Bigger Kids

After-school meltdowns: How to handle them

It's common for pent-up frustration to erupt after school.

By Teresa Pitman
After-school meltdowns: How to handle them

Photo: Stephanie Frey Photography/iStockphoto

Reacting to tantrums

Anne Carson* says her eight-year-old son, Brian, “flew into a tantrum like you’d expect to see from a two-year-old” one day after school because his younger brother took a piece of Lego without asking. While she was upset with Brian, she admits she wasn’t pleased at her own reaction either.

“I started yelling at him about how ridiculously he was behaving, and that didn’t help the situation at all.”

For Julie Laporte’s* daughter, Alexis, the meltdowns didn’t start until her full-day senior kindergarten class phased out rest times. Alexis was six then, but without the daily “quiet time” when the students snuggled with their blankets, she found the long hours at school pretty taxing. Once she got home, the meltdowns would start, and they’re still happening at times a year later. “Usually something tiny sets it off, like her zipper gets stuck or I ask her to move her boots out of the hallway,” says Laporte. “She starts yelling, usually saying no to every suggestion I make. Sometimes she just screams out loud or throws something.”

Lesley Lang* calls her son Thomas the “king of the after-school meltdowns.” She recalls: “In grade one, he was a quiet, model student all day at school who turned into a monster once I picked him up in the van and started driving home.”

Fortunately, all three parents have mastered a few tricks to reduce the tantrums — and survive the inevitable few that continue to happen.

*Names changed by request.

Tantrum tricks

Feed the hungry “Thomas only has 20 minutes for lunch and he often doesn’t finish eating,” says Lang. “So I make lunches that are easy for him to eat quickly but have plenty of protein to keep him full long enough to get through the day. He has pizza many days, or sandwiches made with leftover steak, or chicken drumsticks.” Laporte has a snack handy the minute Alexis gets home: yogurt and granola or muffins with milk.

Get them moving For some kids, having to sit at a desk much of the day is the biggest challenge, and they’re desperate for a chance to get active. Laporte says Alexis “needs to burn off that energy before she has her snack; other times she has the snack first, then heads out to skip.”

Give them space Younger siblings are often excited to see their big brother or sister get home from school, but their exuberant greetings and demands for attention can be too much for the stressed older child. “I asked the younger kids to wait for a while before talking to Thomas after school,” Lang says.

Take some time It may be mom and dad who need to change their routine a little. If you typically arrive home and rush to start dinner or throw in a load of laundry, taking some time to chat and reconnect with your child might forestall some meltdowns.

Investigate (but don’t interrogate) “I’ve learned that if Brian starts freaking out over little things when he gets home, then something has happened at school that day,” says Carson. “But he can’t talk about it right away — it’s only after he’s calmed down that I can ask about school.”

Manage the meltdowns “If Alexis is throwing things or trying to hurt people, I usually bring her to her room to separate her from the others,” Laporte says. “Usually after five or 10 minutes, she has calmed down and needs a hug. Once she’s blown off that steam, she’s bright and full of energy and back to normal. The whole incident is forgotten in her mind!”

Carson adds: “I find the most effective way to get through the tantrums is the most difficult — I need to stay calm and realize there is more to this behaviour than just him being difficult.”

This article was originally published on Sep 07, 2009

Weekly Newsletter

Keep up with your baby's development, get the latest parenting content and receive special offers from our partners

I understand that I may withdraw my consent at any time.