Home is where the tantrum is: Tips for dealing with after-school meltdowns
TORONTO -- After staying at home for nearly seven months due to the pandemic, millions of children across Canada are now returning to classrooms. And for parents, that can mean dealing with kids melting down just minutes after returning home at the end of their school day.
According to child development experts, not only is the after-school meltdown a thing – there’s even a name for it: after-school restraint collapse.
“It’s normal in children, especially in the beginning weeks, when they’re just transitioning back to school and they’re just trying to get back into the groove of things,” parenting expert Caron Irwin told CTV’s Your Morning on Tuesday. “These meltdowns happen because if you think about it, when kids are at school there’s a lot of self-regulating that they need to do. Even prior to going to school in a pandemic, kids had to sit on the carpet, line up, walk in the hallway, do all those things.”
Irwin says that new COVID-19 protocols such as wearing masks and ensuring physical distancing are bound to increase the pressure on children at school.
“All these tasks that kids have to do throughout the day are important for them to be successful and safe at school, but it takes a toll on them because they’re developing their impulse control and it's a lot to manage,” she says. “That’s really what causes these big emotions when they come home... it's all this pent-up energy that they’ve had that they just sort of release in their comfortable space.”
Mental health experts at Kids Help Phone say eight in 10 children are nervous about returning to school and deem it a major stressor. The national phone service which offers professional counselling and volunteer-led, text-based support to youth across Canada says it has experienced a 112 per cent surge in calls stemming from back-to-school anxiety.
Irwin says there are different approaches parents can use to help prevent after-school meltdowns and temper tantrums. The first step: provide a snack as soon as your youngster gets home from school.
“We never want a hangry child that just makes it harder for them to manage,” she says.
To help children decompress after their school day, Irwin suggests having relaxing activities that are mindful and don’t require a lot of self-regulating, like colouring in a doodle book or making shapes out of playdough.
For some children, physical activities like sports or bike-riding may be the better approach. While others might want to connect with their parent through a long cuddle on the couch or by sharing a book together. Irwin says it’s important to remember that kids decompress in different ways.
“A great tip for this is to ask your kids what they want to do and to have that available for them,” she says.
For continued success, she advises parents to create an after school routine that is predictable and consistent. This will help children know what to expect and encourages them to reset and prepare for the next part of their day at home.
“If we expect them to come home and do homework right away that’s going to be very challenging for them,” Irwin says. “They might fuss a lot in the beginning during homework, but as it becomes a part of their routine... they will most likely start to adjust you just kind of have to be a little bit patient and help them cope throughout those homework challenges.”