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After-School “Collapse”

JOYFUL AFTER-SCHOOL REUNIONS are difficult when a child gets angry because they have to leave an activity or they fall apart in the car about something minor. Parents frequently comment, “I look forward to seeing my child, but it’s hard when her mood seems to get worse when she sees me. I don’t understand.”

Actually, it’s not uncommon for children to do okay all day at school, then whine or throw a tantrum as soon as they’re in a parent’s company. The technical name for this is “after-school restraint collapse.”

It’s important to connect after being apart all day, and one of the keys lies in a parent’s ability to see beyond disappointing behavior to its underlying cause. At any age, this is called attunement. Although these tough pick-ups can feel like rejection, in actuality they signal how relieved children are to see their parents, because they can finally let down their guard after a day of continually being asked to exercise self-restraint.

Here are some ways to make after-school reconnecting more rewarding:

  • Allow time for transition. A child who is immersed in an activity shouldn’t have to drop it immediately when a parent comes. That shouldn’t mean having to substantially delay your departure. Rather than saying “I’m here, let’s go!” it’s helpful to acknowledge that switching from one activity to another takes a few minutes.

  • Create space. Allow children to be alone with their thoughts. Refrain from asking questions about the day on the way home. When adults arrive from work, they don’t want to immediately start rehashing their day. We all want a nurturing zone after the day’s stresses.

  • Avoid running on to another activity.

  • Make up a ritual like eating a snack together or listening favorite music on the way home.


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