After School Restraint Collapse has now become a globally recognised ‘thing’ and here Andrea Loewen Nair, parenting educator, psychotherapist and ‘coiner’ of said term, talks us through what’s it all about and how to deal with it.
“Be prepared! Your child might come home after school or daycare and fall apart at your feet.” Actually, you might see this in your partner or even yourself. You conduct, orchestrate, produce, think, smile, keep things in your inside brain that you wish you could say out loud, then walk in your front door only to turn into a snarly, crabby person.
It takes a great deal of energy, mental motivation, emotional containment, and physical restraint to keep ourselves at our best while at work, daycare, or school for other people.
We push ourselves to not be snarly, crabby people where doing so might have seriously negative consequences like losing our jobs, getting sent to the principal’s office, or missing sandbox time. How many times during the day do you wish you could just tell someone off or walk away and cry in the bathroom? But we don’t – we do what we need to in order to “be good” or keep the peace.
After we’ve don’t that all day, we get to the point where we just don’t have the energy to keep this restraint, and it feels like a big bubble that needs to burst.
One of my children used to love going to public school, but pretty much every day was in tears when he got home. He didn’t have a clue why he was in tears, but I knew that he just needed to decompress after keeping it together all day. I steered away from friend playtime or scheduled activities right after school so that he could have time to regroup. This year will be different, as he’ll be attending the new independent school we’ve starting. I did keep this dynamic in mind when creating our daily schedule.
I think this dynamic happens in parents, too. I wonder if this is why movies like Bad Mom and Sisters are doing so well! The characters in these films completely lose their restraint and feel better after going wild. I’m sure many of us just want to let go like they did! I also wonder if this is why social media so easily distracts us. After doing things we may not entirely want to do, but have to do, we feel better at laughing at videos of kids spraying themselves in the face with a hose or puppies falling asleep while standing up.
There are seven things we can do, and teach our children to do, to release this restrain bubble that bursts when we get home. You might even try these with your partner.
Greet your child with a smile and a hug instead of, “Do you have any homework?” or “I heard you got in trouble today.” Also don’t ask, “How was your day?” No one really wants to answer this question.
Give your child time to hear his/her thoughts right after pick-up time. If you are driving, put on the radio and stay quiet. If you are walking, say little or just comment on the nice things you notice: “Did you see that cute little yellow bird?” This isn’t the time for big conversations.
Many children do better if they aren’t asked, “Are you hungry?” Assume that many of your children’s tanks are empty when they get home. Fill the physical one by setting out food for them without saying anything. Real food like veggie sticks, cut fruit, cheese, or nuts will give them the boost they need. I also suggest setting out glasses of water, too.
REDUCE THE HOUSEHOLD CLUTTER AND NOISE
People are actually affected by what is in the space around them – some more so than others. I know mornings can be hectic, but try to leave a fairly tidy house to arrive back home to. I was doing terribly at this before so I decided that each night I needed to do a full “tidy time” (with help from others) so that the house wasn’t a disaster in the morning. I also woke up a bit earlier to put the breakfast/ lunch-making stuff away before leaving for the day.
Arriving home after school or work is not a great time to fire up the vacuum!
STAY CONNECTED THROUGHOUT THE DAY
Use an age and personality-appropriate way to stay connected with your child when he or she is away from you during the day. I call these connection bridges. I have used things like little post-it notes in the lunch or packing a special treat for my kiddos.
PROVIDE DECOMPRESSION TIME
Depending on the personality of your child, provide a way to decompress at the end of the day. Give your child the lead to start talking when he or she is ready. When that time happens, you can inquire about any emotionally intense moments that may have happened during that day.
Also, think about using “play therapy” with your child even if he or she is a teenager! People decompress through play, which helps process the events of the day. Provide time to either do nothing/ rest or play out the day in a physical way. Some younger children like to wrestle, run around, or get in a tickle fight. Older ones might like to go for a bike ride or hammer out their energy on an instrument.
This might sound odd, but being upside down can really help! There’s a reason “inversion poses” are recommended in yoga – this is my favourite decompression method.
Andrea Loewen Nair, M.A., CCC is a parenting educator, psychotherapist, and the Head of School at Infinity School in London, ON, Canada. She is also the founder of the “Taming Tantrums” app. Follow her on Facebook here