School has been back in session for a few weeks, with many kids returning to “in-person” education for the first time in over a year. Some children will take to the resumption of routine like a fish in water, while others may struggle. For a number of reasons, evenings may seem derailed. Whether your evenings are fraught with a zombie-like zone-out or with hysterical meltdowns over seemingly nothing at all, it can help to have a strategy in place to calm down and connect.
Why do after-school meltdowns occur?
It can be difficult to untangle the rationale for a change in attitude and behavior. Your child’s teacher may have glowing reviews that bear little resemblance to the monstrous performance before you after 4 pm. Remember, home is a “safe place” for most kids — an environment where they can dump all their emotions without fear of rejection. The primary caregiver tends to bear the brunt of behavioral outbursts. Psychotherapist Andrea Nair calls this phenomenon the “after-school restraint collapse.” Even if the emotions of the day were largely positive, they’ve still built up over the course of the day and require release.
Are you covering the basics?
Before you overanalyze, run through this checklist of general needs to determine if something has gotten overlooked recently (It’s all too easy!):
- Sleep: School-age children need 10-11 hours of sleep per night to promote optimal health. If bed time has gotten pushed back, begin by adjusting 30 minutes earlier at a time until you’re back on track.
- Food: Children eat 4-5 times a day. Inquire as to how well your child is eating at school. As soon as your child gets in the door, greet him or her with a drink and a healthy snack that combines protein and carbohydrates. Examples might be peanut butter and crackers or low-fat cheese and fruit.
- Schedule: While we like our children to participate in after-school activities, it can be too much for some — particularly if you’re rushing around on weekdays. Consider scaling back to one or two activities that can be done on the weekends instead.
Ready for a new Calm-and-Connect routine?
If you are pretty confident in how the household is run, but yearn for calm and connectedness, try this strategy:
- Say hello, with a smile and a hug. Resist the urge to talk too much or ask too much.
- Present a small snack and water.
- Encourage quiet playtime to decompress. This can vary from child to child, but may include: coloring, a puzzle, fidget toys, reading, or TV/tablet time.
- Either before or after dinner, work in a light fitness activity. Take a walk; have a dance party; or play a sport like basketball, tennis, or soccer.
- Use dinner time as a moment where everyone can share something about the day.You might ask: “What was the best/worst part of your day? What’s something that made you laugh? What’s something new you learned today? Which friends did you play with today? What are you thankful for?” Some kids (especially as they get older) find it easier to open up and talk working alongside you, rather than when directly confronted, so you may alternately consider discussions while washing dishes, raking leaves, folding laundry, or playing sports together.
- Transition comfortably through the evening activities by using a timer and gently reminding your child how much time there is before the next step.
- Bath and a book can be a very calming evening routine for your child to let cares melt away. If you are religious, this is a great time to pray as well. If your kids need extra snuggle time, get them into the bath 15 minutes earlier and remind them that it’s for the greater good of spending more quality time together!
Calming & Connecting After-School Activities
- Physical Activity: Kick a soccer ball. Throw a football or baseball. Shoot a basketball. Hit a tennis ball. Do Cosmic Kids yoga. Take a walk. Visit a playground. Ride a bike. Have a tickle fight or wrestling match. Play “Red Light, Green Light,” tag, or “Mister Fox.”
- Craft Activity: Put together a puzzle. Construct a block tower. Sculpt with Play Doh. Dig in the sandbox. Draw, color, or paint a picture together.
- Open-Ended Play: Organize toys into sets, stored in plastic bins. Rotate sets from the cupboard to a play table. A surprise of fresh toys can be a welcome sight for kids after a long day of highly-structured routine.
Weekend Game Plan
You may feel like two ships passing in the night during most weekdays, but all is not lost. Try to reserve a portion of the weekend for family bonding time. Aim for a balance of unstructured free play time for the kids while you catch up on household chores, plus one special activity you’ve planned. Have a Friday family movie night with popcorn. Take a cool nature hike, visit an amusement park or museum, go apple picking, attend a fall festival, visit a farm or playground, see a creative arts performance, visit with relatives, and find other ways to enjoy a few hours together.
If you’re busy, but looking for immersive, enriching activities for your children, consider signing them up for one of Shine’s classes, workshops, or camps this year. We take the stress out of planning crafts, field trips, and educational opportunities, so you and your child just experience the fun.