routine. If screen time works for your kids, it’s okay as a last resort, but ensure they have some human connection beforehand.
- Time and Space: Schedule playdates and after-school activities later in the day to allow your child ample time for decompression.
- Stay Connected: Find ways to stay connected with your child throughout the day, whether it’s leaving notes in their lunchbox, sharing a special bracelet or necklace, or sending a picture of you together. When kids feel supported throughout the day, they’re less likely to feel vulnerable or later express anger.
- Reduce Clutter and Noise: For some kids, too much clutter or noise can induce anxiety. Create a visually calm space at home for them to walk into after school.
While meltdowns may still occur from time to time (after all, emotions are a natural part of being human), here are some tips to help you handle them:
- Allow Emotions to Flow: Encourage your child to release their emotions and validate their feelings, even if it’s challenging when you have more than one child to manage.
- Don’t Take it Personally: Try not to get triggered or take it personally when your child’s insults are directed at you. Remind yourself that they are going through a tough time, and it’s not about you.
- Wait for Calmness: Wait for your child to completely calm down before discussing what happened. Let them take the lead in starting the conversation, and inquire about any emotionally intense moments during the day. Remember, having a conversation won’t necessarily prevent a meltdown tomorrow. Meltdowns are often an uncontrolled release of pent-up emotions.
Have you encountered After-School Restraint Collapse in your household? What strategies have you found helpful in either preventing or successfully managing it? Share your experiences and tips below.