How to Manage After-School Meltdowns

Does your kid do the Jekyll and Hyde thing between school and home? Are you a parent that wonders if the teacher is truly talking about your child when they tell you they are participating actively, following all the rules and engaging well with peers? 

The kid you happen to get is one who comes home and has really no interest in listening, does not want to tell you about their day, and may even have a melt-down when asked to do something as routine as washing their hands before snack. Sound familiar? Parents, you are not alone! 

Kids spend hours at school each day trying to focus and fit in as best as they can. They expend physical energy by being active, emotional energy by socializing with peers, and cognitive energy learning new concepts and following the rules. When they get home, they experience a physical, cognitive and emotional “let down.” It’s time to decompress.  

The “let down” can sometimes look like meltdowns or defiance. I often hear, “What am I doing that makes coming home so hard?” The answer is that you are simply providing safety – which is probably not the answer you thought was coming. Your child feels safe to let their guard down and let their vulnerabilities shine through, as unpretty as it may seem. 

“How do we make it STOP?!” 

The reality is that we all have vulnerabilities, and it may not be possible to make it completely stop. However, there are some ways we can plan ahead to decrease the intensity of the meltdowns.  

Planning Ahead for YOU

Take a moment and check-in with what you need even before your kids come home. Check-in with your own vulnerabilities and emotions in that moment. Did you have a tiring day at work? Did a co-worker rub you the wrong way? Were you running errands all day and didn’t have the time to eat? Did you have an especially slow day and you’re feeling lonely?

Respond to these needs by trying simple things like stepping away from the stressful environment to take some deep and wholesome breaths, make yourself a hot cup of tea, take a hot or cold shower, have a quick vent session with a loved one or take a mindful walk inside or outside your home. It is important to make sure that you feel soothed first in order to soothe your child effectively. 

6 Ways to a Mellow Meltdown

  1. Stay away from asking the ever so tempting question as soon as you see them: “Tell me about your day!”. Rather, greet them with a smile, hug, or high five. Your nonverbals (facial expressions and body language) can help regulate your kids. This is the power of Mirror Neurons!!
  1. Prepare a snack. Hunger is a vulnerability that can lead to a term we have lovingly coined as “hangry.” Give your kid the opportunity to have some input here. Agency helps with their sense of control and shows them that you trust their judgment. For example, you can ask “What would you like to eat? We have apples, cucumbers, goldfish or a PBJ sandwich. The choice is yours.” If you have older kids, give them the option to put together their own snack.
  1. Give them time and space to decompress by listening to music, taking a quick nap, going outside to play, or simply doing nothing. This will give them the opportunity to become more receptive to the tasks to complete later in the day. 
  1. Avoid screens during the time to decompress. Transitioning from screen to task can be a challenge; however, screens can be used as an incentive for getting tasks taken care of. 
  1. Build in incentives and rewards. This will help motivate your child. They are reward seekers! Be mindful to set tangible, realistic and accessible goals. A reward can be as simple as telling your kid they get ten minutes to rollerblade once they’re done with their tasks for the day.
  1. Prepare ahead with homework. Ask your child what feels like the best time for them to start working on their homework each day after school. Getting it down as a part of their routine helps with predictability, consistency, and accountability. This may help with getting away from the “You need to do your homework!” vs “LEAVE ME ALONE!” song and dance. 

If your child still has a hard time engaging in their homework, that’s an opportunity to check-in with them and better understand their needs with compassion. 

Checking-in can look like this: “Hey buddy, I can see that you’re having a hard time getting started on your homework today. What’s going on?”. This can help you to get a deeper look into what your child may be experiencing and a nice opportunity to validate their feelings.

For example, you might want to say something like, “Wow, that does sound like you’ve had a long tiring day. I can understand that you don’t want to do your homework right now.” Then, you can consequently provide support. “I know that your homework is due tomorrow and I’m wondering what you feel like you need to feel ready to start working on it. I’m here to help.”

Parenting is by no means easy! With the right amount of compassion, consistency, and collaboration you may not only stave off meltdowns but also deeply strengthen your parent-child bond.