Family & Parenting

Why Kids Melt Down After School After Feeling Fine All Day

Parents, does this sound familiar?

Have you ever wondered why your young child gets glowing reports on their behavior at school but, when they come home, you deal with nonstop meltdowns and temper tantrums?

If you’re no stranger to the after-school blues, don’t worry. Experts say this is a completely normal phenomenon and is no cause for concern.

In fact, parenting educator Andrea Loewen Nair says there’s a name for the tantrums and difficult behavior that follow pick-up from school or daycare.

She calls it “after-school restraint collapse,” and Nair thinks it’s important that more parents become educated about this very real and very common childhood behavior.

Essentially, after working very hard all day to be attentive, good sharers and kind playmates, kids reach the end of their ropes by the time the afternoon (and, consequently, pick-up time) rolls around.

“Kids do what they need to in order to ‘be good’ or keep the peace,” Nair, the author of “Taming Tantrums,” told Today’s Parent. “After they’ve done that all day, they get to the point where they just don’t have the energy to keep this restraint, and it feels like a big bubble that needs to burst.”

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It’s also possible that kids melt down after a long day at school or daycare because they’ve been holding in all that energy until they have a safe place to let it all go. Much like we put on a happy face at work, only to cry privately at home or in our cars, so too do children hold in their most intimate emotions until they have a safe place to release these pent-up hurts.

And that safe place just so happens to be their Mommy or Daddy’s lap … or their living room carpet as they pound their fists on the floor and cry and rage for apparently no reason.

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But experts assure parents that there is, indeed, a reason, and a very good one at that. After working so hard to be good all day and meet everyone’s expectations around them, these little ones are just exhausted.

So what should parents do?

It seems that the best thing to do is give your kids space rather than barraging them with questions about homework and what happened at school that day. Instead, play gentle, soothing music on the car ride home.

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Make light, supportive observations such as, “Your teacher said you were so good today. I am so proud of you. You always make me and Daddy (or Mommy) so proud.”

“Give your child the lead to start talking when he or she is ready,” says Nair. “When that happens, you can inquire about any emotionally intense moments that may have happened during that day.”

Experts also say to make sure that you offer snacks, as kids are probably hungry and thirsty and battling low blood sugar at the end of the day. Need some inspiration? Check out our list of healthy after-school snack ideas.