Senara Occupational Therapy
After-School Meltdowns Explained.
Why after-school meltdowns happen (even with home-school) and five ways to improve after-school transitions.
The after-school meltdown
Many parents will be familiar with the after-school meltdown. You pick up your beloved child, having been reassured by the teacher that they have been good as gold and done some brilliant work.
While you’re excited to see them and to share their experiences, they can appear sullen or withdrawn, giving monosyllabic answers that might frustrate or disappoint you.
You’re not alone if you have uttered the words, “come on darling, I haven’t seen you all day. The least you could do is to tell me what you had for lunch.”
Or maybe, “what do you mean you can’t remember what you learnt? Did you not learn anything all day?”
By the time you get home (or even to the school gates), your child may be increasingly withdrawn and quiet, or extraordinarily volatile and emotional.
A simple request to put shoes away may result in a “tantrum”. Or, a seemingly harmless spat with a sibling, may result in an unexpectedly aggressive response.
As parents and carers, we may feel hurt by these outbursts. We may respond in an equally emotional way. It is easy to think, if they can be good all day for their teachers, why can’t they behave at home?
What are these meltdowns, and why do they happen?
The first thing to note is that these outbursts are not tantrums. They are, in fact, meltdowns in the most real sense of the word. They are our children melting down after a period of holding it all together.
Not only have they had to hold everything together, but they have also had to do so without the support, guidance and comfort of their primary caregiver.
At school, the expectations for behaviour are much higher than at home. Children are expected to sit in the right place, manage social cues, balance changes in friendships, adjust to different settings or routines quickly, sit still, retain information, respond in the right way…
The list is endless, and it can be a significant drain on our child’s energy and resource levels.
A meltdown is a child’s way of re-setting after processing emotions, thoughts and experiences in school.
Whilst it may seem like them lashing out at you, it is in fact, a sign that they are back in their happy place and able to “download” all of their feelings and let out everything they had been holding in all day.
They know that they are safe enough to let it all out finally and that you will be there to pick them up and make it all better.
Many of us are navigating the stresses of home-schooling or perhaps juggling part-time school and home-school. These “after-school” meltdowns may still be occurring, even though schooling has been done at home.
This year is hard for children, regardless of whether they are at home or in school.
Those who are home still have massive adjustments to make in terms of additional screen time, work expectations or just missing their friends.
No matter how hard you work, the likelihood is that home school won’t be familiar to them in the way that school is. And, although expectations may be different, they will still need to let off steam in some capacity when it is finished.
Five Ways to Ease After-School Transitions
1) The chaos of the morning can leave children feeling rushed and hurried; making
the transition to school (or home-school) more traumatic. Developing a morning
visual routine, that your child can follow will add familiarity and structure to your
mornings, helping you and your child.
2) Make an after-school plan together; this might be a treat, a trip to the park or a
particular magazine, or their favourite tea. Give them something to focus on, and look forward to when they get back from school.
3) After school, offer them a snack and a drink to restore their energy levels.
The muscles in our mouth and our face having an instant calming and regulating effect when we use them. Think about offering crunchy or chewy snacks, e.g. cucumber, pepper or pretzels which have more ‘bite’ to them as this works these muscle groups harder.
Our sense of proprioception is in our muscles and joints. When working well, our proprioceptive system provides information to our brain about body position. This increased awareness helps us feel grounded, calmer and more organised.
Drinking through a straw or sports bottle container where the child has to work
harder will further provide proprioceptive input to the face. An alternative is to offer a
cold snack such as an ice pop for crunching on. Give them time to relax and re-
adjust before you ask them questions about their day.
4) Try and do something that allows your child the time and space to unwind. This may be a physical activity like yoga or walking. It may be giving them time to rest. It is imperative for children who have sensory needs to be allowed time and space to decompress and unwind in a way that suits them. This may be in a quiet or “safe” area, like a den or a pop-up tent. The ‘den’ location is an important one, they may need their own space, but they also need to be near you for comfort!
5) If your child does become overwhelmed, reassure them that it is perfectly normal to feel these big feelings. Sit with them and allow them to express themselves.
These books are a great way to talk about big feelings in a non-threatening way, allowing you to come alongside your child, ensuring they feel understood and valued.
Allow them to feel that home remains their safe space and that we all experience big feelings from time to time. Above all, try not to take this download personally and model calmness.
If you have any additional questions, worries or concerns, please drop Tamsin or Morwenna an email at email@example.com