It can be very concerning to parents who pick their child up from school to take them home to live meltdown after meltdown every day. To the surprise of the parents, the teachers are raving at how well behaved the child is and what a model student they have. To then have an out of control child at home. This is called After-School Restraint Collapse. It is common in children 12 years old and younger.
After-school restraint collapse is when a child has to have a lot of self control during the day at school comes home and has to release all their emotional, mental, and physical energy that has been suppressed all day. This can cause whining, crying, tantrums, neediness, moodiness, and screaming. In older children it can cause rude behavior, disrespectfulness, and even insults being thrown around.
Kids that are more sensitive or intense, struggle with learning or social skills are more likely to struggle with afterschool restraint collapse. Other things that can factor into how your child behaves when they get home is lack of sleep, hunger, overstimulation or sickness. All of these can cause the likelihood of a meltdown to increase.
After-school restraint collapse happens when kids only release their true emotions in a safe place around people they feel safe with. So when all the crazy behavior and meltdowns are happening around you, take heart that your child feels safe around you and in your house to act this way.
After-school restraint collapse usually lessens as the children become more emotionally resilient. It may last all school year, but in most cases it lessens after a few months of school. This is because the child has gotten into a routine of what to expect at school and there isn’t as much fatigue as there is at the beginning of a new year. This can especially be true with children who are making the switch to full day school.
Children are learning how to navigate through expectations, disappointments, and challenges without their parents. This can be extremely exhausting causing them to come home not only physically fatigued but mentally and emotionally fatigued as well.
Tantrum or Meltdown?
After-school restraint collapse can cause your child to be weepy, scream, throw things, be rude, or disrespectful, or have a full out meltdown. Meltdowns from afterschool restraint collapse are different from full out tantrums.
A tantrum usually occurs when a child isn’t getting what they want. They didn’t like being told no for something so they are in control of their emotions and lash out. In a tantrum it is ok for a parent to ignore, or punish the behavior because it is not ok.
With a meltdown it is usually caused by fatigue, fear, overstimulation, or anxiety. The emotions are not controlled and are just unleashed. Comforting a child who is having a meltdown is key. Making sure you validate their feelings can help them process what is going on. Once the meltdown has ended, calmly talking with your child about what they felt before the meltdown can help you decipher triggers or ways for them to calm down before it would happen again.
Another way your child may respond with after-school restraint collapse is through defense detachment. This is when your child is relieved to see you and be home with you but frustrated that they were ever separated from you to begin with. This can happen if a child tries to push you away, doesn’t want snuggles or to talk to you about their day. They may also show this by being angry with you for no apparent reason or calling you names.
This can be hard for a mother who has been missing their child and wants nothing to do but snuggle and talk about their day. Defensive detachment does not mean your child hates you, but more that they love you a great deal.
Prevention & Response
There is no way to make sure an after-school restraint collapse doesn’t happen but you can do some things at home to make your child feel more calm to where it may help limit the amount of meltdowns you are experiencing.
The first thing is to make your home a calm environment when you get home. Your child is coming home overstimulated so bombarding them with questions may not be the best way to receive your child as they walk through the door. Give them time and space to unwind and relax.
Hunger can be a big factor in meltdowns so having some healthy after school snacks ready for them can be a great way for you all to sit down together and unwind about the day.
Keep your greeting short and sweet, smiles and hugs, without smothering them.
If at all possible allow them a brain break so they don’t have to jump into homework straight away. This can be done if after school activities are limited.
Find ways for your child to relax and decompress. This could be taking a walk, riding a bike, swimming, dancing, or time alone in their room to play how they want.
Some children may benefit from spending more quality time together before school. This can be just 15 extra minutes in the morning that you carve out for your child. Whether it is just sitting at the kitchen table together talking, or making sure you are available to help with any hair do’s.
Whatever your child needs from you, giving it to them before you have to separate may make them feel more emotionally ready to start the day.
When meltdowns do occur don’t take them personally. Your child loves you and feels safe around you to have these meltdowns. They know if they act wild and let all the feelings out you will still love them. They are secure in your love for them.
Knowing that after-school restraint collapse is common and some children struggle with it more than others is important. Some children will only have it affect them for a few months as they get into the routine and rhythm of school while others may struggle with it for the whole school year.
Learning what helps your child decompress after school can help limit the amount of meltdowns that occur.
Talking with your pediatrician can help with other ideas and solutions as well.
After-work fatigue is a real thing too, so as a parent setting the example for your child of managing your emotions appropriately will help them learn to do the same.
Does your child have a meltdown when they get home from school? There is a name for that After-School Restraint Collapse! #HealthSurgeon
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