Why the after school meltdowns?!
Many of the children I see in my clinic struggle with managing big emotions. Mum and Dad are often tearing their hair out because their child will appear to be coping well at school, but as soon as they get home it is world war three. So what's the deal with that?
If you have a child who goes through this same pattern, you will probably know that they like to follow the rules at school, they will most likely try very hard, and respond well to positive praise. They may struggle with learning at the same rate as their classmates, or they may put pressure on themselves to always do their very best in their academic work. And just to add another challenge, they probably have sensory issues such as sensitivity to noise or becoming overwhelmed by lots of visual input (think brightly decorated primary school classroom!).
Some children (particularly with autism) also find the social environment at school very difficult, which can make recess and lunch time more of a stressful time than a relaxing one. Imagine being in a classroom where you put a lot of pressure on yourself during class time to get the work right, maintain the approval of the teacher, cope with the noise and visual input, and then navigate the social minefield of the playground at recess and lunch. Sounds hard, right? Yep!
By the end of the day, their bucket is full. So full it's overflowing. They get home, where they are comfortable, where they can be themselves, where they are safe, and they let it out. It might not feel like it, but you have created this safe home environment for them, which means you are doing a great job as a parent!
Here are some ideas to help your child during these times:
- Understand that all behaviour is communication. When your child is in meltdown mode, there is something that they need, even if it is just space to process their day and knowing that you are there for them when they need a hug.
- Bring a crunchy snack and a drink with a straw to school pick up, and give it to them in the car on the way home.
- Create a zone in the house somewhere that is theirs, whether it be a tent or a cubby, where they can go to be by themselves and not be disturbed. Ideally this zone should be quiet, dark, comfy (use pillows or blankets), and may have quiet activities or books and fidget toys to help with calming.
- Experiment with different activities that your child finds calming and regulating. This could be drawing, building with Lego, gardening, jumping on the trampoline, or going on the swing.