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Does your child come home after school or daycare and fall apart? It’s the dreaded after school meltdown!

Let’s look at why it happens and what we can do about it.

Your child might be hungry.

Be prepared with a snack or for your child to finish their lunch as soon as they get home or you pick them up. Let’s make sure low blood sugar isn’t giving them a case of the ‘hangries’ (hungry + tired = Hangry)

Your child might have run out of willpower.

If they work really hard to follow all the rules and ‘be good’ at school, may have used up all their ability to ‘keep it together.’ Have you ever promised yourself you wouldn’t, for example, eat any sugar for the day and you are really strong but then break down and have a big piece of chocolate cake at 11 PM? We actually have a limited supply of willpower. 

If your child has used all their willpower up at school, they might fall apart when they get home. Unfortunately, we can’t give them more willpower. But we can adjust our expectations so that we are able to stay calm and be more compassionate when our child is melting down on the floor because we asked them to unpack their backpack! 

Try this: If you’re feeling annoyed, give yourself an attitude adjustment. Your child is doing the best they can. They are not giving you a hard time, they are having a hard time. This will help you respond with more effectively and with patience and compassion. 

Your child may have a full emotional backpack.

What’s an emotional backpack? The emotional backpack is a metaphor for our bodies. All the big feelings, stress and tensions we haven’t processed or released get carried around in the emotional backpack, or our bodies. They stay there and build up until we either consciously release them or they rise to the surface on their own because the backpack is full. 

Picture a hard day at work. You probably are unlikely to sit at your desk and cry. If you don’t do something to process the hard day, the uncomfortable feelings you’re holding on to might make you pick a fight with your partner when you get home. Or maybe you stub your toe and burst into tears. 

The feelings in our backpacks can overwhelm us and cause a meltdown, or come flooding out over something seemingly minor. It’s the same with our children after a big day at school. Even if they don’t have a bad day, there is so much to process in a typical day at school!

Kids process their feelings in two main ways: tears and laughter. We as adults can talk about our feelings to process them, but kids can’t process their feelings that way (yet!) We need to get them laughing and crying. Research shows that tears actually contain stress hormones! Isn’t that amazing? Our tears flush the big feelings out of our bodies. Laughter also empties the emotional backpack and helps us release all those big feelings! 

Try this: If your child seems cranky, spend 10 minutes getting them laughing when you get home. Silly games, chase, roughhousing. Anything that kids you and your child laughing. Try some of the ideas in my free e-book Get Laughing!

If your child still seems ‘off’ or has a meltdown anyway, they might just need to cry. Try as much as you can to pour on the empathy and welcome the tears. Remember, empathy means trying to see it from their perspective and acknowledge their feelings. It doesn’t mean you have to agree. Empathize with as much compassion as you can muster and help them find the tears that will empty their backpack. 

If your child is having big feelings after school, remember they are doing the best they can. Try to recognize that they are having a hard time, not giving you a hard time and be as patient as you can. (I know! It’s hard!!) They also might be trying to offload all the stored up tensions and stresses of the day. Meet them with empathy and compassion, and help them laugh if they can and cry if they need to.

Want some more support?

Book a free short consult with me.
You can also join our free Peaceful Parenting Facebook group.

Sarah Rosensweet is a peaceful parenting coach and parenting advice columnist for Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper. She lives in Toronto with her husband and three big kids (ages 13, 16, and 19). Sarah teaches parents a non-punitive, connection-based approach that uses firm limits with lots of empathy. Enjoy your kids again! Find her at sarahrosensweet.com