After-School Restraint Collapse Is A Real Thing – Here's How To Deal With It

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Do your child’s teachers constantly tell you how angelic your child is at school? Are you in continual awe of the positive reviews your child’s behavior earns, or do you find it hard to believe the endless stories of how well they listen, how hard they work, and how attentive they were in school? Are these things so hard to comprehend because your child turns into an emotional rage monster filled with yelling and meltdowns as soon as they get home? If any of this sounds familiar, then rest assured: you’re not alone. Many children experience meltdowns when their parents pick them up after a long day at school, so much so that it has actually earned itself a name. This is called “after-school restraint collapse.”

What Is “Restraint Collapse” In School-Age Children?

According to Andrea Loewen Nair, the London, Ont.-based counselor and parenting educator, this term is used to describe what happens when children hold themselves together all day at school, only to release all of their true, pent-up emotions when they get to a safe place (such as their home). Weeping, screaming, rudeness, and temper tantrums might seem somewhat over-the-top, but after a day of containing all of their emotions, sometimes a release is hard to control. As Vanessa Lapointe, a parenting educator and registered psychologist in Surrey, BC, says, “More sensitive and intense kids, and kids struggling with learning and social skills, will be more likely to be affected. More chill kids can have their days too if it was a particularly challenging day, or they are extra tired or getting sick.” This behavior is far more common towards the beginning of the school year while children adjust to the change of environment and schedule.

The obvious question here is, “why?” Why does this happen? Why do kids do this? According to Nair, “Kids do what they need to in order to ‘be good’ or keep the peace. After they’ve done that all day, they get to the point where they just don’t have the energy to keep this restraint, and it feels like a big bubble that needs to burst.” Don’t you remember being a kid and trying to face all the challenges at school? As Lapointe explains, “KIds have to hold it together all day long at school. There are all sorts of expectations, disappointments, and challenge to manage, and all of this without your loving presence nearby. It can be exhausting.” A meltdown is often simply the result of tiredness or over-stimulation, which is why it understandable that it’s far more common during transition periods.

How To Help Your Child Unwind & Process After School

While there are certainly other reasons for a meltdown–such as relief at the sight of you–there are ways you can work to prevent a meltdown from happening. Nair recommends that parents get into the habit of reconnecting with their kids at school in a positive way rather than a negative one. For instance, instead of greeting your child with questions about their homework and if they were good, meet them with a smile, a hug, and a loving, “I missed you!” In addition to this, Nair suggests giving your child some space to adjust after pick up. “IF you’re driving, put on the radio and stay quiet. If you are walking, say little or just comment on the nice little things you notice. This isn’t the time for big conversations.” Nair personally avoids playdates or other activities schedules directly after school in order to give her son time to regroup and adjust after pick up.

Lastly, just like any human being, children are far more likely to misbehave when their physical needs aren’t met. If they are hungry, sleepy, or otherwise physically satisfied, a meltdown is much easier to occur. It’s more than likely that your child is going to be hungry after school, so prepare snacks and water for them to look forward to.

Showing your child that they are safe and secure in your love is one of the best things you can do for their wellbeing. Give them your time, write them nice notes, and go out of your way to be sure they understand how valuable they are to you. Both Lapointe and Nair emphasize the importance of staying connected.

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