Parenting with Purpose: Solving the Mystery of Afternoon Meltdowns

dad and son 2538

Ever wonder why kids seem to unleash their negative emotions as soon as they come home from school or daycare? A local dad (who wishes to remain anonymous) describes what many parents experience: “All I ever hear from my son’s teachers and other parents is what a great kid he is. Polite and thoughtful. Happy to help and participate. This is not the same child I pick up from school. Our afternoons are filled with arguing, whining and lots of emotions. It makes me wonder what I’m doing wrong. Why do other people get the best of my child and at home we battle through homework and dinner every night?”

Busy and demanding school days can leave kids feeling tired, overwhelmed and behaving in ways that are baffling. So, what’s going on and what are parents to do?

Restraint Collapse

The mystery of the meltdown has a name: restraint collapse. Parenting educator Andrea Loewen Nair coined the phrase “afterschool restraint collapse” in 2016 saying, “If someone’s ability to handle things is like a container, it’s the point where that container keeps getting filled past the brim and spills out everywhere. And once that happens, often the container collapses and just falls apart.”

Why Does it Only Happen with Parents?

It takes work and effort for kids to do everything they’re asked to do in a school day. Mental energy is spent while pent up physical energy builds. When feeling fidgety, talkative, rowdy, loud, frustrated, angry—even joyful and rambunctious—kids must control their feelings and keep a reign on their behavior to succeed. When they see parents or caregivers at the end of the day, kids feel safe enough to let down their guard and pour it all out.

What to Do and How to Help

How do you manage these big emotions at the end of the day when you’re just as tired from work as your child is from school?

Educational Psychology Specialist Kaydon Schanberger of San Diego Kids First has good news. Armed with empathy, understanding and a plan, parents can help kids manage restraint collapse and sail a little more smoothly through the afterschool hours. Here’s what she recommends:

  1. Smile when you see your child. After spending a day apart, make your reunion a moment of genuine warmth and connection. Schanberger encourages parents to greet children with a hug and a smile to let them know you’re happy to see them. “If you’ve had a stressful day yourself, take a couple deep breaths and set your intention to be in a good mood,” she says. 

  1. Offer a healthy snack. A nourishing snack does wonders for both body and mind, so give kids a few choices. Set out healthy options such as vegetable sticks, fruit, nuts or yogurt. Don’t forget to also offer water. If you’re heading to an afterschool activity, bring a couple of snack choices in the car. “Even if pick-up is close to dinner time, a snack is always a good idea,” Schanberger says.

  1. Save your questions. Sometimes out of eagerness to bond, parents pepper kids with questions as soon as they get in the car. Creating quiet space after a busy day will get a better response according to Schanberger. “Let your child lead the conversation,” she says. “You may hear what’s really on their minds, rather than answers they think mom or dad want to hear about their day.”

  1. Allow time to unwind and re-connect. When you arrive home, let kids take a break to do something they enjoy. Let them play with the family pet, play outside, help in the kitchen or spend time resting in their room. “No one wants to be picked up and hear a list of things they have to do or demands that are coming next,” says Schanberger. Building this kind of margin into your day is a necessary part of growing healthy families.

  1. Recognize the meltdown for what it is. Remember that a restraint collapse meltdown is different from an intentional tantrum. “Some parents don't know what to do with a meltdown,” says Schanberger, “so they try to control the situation through discipline.” A more helpful approach is to treat the meltdown as a time when children need a soft place to land (not as a behavior problem).

For parents like the local dad we spoke to, learning to recognize that meltdowns are a sign his son feels safe enough to pour out what he’s been holding in all day is reassuring. “It’s good to know that this isn’t something I’m doing wrong,” he says, “but a way for us to learn together how to handle hard feelings and being tired in more positive, loving ways.”

Solving the mystery of end-of-day meltdowns gives parents an opportunity to help kids feel nurtured and loved. By validating feelings and allowing room for expression and rest, kids learn how to make the transition from school to home more easily, even after a particularly stressful day.

_____________

Jody Lee Cates is a local mom, award-winning writer and author of our column “Parenting with Purpose.”

Parenting with Purpose: Solving the Mystery of Afternoon Meltdowns

Parenting with Purpose: Solving the Mystery of Afternoon Meltdowns

Ever wonder why kids seem to unleash their negative emotions as soon as they come home from school or daycare? A local dad (who wishes to remain anonymous) describes what many parents experience: . . .

Read more

Parenting with Purpose: Healthy Risk-Taking Helps Kids Thrive

Parenting with Purpose: Healthy Risk-Taking Helps Kids Thrive

It's a fact of life for every parent. Part of our job is to reduce risk and ensure the safety of the tiny humans placed in our care. After all, risks seem scary, right? Even the dictionary equates r . . .

Read more

Early Childhood Red Flags

Early Childhood Red Flags

Are you getting a sense that your child may be "different" from other children? Here are early childhood red flags that need attention.  “Einstein didn’t speak until he was 4 years old” . . .

Read more

How and Why to Develop  Growth Mindset in Kids

How and Why to Develop Growth Mindset in Kids

Is intelligence something you’re born with or something that develops? Is failure an opportunity to learn and grow, or something that impedes success? How a parent answers these questions greatly . . .

Read more

How to Make a Family Technology Contract

How to Make a Family Technology Contract

We raise our kids to be polite and respectful in person so why wouldn't we stress those same values in the online environment? A digital citizenship contract will help spell out your expectations of . . .

Read more

Turn Words Into Action: Create a Family Action Plan for Change

Turn Words Into Action: Create a Family Action Plan for Change

For families who want to be part of the change to end racial inequality, there's never been a better time to create a family action plan. A thoughtful plan, built around empathy and compassion, equi . . .

Read more

Give Your Family the Gift of Laughter

Give Your Family the Gift of Laughter

I was born on April 1, so I know a thing or two about humor. April Fools’ Day jokes and gifts make celebrating my birthday an adventure in laughter. I once received a large box of dirt topped with . . .

Read more

Parenting with Purpose: Raising Resilient Kids

Parenting with Purpose: Raising Resilient Kids

Teaching children how to do difficult things comes with parenting. We coach and encourage kids through frustration, tears and bursts of anger as they learn to tie shoes, write their names and ride a . . .

Read more

10 Ways to Practice Self-Care: A guide for busy parents

10 Ways to Practice Self-Care: A guide for busy parents

It’s necessary to take breaks from the hustle and bustle of life — to pause and recharge. Practicing self-care can mean something different to each individual, but the whole family benefits when . . .

Read more

Back-to-School Tips to Help Families Establish a Routine

Back-to-School Tips to Help Families Establish a Routine

The back-to-school transition can be tough on kids, especially after the year we’ve had. Whether your kids can’t wait to get back to full-time, in-person school or if they prefer to school at ho . . .

Read more

Why and How to Delay Giving Kids a Phone

Why and How to Delay Giving Kids a Phone

When I set out to write this article, I was hoping to provide an antidote to the alarming stories I’d read about kids and smartphones. However, the research really does paint a clear picture. Stud . . .

Read more

Tips to Teach Kids Time Management

Tips to Teach Kids Time Management

We all know that before school starts we need to schedule annual checkups and go back-to-school shopping, but how do we set our kids up for success that will last through the school year and beyond? . . .

Read more

The Dads Club: Why to Meet Up with the Guys

The Dads Club: Why to Meet Up with the Guys

One of the best ways to overcome feelings of isolation or loneliness as a father is to join (or start) a fathers’ group. Even in California, where there are support groups for people who belong to . . .

Read more

Parenting with Purpose: Why Parent/Child Dates Are So Important

Parenting with Purpose: Why Parent/Child Dates Are So Important

Scheduling regular one-on-one dates (outings) with kids is a fun way for families to build lasting bonds while setting kids up with the skills and experience needed to grow healthy relationships for . . .

Read more

Parenting with Purpose: Create Family Routines

Parenting with Purpose: Create Family Routines

Routines are like operating systems that set families up for success. They make it possible to complete essential daily tasks with the least amount of resistance, reduce family stress and help thing . . .

Read more

How to Help Fighting Siblings Make Peace

How to Help Fighting Siblings Make Peace

Images of smiling siblings are impressive for social media, but life with two or more children is decidedly less picture-perfect. According to research from University of Toronto, toddler-age siblin . . .

Read more

San Diego Family Magazine Logo

Be Family Informed – Sign up for our Newsletters below!