How to cope when your child has meltdowns for no reason after school
It's easily confused with tantrums, but it's important to know the difference between a tantrum and after-school restraint collapse.
Picture this. You’re waiting at the gates for your little one. He approaches you with a big beaming smile. “He must have had a good day,” you think to yourself. But as soon as you enter the car, he goes into full meltdown mode. Sounds familiar? That’s because it’s common. This behaviour in kids is known as the After-school Restraint Collapse.
What is After-school Restraint Collapse?
The phenomenon usually happens after a long day in school. Your child could be yelling, screaming, or crying with no real reason. Any attempts to talk them down seem futile. Sometimes, you may also be met with stone-cold silence, where your kid withdraws into himself.
According to counsellor Andrea Loewen Nair, who coined the term, after-school restraint collapse can happen throughout the school year but normally occurs during the first few months of school as they adjust to the transition.
As parents, we know it can be exhausting and confusing to see this behaviour after you receive glowing reports from teachers praising your little one. So you might ask yourself “how can he be so well-behaved at school but so difficult when he comes home? And why is this happening?”
Causes behind after-school restraint collapse
Ms Nair explains that after-school restraint collapse happens because kids are releasing their pent-up emotions after holding it together throughout the day. You can think of it as a social or behaviour threshold. Your child has been on his best behaviour all day and cooperated with his teachers while getting along with his peers without an issue.
In short, your little one is exhausted—physically and emotionally. However, the phenomenon isn’t just explained by tiredness. If it was just fatigue, your little one could sleep it off in a mid-day power nap!
Psychologists believe after-school restraint collapse is a type of defensive attachment strategy. Your little one adjusts from being around you so frequently, to being separated from you for hours. You can compare the situation to your child getting lost at a supermarket. You find him and you’re overcome with feelings of relief. But these feelings quickly give way to anger, as he didn’t listen to your instructions. Your child responds the same way because he feels you weren’t there for him all day and he had to cope all by himself.
There is a big difference between after-school restraint collapse and throwing a tantrum. He is not throwing a tantrum to test boundaries or trying to get his way. In fact, he is overwhelmed by all these emotions and responding to not being around you for a large part of the day.
So mum, now you know what is after-school restraint collapse and why it happens. Here are some suggestions to cope with it for the next time your little one has this type of meltdown.
How to prevent and cope with after-school restraint collapse
Remember, mummy. It normally takes place during the first few months of school starting as your child is getting used to the new routine. You can cope with after-school restraint collapse by following these tips to keep your little one calm and build him up to feeling good again.
Give him a big hug when you pick him up from school and tell him how much you love him. Talking your child down when he’s in full meltdown mode is impossible. After all, you don’t want to talk or give an answer to “how are you?” if you’re bawling your eyes out! Instead of posing this question, connect with your child with positive actions and words.
Create a space for reflection
Give a quiet space for your child to process what’s happened and collect himself. If you are driving home, put the radio on for some background noise. If he’s having an after-school restraint collapse, he’s not ready to talk. Giving him the space to reflect helps your little one readjust from school and regulate his emotions.
You can occasionally point out something interesting that might distract your little one as ice breakers. Even if he doesn’t bite, these short comments keep him engaged while letting him know you’re still thinking of him without forcing a conversation.
Make time to decompress
Kids need time to unwind after a long day of school just like you do, mummy! While decompressing for you might be collapsing on the couch, your little one might decompress through play or drawing.
Let your child unwind and set the pace for conversation to start flowing again. He might open up while decompressing from after-school restraint collapse. You can start asking the difficult questions gradually.
Have food at the ready
Prepare food in advance or have snacks at the ready. You don’t have to force him to eat veggies, just a balanced and nutritious meal. He’ll feel a lot better on a fuller stomach and will warm up to you in no time.
Mum, your kids aren’t ready to communicate when they’re going through an after-school restraint collapse meltdown. Waiting for him to tell you he wants to eat will result in a cranky and hungry child!
Be silly! Play games together and let that inner kid loose! Laughter is the best medicine, as they say! You can be a role model and show how to prioritise your mental health by staying happy and healthy by having fun.
Homework can wait, mum. Even if you try to persuade your little one to do it, chances are he will ignore you or meltdown even worse.
So, mummy, you know what is after-school restraint collapse, why it happens, and steps you can take to lift your little one’s spirits! Don’t be discouraged when it happens because it’s a normal occurrence. But you can take active steps to help ease the transition back into school and cool those meltdowns with ease.