How To Tackle After-School Meltdowns

As parents, we’re used to navigating a busy lifestyle.  Regardless of how well we think we’re doing, we can all agree that life keeps us busy.  If we stop and think about it, the lives of our children aren’t entirely different from our own.  Let’s take a quick look at the facts:

Kids work a day job.  They do their own paper-pushing and they answer to supervisors (their teachers and other school faculty).  They endure performance evaluations (tests).

Kids struggle with having no control.  Somebody else makes their schedule and tells them what to do (unless you’re self-employed, you probably know how that feels).  What’s more, kids must ask permission to take care of their own basic needs, such as getting a drink of water and going to the bathroom.  

Kids wrestle with social anxiety.  “What do my peers and my supervisors think of me?” 

Kids wish they had more time for fun.  There’s so much to do in a day and not a lot of time left over for things that they’d rather be doing.  Between school, chores, and their parents’ schedules, some days there might not be much to look forward to.  Even kindergarteners have more expected of them than we did when we were kids–nap time isn’t a thing anymore, their curriculum is a year or two ahead of ours, and recess isn’t mandatory!  

All things considered, it’s no wonder that children (and their parents) suffer from after-school meltdowns.  Adolescents are still developing the coping mechanisms that adults (well, some of them) already have. Let’s also not forget anatomy: when a child is young, his hippocampus–which is responsible for emotion–is more developed than the prefrontal cortex–which controls logical thought processes and decision-making.  

What can parents do to help?  Here are some fantastic ideas from seasoned parents:


1. Help your child decompress.  When your child gets home from school, let your child know how happy you are to see her.  Set aside your to-do list and eat a snack together. Don’t make her do homework or chores right away–just let your child relax for fifteen minutes or so.


2. Ask thoughtful questions about your child’s day.  You won’t get much of a response from questions like, “How was your day?”  Instead, you need to pay attention to what’s going on in your child’s life.  “What did your classmates think of your show-and-tell object?” “What special class did you go to today?  What did you do there?” If you ask enough of the right questions, you will begin to uncover how your child is feeling and he will get into the groove of telling you more about his day (which may not happen all at once, but randomly as you go about the evening together).  


3. Be careful how you respond.  Don’t scold him for mistakes that his teacher has already corrected, lest he learn to keep secrets from you.  If his teacher asks you to address something personally, don’t forget to show empathy and communicate that you are not against him.  When it comes to performance, praise the effort he put into his work rather than the grade he received.


4. Make adjustments.  If your child is struggling in school, it might be time to have a conversation with his teacher in order to move forward.  You might also consider doing small acts of kindness to remind your child that he is loved, such as enclosing a note or his favorite treat in his lunchbox.  


5. Have a routine.  Nothing is worse than being blindsided by work when you thought it was time to relax!  If your child has homework and chores, try to keep your evenings as routine as possible so that your child knows what to expect.


6. Give your child something to look forward to.  I don’t know about your kids, but when mine know that their grandmother is coming over to watch them so that Daddy and I can have a date night, they are more cooperative than usual.  You can keep it simple: “If you get your work done, you can watch TV after dinner.” Playing the long game helps, too: “Not only do you have TV to look forward to this evening, but on Saturday we’re going on a family date to the zoo!”  Again, even adults are motivated by weekend rewards.


7. Consider your child’s health.  If they’re not getting enough sleep, they’re sick, or there have been big life changes in your family, your children might not have the capacity to carry out your normal routine.  In such cases, it’s best to simply focus on making your home a safe and comfortable place. Whether they need space or or they want cuddles, always remember to prioritize their physical and emotional health over work that needs to be done.  You can always write a note to his teacher explaining why homework wasn’t finished (assuming that the issue is short-term).

Remember, Parents–you are not alone when it comes to after-school meltdowns.  They are so, so common! Kindergarteners are especially susceptible to them, as they’re still getting used to a full day of school.  The fact that you’re even reading this article shows that you haven’t failed as a parent, because you care about the wellbeing of your child.  

Moms and Dads, what tips would you add to this list?  How do you personally tackle after-school meltdowns?