At the end of a long school day, a lot of kids need a transition period that offers reassurance and connection—maybe this year more than ever. For some kids, this need can show up as tears and frustration due to a phenomenon known as after-school restraint collapse. And while after-school meltdowns are more common during the first weeks of school, they can still pop up throughout the year.
Here are some great ideas for connecting with your kids to help create a smoother post-school transition.
1. Take some time to regroup
“I make a decision before picking them up about how I want to show up,” says Shawna Scafe, a parenting life coach and mom of three kids ages 10, nine and seven, from the Okanagan area of BC. “It’s easy to be in autopilot mode, so I prepare myself to be undistracted and ready to ‘mom hard.’”
2. Stay outside for a bit
If you can walk or bike home from school or the bus stop, make it a habit. Leave enough time to move at your kids’ pace and throw in pit stops at a playground or take a different route now and then to mix things up. Aim for the opposite of structured and give them time and space to release their pent-up energy.
3. Have fuel ready and waiting
Snacks are a surefire way to bring everyone together, and refuelling can help with emotional regulation. Pre-chopped veggies and fruit mean you can dig in right away. Sitting down at a table together is also a great way to start open-ended interactions.
4. Ask interesting questions
The standard “How was school?” question can often land flat. Toronto-based parenting expert Natasha Sharma says a time-limit rule works well with her five- and eight-year-old. “I tell them they have 60 seconds to tell me one interesting thing about their day before they run off to do their own thing.” You can start by sharing something about your day, or asking them to share something that was wonderful or weird. It’s also OK to talk about things other than school, reminds Sharma.
5. Stay at the table longer
Have a basket of activities that are quiet, like crafts, colouring books, card games or Play-Doh, and can be rolled into snack time. If the kids are content, start making dinner and invite them to help if they want to.
6. Snuggle up together
Some kids will crave physical touch, so curl up on the couch and read a chapter book out loud, or get under a blanket and watch a show together. If there is a lot of energy to burn, create a weekly family playlist and have a dance party.
7. Give them space to wind down
“I want my kids to know that I respect their space and want home to be a comforting place,” says Scafe. If coats are hung up and backpacks are put away, it’s OK to let them choose their own activity, assures Sharma. “Let them move to wherever their attention takes them, even if it’s the iPad.” Parents can set limits and expectations around screen use ahead of time to prevent any struggles.
8. Come up with a weekly ritual
Collaborate with your kids and plan something fun for the family to look forward to at the end of a long week. Hide a small treat somewhere in the house, or make Fridays special with take-out, board games or a movie.
Whatever moment of connection you choose, it doesn’t have to be overly complicated or lengthy to make a difference, says Scafe. “I’m all in with them during that time right after school, and it fills them up. They usually wander away, and I find that I’ve got quiet time to myself again.”