Do your kids have meltdowns after school?
You know what I mean. As soon as they get in the door all of the emotions they have been holding in tight for six hours in order to "not get into trouble" at school come to a head and erupt, otherwise known as "after-school restraint collapse". This happens because they see you as a safe place to express themselves.
But they aren't always great communicating exactly why they feel so overwhelmed by life.
Hence, the meltdown.
Now of course you want your children to be able to express their emotions, but you don't really want it to be in meltdown form, right?
So what can you do instead and to encourage your kids to talk to you about what they are feeling?
Well, I guess you could distract them with screens to avoid "after-school restraint collapse", but that won't teach them the value of communication.
Let me explain how I solved (well, mostly, let's be real) the problem of after school meltdowns, or "crazies" as I sometimes call them to myself.
What I Do to Avoid Afternoon Meltdowns
I named this blog "What Do We Do All Day?" because I was attempting to answer the never ending inquires I got as a stay at home mom about how I was spending the days with my child when I was "no longer working". [insert eye roll] When both kids started school full time last year the questions began again. What was I planning on doing with all my "free time"? [insert eye roll] Believe me, there is plenty to do, even when your kids are at school.
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The big question for me is not "what am I going to do while the kids are at school," but what am "I going to do after school?" I began to dread the empty afternoons after the boys got off the school bus, especially as the days grew shorter and colder.
It's all very well to subscribe to the parenting philosophy "let kids have their free time" but another thing entirely when that free time is spent fighting with your sibling in a tiny apartment while mom slowly loses her mind.
If you've been paying attention to my posts lately you may have noticed and increase in my attempts to increase family harmony. I'm often at my last nerve with the boys and their fighting and one thing I've done is to have at least one day a week in which I plan some sort of small project to do after school.
Calming after-school projects distract kids from being overwhelmed and allow them to have some calming downtime. Don't force the project if they don't want to do it. After a few days you will come to learn what type of ideas are best for your child's individual needs. They may want your attention, or they may want to be quiet. Perhaps they want simple ideas, or perhaps they want something more involved. Whatever you come to find as a good way to wind down after school, allowing them to calm down will let them relax, open up and you will be surprised at how much they communicate about how they are feeling!
What is a characteristic of a good after school project?
Projects must be simple! That doesn't mean they have to be boring, however!
Projects should have an element of novelty. Try something you've never done before, maybe even something that seems a bit... forbidden?
Even the novelty of drawing on the windows with markers was enough to keep them busy and not-fighting for a while. I often stop in the art supply store to look for something that might capture the boys' interest. These window markers were just the ticket one cold day.
Timely and Relevant
Is a holiday coming up? Use that as enticement for a project distraction. You could decorate gingerbread men–buy or make them ahead of time to make things even easier! For Valentine's Day, the boys made bookmarks.
After the holidays, we decorated thank you notes with bubble wrap prints. It was a slightly more involved project that we were used to, but it filled up two afternoons. On the first day they made the prints. On the second day, they wrote their notes!
I've been starting to make sure that at least one meal a week can be totally prepared by the boys. So far pizza toasts and quesadillas are on the menu those days, but I'm investigating other options (got any suggestions?). It keeps them busy and they feel proud of helping me.
So that's it. There is nothing truly revolutionary about what I am doing, just baby steps to help me organize the kids' afternoons.
Benefits of Avoiding Meltdowns
It's enough to increase the harmony and decrease the sibling fighting, but not enough to make me feel stressed out about keeping everyone to a busy schedule of planned activities.
The bonus? When the kids are more relaxed they tend to communicate more and then I can talk to them about how they are feeling and help them express their emotions and thoughts in a more organized manner than a meltdown would allow.
More Ideas to Help with After School
Meltdowns can happen at any age but for parents of 2-4 year olds, try these 10 quick and easy ideas.
Coloring books or pages are a great way to relax and calm kids down, especially if you have a new, novel and relevant coloring page. Try our emotions coloring page to help kids with their feelings. Or, for older kids an extreme dot to dot book is irresistible!
One of my all time favorite ideas? Have a stack of new books from the library waiting on the table!
Here's to peaceful after school days with lots of healthy communication! (Hey, it's a good goal at least, right?)
More tips that might help: