Are you routinely dealing with crying, anger, or back talk after school? Does someone in your family have after school meltdowns? If so, you’re not alone.
Without fail, every September I’d hear this concern from at least two or three parents:
“Mrs. Wahlgren, is Suzy having problems at school? When she comes home every afternoon, she bursts into tears and is crabby over everything!”
Now that I’m a parent, it happens in front of my very eyes.
If you have a child who frequently has an after school meltdown, I have a few simple, effective tips.
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Children are Tapped Out After School
Going to school is demanding. First, your child has to separate from you – this is hard for a lot of child. Then he has to enter a classroom full of peers who are equally irrational and unpredictable and navigate social interactions with them. Next, he has to manage his belongs, and finally he has to attempt to learn something. All this happens within the first ten minutes of his day!
Add on the challenges of finding someone to play with at recess or figuring out where to sit at lunch, and it’s a lot of non-stop social minefield every day.
It’s pretty common for children to have meltdowns after school, especially at the beginning of the school year. It’s also not unusual after a challenge like having a substitute teacher, returning from school vacation, or having a disagreement with a friend. These after school meltdowns are so common, they have an official name: after school restraint collapse.
Children hold together their emotions at school. They are only able to have so much self-control for so long and eventually that restrain falls apart.
All kids are susceptible to after school restraint collapse but some children struggle more than other. Children with sensory-seeking or sensory-avoiding tendencies struggle either with the noise and chaos or the lack of movement and tactile feedback. Children who are highly sensitive or empathetic absorb all the conflicts and feelings in the classroom all day long.
Children who are struggling with academics or other learning issues are trying to simultaneously avoid embarrassing mistakes and and actually learn something all day long. The fear of public humiliation is real and strong for these kids.
Some children just have after school meltdowns because they have problems with transitions in general. If you suspect transitions are a problem, make sure to check out the post about helping your child make transitions.
Putting on a brave face without the emotional support of his most trusted adult all day is really taxing. When your child holds it together all day, he will explode for you at home.
Figure Out What Your Child Needs
When trying to navigate any problem with your child, it is always important to ask her about what is going on without highlighting the undesired behavior.
Thus, when addressing the after school meltdowns, you could ask your daughter something like, “Hey I’ve noticed when you get home from school, you have a hard time. What’s going on?” And then be quiet. And be quiet some more. She might just volunteer critical information.
After that you might want to consider which activities would be most calming for your child. Would she benefit from outdoor play? Does she need time on the couch with a good book? How does she respond to humor? Is she starving when she comes home and then gets cranky-hungry? Do arts ‘n crafts calm and focus her? Are structured sports a good way for her to get her energy out or do they drain her more? Does she need alone time for imaginative play in her room?
Think about what calms and relaxes your child and how you can work that into the after school routine.
Have an After School Routine
If your child is melting down after school, a solid routine can really help. Routines are grounding and give children security. Then free up brainspace for your child so instead of thinking about tasks, your child can process emotions.
Routines also give your child a sense of success. After a difficult day at school, if you child knows the first two things he needs to do are put away his backpack and wash his hands, he will experience the satisfaction of completing those two easy, manageable tasks.
Routine also will keep your house cleaner so you’re not chasing down homework folders and lunch boxes while tripping over backpacks, jackets, and shoes.
Develop a Plan
Once you’ve identified a few calming activities, make a list of everything that needs to happen from when you walk in the door until dinner. Get it all down on paper in order to get it out of your head.
Some tasks you might need to include are:
- put away backpack, lunchbox, jacket and shoes
- go to the bathroom
- wash hands
- do chores
- eat snack
- outdoor play or sports
- free or imaginative play
Write down your ideal order of the tasks to be accomplished along with your calming activities. While ideally you might like to get the homework done right away, your child might need time to relax in their room or play outside instead. Maybe it’s the opposite and you just want to unwind, but your anxious child wants to get the homework done. Take some time to consider the order for after school tasks for your family.
Note from a former teacher about homework: It should not involve battles and tears. If it’s repeatedly a struggle, please reach out to the teacher.
Use an After School Routine Visual Schedule
Use our free printable after school routine to help ground your child.
If the routine I’ve created works for your child, you can simply print it and place it in a plastic sheet protector for your child.
Next place the routine chart inside the sheet protector on a clipboard. Then your child can check it off with a dry erase marker. (Side note: use washable markers and save time and money on laundry stains).
If the order I’ve created doesn’t work for your child and you based the plan you developed, cut out the tasks and paste them on another piece of paper in the order that works for your child.
There are two pages in this printable – a boy and a girl so you can print whichever page works best for your child.
Reach out to the Teacher
If these tips don’t make a difference, it is time to reach out to your child’s teacher. I know, I know. You don’t want to bug them. I feel it, too. But the truth is most teachers want to know so they can problem-solve with you.
Ask what is going on with your child at school and if the teacher has any social concerns. Then explain what you’re seeing at home after school.
After school meltdowns can be avoided with a few simple steps: talk to your child, consider some calming activities, create a plan and a routine and use a routine visual schedule.
Grab you free printable below.