You know that moment when your child’s teachers insist your kid is a perfect angel during the school day, but that’s not at all what you’re experiencing when 3 p.m. rolls around? Don’t fret, your kid is actually experiencing something totally normal called “restraint collapse” or “after school restraint collapse.” Yes, there’s a name for it, it’s not just you!
Restraint collapse in kids is totally common and there are a few ways that parents can help their kids through this emotional rollercoaster.
What is after-school restraint collapse?
After-school restraint collapse occurs after a child “holds in” their emotions all day at school (also called “masking”) only to come home and act out or have some big emotions on display. Classroom rules and standards can take an enormous toll on kids who are still learning how to interact with one another and follow instructions while also absorbing lessons and being social. It’s no wonder that once kids step foot in the doorway, they let it all out.
Child therapist Lindsay Adams explained this phenomenon in a now-viral TikTok, explaining that your kid is not two completely different people, giving you the hard parts while teachers and educators may see a more well-behaved kid.
You’re actually their safe space where they can safely have an after-school restraint collapse.
“...they are on their best behavior or masking or whatever words you want to use for it, keeping their feelings in all day at school. They come home. They take off their backpack and all their big feelings fall out of it,” Adams explains.
“Maybe they fight with their siblings, maybe they're irritable with you, maybe they're just tired, maybe they are emotional.”
What age does restraint collapse occur?
After-school restraint collapse is most common in children aged 12 and younger. This is due to developing brains that are only capable of so much at such a young age.
Younger kids are working to adjust to changes to their environment or schedule, especially during back-to-school season right after a fun summer break. Once kids start to get acclimated to the schedule and routine of school vs. home life, after-school restraint collapse may occur less often.
How do I help my child decompress after-school?
When you notice your child about to meltdown after coming home from school, there are a few things Adams recommends to help them through the transition from school to home.
“Plan for the transition. Know what they struggle with at that time of day and set them up for success,” she says. “Structure their day in a way that allows them to do a calming or coping activity right when they get home or do a physical activity right when they get home.”
Adams also notes to pay attention to what will work best for your kid to help curb restraint collapse based on their personality, schedule, and activities.
She recommends parents be aware of afternoons with lots of activities or clubs. This kind of hectic schedule may make them feeling overwhelmed with not “a second to breathe and decompress.”
“Be patient with them for the first few weeks while they're adjusting because it's always going to happen, but it's probably going to be more intense during transition periods where they're getting used to going to school,” Adams continues.
Why do kids act out after school?
Adams advises knowing your kid. Take a pulse on what kind of decompressing will be most helpful for your particular child. Adams shares that her son needs what she calls “sensory cocooning” or downtime where he does not want to be physically active.
“He does not have like an excess of energy or anger. It is more withdrawn and quiet and will tend to be more emotional. And if his alone time is interrupted, that is when he will become angry. So we've structured downtime into his after school routine,” she explains.
For kids who come home running around, picking fights with siblings, and acting a little more intense or aggressive, Adams recommends adding in some sort of physical activity to break up the transition from school to home.
“It could even be just going outside and hanging out outside, doing chalk, doing something creative. Really the things you wanna focus on are creativity, sensory stuff and physical activity,” she concludes.
Take comfort in knowing that your kid might be saving that emotion or aggression for you, but that’s only because you’re the safest person they know and home is where they feel like they can truly take off the mask and be themselves. This makes so much sense especially when we look at our lives as parents and adults.
How many times have you been at work or a draining social gathering, putting on your best self only to come home and vent to your partner or just burst into tears from emotional exhaustion? Restraint collapse happens in adults too!
With some simple communication and patience, after-school restraint collapse can slowly become less and less of an occurrence — and when it does happen, you’ll what to do.