I truly hope your family’s back to school experience is consisting of melodious mornings and amicable afternoons! You know the ones with your kids enjoying breakfast together and playing outside after they have finished their homework. If your school year is starting off in a wonderful way, treasure it! However, for those of you who are already exhausted with school mornings and afternoons, this post is for you!
Mornings can be hard for all of us. The waking up, getting it all ready, getting out of the door and where we need to be on time, and oh yeah, tending to the various emotions of our kids as well as our own. Mornings can especially exhausting when you have a child who is experiencing anxiety or anger about the school day. This can often trigger our own emotions leaving us feeling frustrated and hopeless as the day is only beginning. Here are some ideas to reduce and help you through morning meltdowns.
Structure Your Morning
If you, the parent, are overwhelmed, angry, anxious and stressed, these emotional states can certainly affect and almost be absorbed by your child. Prep the night before to reduce stress and rushing in the morning. Get up early enough to get yourself together and settled before meeting all of your kids’ needs. If you have a minute, do something to relieve your own anxiety. Exercise, devotional, and meditation are some morning stress reducers for me. Do your best to establish a set routine to create consistency and predictability, which can reduce stress for everyone.
Keep It Encouraging
Talk about things to look forward to in the day. If talking about the day causes too much anxiety for your child, talk about what you are looking forward to doing after school or on the weekend. Connect over getting ready or eating breakfast. There is nothing wrong with having an incentive if a child is really struggling with the back to school transition. In my family, we listen to uplifting music in the car, say a prayer for the day, talk about friends at school, set an incentive if necessary, and say, “You’re going to have a great day.”
Make Space for Meltdowns
Mornings may be hard for your child. If they are, there is hope that they will get smoother with time and making some changes suggested in the above two sections. I would recommend not expecting a miraculous change when you wake up each morning though. If mornings are hard, anticipate it, know what you need to do to stay calm, and connect with your child through the meltdown. In The Whole-Brain Child (I highly recommend this book, by the way!) by Siegel and Bryson, they recommend the strategy of connect and redirect. Authors state, “When a child is upset, logic often won’t work until we have responded to the right brain’s emotional needs.” Connect with your child’s emotion and provide empathy first, then work on some logical ways to calm down.
Afternoons can be unpredictable. You wonder what mood your child will be in after school and what their day was like. You can get a great report from the teacher or their conduct sheet, and suddenly, when at home your child goes from being Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde. What happened to the child who kept it together at school and is now talking back and crying? Talk about confusing! Here are some things to know.
After-School Restraint Collapse
Don’t take it personally or even disrespectfully if your child needs sometime to unwind afterschool and process their day. Most of the time your kids work really hard to keep it together during the day so they don’t get in trouble with teachers or jeopardize friendships. When they are with you, all bets are off. You are safe. You aren’t going anywhere. I often refer to parents as the emotional punching bag, because you are a safe target. They can let those feelings out they have been bottling up all day. This is called after-school restraint collapse.
It may come across as yelling or crying, but rather than shutting them down, try the connect and redirect approach with them. What you may learn is that they thought they did well on a test but didn’t, one of their friends stopped talking to them for an unknown reason, or something embarrassing happened in front of their whole class. Connect with their feelings and listen, then once the emotion has subsided redirect with some ideas to help them process feelings without using you as an emotional punching bag in the future. Expect that this after-school restraint collapse may be more prominent when the school year is starting.
Listen and Reflect in the Afternoon
Instead of bombarding your child with questions ask a specific question or tell them how glad you are to see them. Let them breathe. Often times we are well intentioned wanting to hear all about our child’s day but to them all of the questions feel pressure filled and like they are on trial. I know I wouldn’t like it if someone fired questions at me when I was trying to decompress from my workday. Once they are more relaxed and have time to unwind they may be more likely to talk about their day. If you have time to play with them, do something fun, or complete a task together as children may open up more in side-by-side tasks than conversation.
Journeying with you,
For more reading on the after-school restraint collapse, check out this article:
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