Psychotherapist Andrea Nair coined the term ‘After School Restraint Collapse’ to give a name to the emotions children express when they get home after trying to keep it all together during school hours. Some refer to this as after-school burnout or letdown. Children will often try to maintain a certain level of “energy, mental motivation, emotional containment, and physical restraint (Nair, “7 Ways to Help Your Child Handle Their “After School Restraint Collapse””, 2016)” while in school and when they are finally in a comfortable, safe environment they will release this built-up energy and emotion. This release of emotions can manifest in the form of crying, screaming, tantrums, defiance, picking fights with siblings, excessive whining, or even total shut down and refusal to speak, move, or do anything. These behaviors typically occur immediately following school. Any of these behaviors can be extremely overwhelming for parents at the end of the day, especially when dealing with multiple children, and while trying to manage after-school routines such as homework, sports, activities, and making dinner. There are a few ways you can help your child deescalate and ward off or lessen the chance of meltdown at the end of the school day.
1. Have a healthy snack and beverage prepared ahead of time for your child. Don’t assume that because your child has lunch and snacks in school that they are not hungry at the end of the day.
2. Make time for your child to decompress. If possible, avoid scheduling sports or activities immediately following school. Give your child at least a half-hour to choose an activity that makes them happy. Give them time to rest, play, bike ride, swing, listen to music, or do something they select and enjoy.
3. Use positive and reassuring language when communicating with your child. This can be particularly difficult when your child is screaming and causing discomfort for everyone, but simply saying, “I know it was a long day,” and letting your child know you understand them, can go a long way.
4. Avoid making demands or asking too many questions. Of course, you want to know how your child’s day was but try and refrain from firing off too many questions immediately upon seeing your child. If they have homework, give them some time and space before asking them to start it.
5. Stay connected during the day. Children often report feeling homesick or missing mom and dad when at school which only heightens after-school burnout. Putting notes in your child’s snack bag or lunch box, or giving them a special pin, sticker, small stuffed animal, or object they can carry with them at school can give your child that reassurance they may need during the day.
It is important to know that after school restraint collapse is very normal and common among children of all ages and levels of development. Even adults report episodes of overwhelming emotions after a long day at work. There are steps you can take to help mitigate these reactions and make after-school hours more enjoyable for your family.