It’s a Monday afternoon and you’re ready to go pick your child up from school. But instead of the joyful reunion you hoped for, you’re greeted with a child who is grumpy, hangry, and bordering on a meltdown. Sound familiar? Welcome to after-school restraint collapse. While this big release of emotions after a day of holding it together is totally normal, it doesn’t make it easy. Luckily, movement can help.
Try these tips for successfully managing after-school emotions while incorporating movement this school year.
Have a big, nutritious snack waiting
For starters, movement isn’t at its best until little bodies get the fuel they need to move well. Pairing protein, fat, and fibre will help a snack have staying power until dinner (and keep hanger from adding to an already tense mood). A muffin, apple slices, and nut butter is a go-to after-school snack in our house. This is not the time to try to get your kids to eat new foods or hold hard limits on veggie intake. They need something predictable, filling, and familiar. Here are 30 healthy snack ideas to get you started.
Get outside (or stay outside)
The calming and soothing nature of outdoor play lends itself well to decompression. You know when you’re having a stressful day as an adult and go for a walk to help calm your nervous system? That’s exactly what outdoor play does for our kiddos. Especially given that they’re inside most of the day at school, nature time is all the more important for de-stressing and decompressing. I like to bring a snack to school and stay outside when possible, but when we have lots of big feelings to manage or we’re on the edge of tantrums, we head home for a bigger snack and then go back out the door. If you need some inspiration, here are 20 simple ways to get active with your kids after school.
Make free play a priority
While any form of exercise will get feel-good endorphins flowing, with free play, you’re also addressing their need for some autonomy after a long day of rule-following. Our kids work hard during the school day to do what they’re asked, focus on academics, and navigate social situations without us there to help. Free play is their chance to work through their day and unwind.
Part of restraint collapse is the relief at finally being back with their safe person. They hold it together all day when there are other grown ups in charge, but regardless of how much they like their teachers—YOU are their safe space and the person they feel most comfortable sharing emotions with. Aim for reconnection through movement. Do a walk or bike ride together, blow bubbles, or kick a ball around. It need not be complicated to provide connection. Remember, sometimes kids ask for love and connection in the most UNloving of ways (ie: yelling, whining, falling apart) and it’s our job to show up and provide a calming presence (though it’s not easy!), help them with feeling safe, and guide them towards positive connection. Moving in a way that’s enjoyable for both of you is a great way to do that.
When after-school restraint collapse is taking over, sometimes our kids need something sensory to snap them out of it. Playing with water or ice, having a bubble bath, or preparing them a cold/hot drink are simple ways to include a sensory element that brings them back to the present moment.
What other things have you tried to avoid an after-school meltdown? Let us know in the comments!