After School Meltdowns: Is the honeymoon over?

Sep 26, 2022

We’ve cleared a couple of weeks of school… and everything is running smoothly with no meltdowns, right?
Ummm, not exactly…

Sure, there may have been some big feelings and adjustments as we realigned ourselves to our new routines. But overall, the kids (and us parents) have been enjoying school and getting back into the swing of things.

So why are they so cranky when they’re home???

Getting back into a more structured routine is easier for some than others. If you’re noticing your child having tantrums or reverting back to some old behaviours – you’re not alone!

After school meltdowns are very common – especially if your kid experiences any anxiety, or if you have a big feelings, gladiator kid!
Below you’ll find why they happen (there’s a clinical term for it) and what to do about it.

I call it the honeymoon phase – in clinical terms, however, it’s called “after-school restraint collapse”.

It’s when a child holds it together all day long – listens to all the school rules, trying to be socially accepted by their friends, and doing their best to be approved by their teacher by being a good student. But when they get home, which is typically the safest place they know they can truly be themselves – they let it all out.

What this could look like: tantrums, big explosive feelings, being defiant and difficult with you or even shutting down and closing off communication with you.

Parents (especially moms) get the ‘worst’ behaviour from their kids. It can be a bit confusing – and hurtful – because kids don’t always show this side of themselves in front of others.

I must share with you, however, this can lead parents down a common pitfall: a downward spiral of negative thinking about their child and their own parenting. You may think thoughts like: What’s wrong with my kid? Why are they like this? What did I do wrong? Why are they so rude and ungrateful? I do so much for them and they don’t appreciate it? Why do they listen to their teachers but not me?

Trust me, this is not personal.

It sucks that our kiddos reserve their best behaviour for others outside of our home, but the good news is, they feel the safest with us (and that’s a positive thing)!

Of course it can still be frustrating and tiring to always be the one getting the brunt of it all, especially after all us parents do for our kids.

Here are a couple of things that can help your child (and you) sail past the honeymoon phase with some ease.
1. Protein and Patience.

What we put in our bodies (and minds) matters. This super simple and impactful tip works wonders: have a protein rich snack ready for your kids right after school. If you pick them up from school, have it in the car! If you don’t see your kids right away, have it ready for as soon as they get home or. For older kids, send a care package to their college dorm for the month! Good brain food that is rich in protein can help your child access their frontal lobe with more ease; it calms their system (aka, makes them less hangry!). Nuts, yogurt, energy bars, cheese are simple, easy examples. Here’s the neat part – it doesn’t have to be a full meal! Three bites is as little as it can take! Let it be easy.

Patience is a virtue – at least that is what they say. But for parents, it can be torturous!! Of course we want to find out what happened at school and how their day went. However, similar to us adults, kids need time to decompress from their day. There is often so much going on for them! School is a big deal and can often be a place of social pressure, high academic expectations, loneliness, frustration and sometimes a full day of not being heard or understood. Be patient and give them some time to chill after school – hold off on barraging them with a flurry of questions until a bit later.

An Ode to Screen Time

Many parents ask me about screen time right after school and here is what I tell them. When advising my clients on when and how much screen time is appropriate, it largely depends on the parent-child dynamic. More specifically, the battles usually start when it comes to getting off screen/gaming time. Generally speaking, however, I guide clients to do their best to have another activity for their child such as a card game, doing an easy puzzle, light reading. Other wonderful options involves getting movement such as dancing, taking a nature walk, or having a fun pillow fight. Adrenaline play-based activities, such as a pillow fight or freeze dance, is a wonderful way to support the brain’s desire for dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter made in your brain (and the reason why gaming and screen time can be so addictive).

2. Adjust their after school schedule to meet their current needs.

With everything opening up again, it’s tempting to want to ‘catch-up’ on all the activities our kids missed out on. However, overscheduling a child can add to the pressure of them having to keep it all together. Not only do they need to be on their best behaviour at school, now they need to continue keeping it together afterwards!?! I always say to parents, co-create and discuss after school extracurriculars with your child. Depending on their age, temperament and level of anxiety, you will find that encouraging them to participate and be active (aka, get off of screens) while honouring their emotional well-being and where it’s currently at, is a balancing act.

Here’s a general rule of thumb: If there are no extracurricular activities scheduled, discuss with them signing up for something. If there is something almost every day of the week, check in with them to see what they really want to continue and what they could do without. Once this is all sorted out, put everything on a large family calendar (not just your phone). This way everyone in the household is on the same page and can support one another. Helpful hint: having the week or month laid out in plain sight can be very supportive for kids with anxiety or ADHD. This predictability helps bring calm to their brain-body system.   

Unconscious Pressure

You may not want to hear this but take a moment to consider something else: Parental Pressure. Check in with yourself to see if the extracurriculars are something you want your child to participate in. Meaning, it was initiated and decided by you alone. Or, was it something your child truly wants to participate in? Sometimes, we influence our kids (which can be a good thing) however, if we want our kids to learn how to make decisions on their own, they need to be given the opportunity and the autonomy to do so. Without us pressuring them. Extracurriculars are a great way to practice building this life-long skill called decision making. So park your agenda (and the possible desire of signing-your-kids-up-for-all-the-extracurricular-activities-you-never-got-to-do-as-a-child) and take a moment to truly assess what is best for your child at this time.

3. Adjust the one thing you have the most control over -> You.

Similar to above, it can be tempting and, in some cases easier, to “make” our kids do and behave as we wish them to. However, it’s important to understand – the earlier, the better – that we can’t control them. If you have a strong -willed gladiator kid, you know this all too well. And even if we could control them, it’s not a good long-term strategy. If you have an easy going or people pleaser kid, they may be easier to parent now because they listen to you, but as they get older, their influencers change. Anyone heard of social media and tik tok?

We want to encourage our kids to make good choices because they themselves want to, not because we want them too. Essentially, we want our kids to be good human beings, without us telling them what they need to do, every step of the way. 

This process, however, is a balancing act and it’s largely dependent on their age, temperament and level of maturity. And it takes patience and practice combined with a whole lotta learning (aka, mistakes) that you’ll both make.

The fastest way to help this learning curve take flight, however, is to check in on your emotions, your reactions and your agenda. Sometimes, and often unknowingly because our unconscious selves can take over quite quickly, we add a layer of complexity and emotions to an already emotional situation. In fact, we can exasperate our child’s dysregulation by negatively adding to it!

If you want to be supportive during these meltdowns, there are two things to do:
  • Remind yourself that kids are still learning to regulate their emotions. It is normal behaviour to have a child test and trigger you after going through such a big day at school. It’s also helpful to recognize that behaviour is never really the problem, it is the symptom of the problem that we may not yet be aware of. Challenges such as they had a hard time with their friends that day, or they got embarrassed at school, or they simply need some down time after holding it together all day. This may not come to the surface right away – the meltdown is the first step for them communicating with you.
  • Connect with them by using the C.A.L.M technique – which is a process I guide parents through. Simply put, take a moment to be fully present with your kids – even in the heat of the meltdown. Be the space and container for them to express themselves – without taking it personally (not an easy task at times, but it is possible)! Then, when everyone is calm, you can get an understanding of what happened so you can best support your child.

Afterschool (and truly any type of) meltdowns can be tough for us to get through, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.
These strategies and helpful hints will support you and your kids to sail through the meltdowns and continue the honeymoon phase well into the school year.

“My kid won’t do this!”

Not sure if this will work for you?
Do you have a super strong willed kid or big emotions kid?
Trust me – it does work! As a certified parent coach, I’ve taken my clients from a “I don’t do anything” kind of kid to “we’re a team and work together” kind of family.

Book a free Connection Call here to discover how this can be possible for you too.

Learn more about how you can build resilience, emotional agility, and conscious awareness within your family, and bring ease and joy into your home.

Book a Complimentary Call with Natalie Today

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