When your child comes home from school, do they have a case of the grumps? Are they melting down with moody or whiny behavior? Are 3pm temper tantrums happening like clockwork? Or is your child the opposite – is your normally bubbly and talkative child quiet and wanting to be left alone?
These behaviors can be difficult, sometimes annoying to manage, or are possibly even a cause for concern. However, these meltdowns can also be completely normal!
What you are observing could be a case of something known as “after school restraint collapse.”
Your child is simply releasing their pent up mental, physical and emotional energy after a full school day. All day they have needed to exercise a lot of self-control.
While your child is adjusting to the new back-to-school routine, there are a few things that you can do to help:
1. Wait to ask questions. The moment that your child walks in the door, hops in your car, or shuts off their computer may not be the best time to inundate them with questions about their day or what they need to do for homework, etc. Instead, greet them warmly. Give them a hug and let them know how glad you are to see them. Then maybe just play some music and allow them to be the first to speak about school.
2. Allow your child time to decompress. In the same way that your child may need a moment before they are ready to share about their day, they may also need a brain break before beginning this evening’s homework. Let them have a snack or encourage physical activity. Or simply allow them to do nothing and have a few moments of personal space!
3. Validate their emotions. Instead of reacting to your child’s behaviors or taking their actions personally, try, “It was a long day!” or “I’m here for you.” Keep in mind that they are emotionally overwhelmed and are no longer able to hold it together.
4. Be grateful. While the after-school meltdowns can be frustrating to manage, remember that your child has had to hold everything together all day. School requires a lot as your child is mentally challenged to learn, follow the rules and navigate a variety of social situations throughout the day. Take heart that they feel safe enough with you to let loose for a minute – you are their safe place.
The after-school meltdowns should lessen around age 12 as your child begins to mature and develop more emotional resiliency.
And the immediate behaviors you are noticing now at the beginning of the school year should lessen after 2-3 months of school as your child adjusts to the new schedule and routine. However, if the meltdowns continue, seek help from your pediatrician or a therapist.
Written by: Rebekah Jones, LPC, CPCS