After-School Meltdowns Totally Suck, But There’s Hope

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 
after-school meltdowns
Suzanne Tucker / Shutterstock

You pick your kids up from school and everything seems hunky-dory. But as soon as they come home, all hell breaks loose. They’re whiny, cranky, moody, and explosive. You wonder what the heck happened at school. You’re certain something is terribly wrong with your kids or with you.

But nope. It’s the dreaded after-school meltdown. And it happens to the best of us.

I remember coming home from school outrageously hungry and wanting nothing more than to sit on the couch and veg out watching TV. If my mom so much as asked how my day was, I would be liable to throw my backpack in her face.

My kids are similar to how I was. It’s not that there’s anything terribly wrong with the school. My kids like it and seem to thrive there. But the whole thing can be overstimulating for them, and they need time to decompress.

On top of that, six hours in a row is a long time for them to sit still, behave, and basically keep their shit together.

So as soon as they walk through the door, they let loose. And yes, that sometimes involves screaming their heads off for a while and generally acting like cranky brats.

Obviously, that is not something anyone wants to happen on a regular basis. But the fact is, there’s actually something sort of sweet about it when kids feel comfortable enough to unwind and be themselves once they come home.

Or at least that’s how I try to look at it when my kids are lying on the floor crying at 3 p.m. and I want to poke my eyeballs out.

Whatever the case is, it’s important to keep in mind that these meltdowns are common, normal, and actually do get better as your kids get older. And having been through it myself for a couple of years, I can tell you that there are a few things you can try to stave off the explosions, or at least make them less extreme or frequent.

Feed them.

I don’t care if they ate their entire lunch, a snack, and a birthday party cupcake. Kids are hangry when they get home from school no matter what. Feeding them is the first thing you should do, and pronto. You’ll be surprised how quickly they will go from unhinged explosive beasts to simply moody eyerollers. (I’ll take the latter any day.)

Don’t feed the fire.

Feed the kid, but don’t feed the fire. If your kid comes home and immediately freaks even before that plate of food is administered, make sure to stay calm (or at least try). Getting all pissy yourself will only make your kid more volcanic. Trust me. Been there, done that.

Delay homework and keep after-school activities to a minimum.

Some families make their kids do homework as soon as they get home. If that works for you, more power to you. But my kids need at least an hour or two to not think about school at all. We also don’t sign up for a ton of after-school activities, at least in the early elementary school years. It’s a lot for small kids to be active and engaged for that many hours each day, five days a week.

Give them some space.

Just let them do whatever the heck they want to do, at least for a half hour or so. Video games, TV, punching bag, running around the backyard naked — whatever suits their fancy and helps them unwind. And unless they ask for your company, stay the hell away.

Save your questions for later.

I know you want to know everything that happened that day. It’s weird leaving your kid in someone else’s care for all that time and not knowing what went down. But definitely don’t expect much from your kids when they first come home. Sometimes they’ll volunteer information, but most of the time it’s better to let them decompress and ask the questions later.

Connect with them when they’re ready.

Maybe your kid will let you in for a big hug. Maybe you can rest your hand on a shoulder and give it a gentle squeeze. But maybe not. Definitely make sure to reconnect with them at some point after they’ve gotten home. But don’t force it until they’re ready.

I know there are some kids who handle the transition between school and home easier than others. But there are just as many for whom it’s a big, huge challenge. If your kid falls into that camp, try not to compare. All kids are different, and the truth is, after-school meltdowns are more common than you think — it’s just that not a lot of people talk about them.

But they should. I know I have felt kind of lonely sometimes in my after-school struggles with my kids. It’s hard not to feel like you’ve done something wrong when you have a couple days or weeks in a row with epic meltdowns. But I’ve learned it’s best to accept that this is just how your kids are, and then figure out ways to make it easier on all of you.

And for anyone who’s in the thick of it: It definitely gets better as they get older. Eventually, they aren’t quite as worn out from their days, and they can even come home and make their own snacks. (Imagine that!)

So hang in there, do what you need to do to keep everyone sane, and remember that what you’re experiencing is normal and will most definitely pass.


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