We are officially back to school! That means it’s time to find a rhythm again between juggling education, extracurricular activities, homework, and social commitments… and so far, I’m just talking about the kids! But whether your little ones love school or drag their feet en route every morning, the same stands true for all of them — by the end of the day: they’re tired.
And we all know what happens when our kids are tired; the shift to cranky is usually a fast one. In fact, even when I’m exhausted, I’m much more prone to mood swings. Plus, the kiddos have just spent all day restraining themselves to adhere to their classroom rules and to fit in. But control for children is not easy and uses up a great deal of their energy and capacities.
To top it off, we are our children’s safe zone. Throughout their school day, our kids have a subconscious (or even conscious) need for us. And according to Today’s Parents, now that you’re suddenly there, they often become overwhelmed by finding a balance in their emotional shift between the happiness of seeing you and their anger or disappointment over having ‘lost you’ at all.
Plus when kids are home, they are in a space in which they feel more comfortable and with people they feel they can be themselves around. In essence, this safe space allows them the room to fully release their true emotions.
So, if you’re finding the number of post-school meltdowns on the rise know that you’re not alone and know that is completely normal. There’s actually a name for what you’re experiencing and it’s being called After-School Restraint Collapse.
It’s the sudden inability to restrain their feelings after having done so for so many hours. It can cause a heightened amount of meltdowns that can last anywhere from a few weeks to all school year, dependent upon how rough of a transition your child is going through.
So, how do you deal with the after-school meltdowns?
Once your children begin to tantrum, there is not much you can do that will help the situation except letting them know you are still very much their safe space. It’s less about validating their behavior, and more about understanding it and helping them through the feelings.
Letting them know you are there for them and understand how tired or angry they must be will allow them a sense of security amidst their insecurity. And when people feel safe, the fight or flight mechanisms trigger less. In other words, they can find inner peace much easier when you offer it to them on the outside.
So, ho do we validate a child’s feelings without validating the behavior?
This is a very tricky question, it’s more than just words. You can scream all day “I understand how you feel” and the person in crisis is not going to hear you. Again, back to what I was saying before, it’s about creating a “safe space” and showing them that you are that space. You are their rock.
In order to show (that word “show” is critical here) a person that you are validating their feelings, it’s often rooted in how you act. When a person is in fight-or-flight, the frontal cortex of their brain is overloaded a bit (hence the trigger of that mechanism to run, hit or hide). That means they’re not hearing. They’re not seeing. They can only focus on the thing causing the fear.
And in the instance of after school meltdowns, the fear is all inside. There’s not a monster to run away from. The monster is inside, so you have to break through that and physical communication is the most effective way to do that.
Let’s break this down further into some very actionable steps we’ll call “tricks” even though, they’re really just treating your child like the human they are.
What are some tricks for helping a child “calm down” during a tantrum?
- Stop: walking, stop driving, stop thinking about what you need to do when you get home. Just stop. If that means pulling the car over and getting out of the pick-up line, do it. If that means asking your other kiddo to find a rock in the vicinity so you can focus on the child in crisis, do that. Do whatever you have to in order to “stop” the world from crashing around your child’s head by physically stopping in your tracks.
- Focus: Let all the other distractions fall away. Make eye contact with your child. They’re in crisis. Even if it isn’t a bleeding cut, you need to treat it like that. You wouldn’t yell at your kid for bleeding, you’d put all your focus on them. Do that now. Be present with them. The most effective way to do this is by making eye contact and holding it. This can be hard for kids in the moment, but you just watch their face, give them the opportunity to meet your eyes.
- Level: This is a huge part of helping a child break through a tantrum. Get on their level. Kneel down. Bend over. Sit on the seat with them, anything. Anything you can do to be on the same level with them–not standing over them, big and menacing. They’re already scared, they’re already having big big feelings, make your part in them smaller and more approachable by being on their level.
- Offer: Open your hands, open your arms, give your child a safe place to fall into, both literally and figuratively. A hug can provide a million great changes in the body. And sometimes, that’s REALLY what a child needs to recenter. Invite your child to connect physically with a hug by having open body language and offering it–even saying “would you like a hug”.
- Model: Deep breaths, a smile and using a quiet, soft tone can sometimes turn a tantrum on its head. You don’t have to tell your child to take deep breaths. Although I sometimes do. But, by speaking quietly, being calm yourself, you can give a child a chance to do the same.
- Ask: The biggest thing they want, when anyone is upset, is to be heard. But children don’t have a ton of experience to fall back on to know that they can and will be heard. They have to be reminded to use their words. So, the obvious thing here is to ask them to tell you how they feel. Don’t ask “what’s wrong”–because they may not be able to articulate that. But asking “how do you feel?” and “what can I help with?” and giving them an opportunity to be heard is key.
Related: How to deal with tantrums in public
Is there any way to stop the meltdowns before they start?
If you know your child’s triggers, as well as what calms them, it’s always worth starting there. Knowing the signs your children exhibit when they are exhausted or emotionally overstimulated is the first step. Offering them whatever calming mechanisms work for them without ignoring their emotions is a great next step.
But being even more preemptive is the absolute key. Creating a peaceful, supportive regimen when you arrive home from your daily activities is a great way to do this.
Children will often have pent-up energy waiting to escape, so allowing them some time right off the bat to be physical in a non-threatening way is what professionals suggest. That way, when they do have to return to their homework, complete household chores or tasks, or follow more rules, they don’t feel overburdened.
Connecting with your children is key! When your child feel connected to you, they are able to process their emotions a lot easier and sometimes faster. Click here to learn about simple ways you can connect daily with your child.
The most important thing that you need to remember is that after-school meltdown are completely normal, and they are a sign that your child feels safe around you. Keep being their safe and comforting zone – that is all they need!
Amy B. Chesler is an author & award-winning blogger from Southern California. She has contributed work to many popular publications – from five different non-fiction stories to six different best-selling Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies, as well as content for the DVD Netflix blog, Life of Mom, Home & Family TV, BluntMoms, Elephant Journal, TODAY Parents, & more. Her first solo book was released in 2017 and can still be purchased on Amazon.
While not blogging and parenting, Amy is cooking, eating, traveling, reading, and healing. Feel free to follow her on social media (@amybchesler) or visit her blog.
Post written by Amy B. Chesler / Updated and Edited by Mama Instincts.