How To Stop The After School Meltdown

How To Stop The After School Meltdown


Here are my best tips for helping the end of the day go smoothly.  We all want to transition from school to home and enjoy the limited evening hours that we have to spend together.

There are some kids that hold it together all day at school and then meltdown at home.  It’s not that they are not overwhelmed.  They are stressed! They have to deal with sounds, sights, smells and demands that  are very overwhelming!  But they don’t meltdown at school.  Especially for young children, school is strange and unfamiliar.  Do you want to be vulnerable in a place that you are unsure about? No way! So they hold on to make it to the end of the day.

But home…yes, that is a place where I can be myself, let my hair down and have a meltdown!  Home is their safe place, Mom still loves me no matter what. They deal with these attacks on their system, but the minute they walk in the door or even get into the car the floodgates open up.  It looks different for every child, it may be they are really irritable or argumentative, they may cry over the smallest thing, they may give you the silent treatment or it may be a full blown crying, screaming, flailing fit.  They save the meltdown for home.

What can I do?

  1. Give them space. Do not put any expectations on them.  Before asking anything of your child give them time and space to settle.  Just 5 minutes may be enough and then they will be ready to come talk to you and tell you about their day. This is going to be extra important at the start of the school year.  Children and adults are all getting back into the routine.  Sleep schedules need to get back on track. I know school starts and the activities start. I really appreciate the clubs and organizations that give children (and parents)  at least a week of getting used to school before they begin their programs.
  2. Give them a good healthy snack, something that will hold them over until supper. With all the newness and commotion at school they may have ate very little of their lunch or they didn’t  eat their snack because they ran out of time.  Feed the beast!
  3. Create an area for your child to land. A quiet area of the house or their bedroom with low sensory stimulation. Keep the lights and sounds low, have a nice blanket, chair or an area of cushions and pillows.  We are experimenting with essential oils at our house. We like to use lavender in the diffuser to help calm.  Other calming essential oils include; orange and frankincense.  Sounds zen doesn’t it, ahhh.
  4. No expectations. When your child is fully overwhelmed this is not the time to put any demands on them.  They will go right back into that rage cycle and you will be starting over.  This is something you can talk about before the school year starts.  Come up with a plan, create the landing zone together, come up with a signal, maybe it’s a thumbs up that your child can give you when they are ready to join you.
  5. No electronics. Ooh this is a hard one. You may say my child loves to come home and zone out on their iPad. You have to be careful with this one.  Electronic games and the LED screen time do not help to relax the nervous system.  See these recommendations from the Canadian Pediatric Society.  This is a good time to do a quiet activity such as drawing, colouring or flipping through a book.
  6. Try soothing music such as classical. It has been found that Baroque classical music helps with focus and concentration,  great when trying to do homework.
  7. Fidgets are nice for calming. Something to squish or fiddle with.   Examples include;  stress putty,  a stress ball or a simple activity like lego.

Kids melt down at home because that is the place they feel safe.  There is no judgment.  There are no peers looking at them. So help your child to calm and recharge when they come home and it will set the stage for a better evening for everyone!

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How To Stop The After School Meltdown

It’s All About That Base

Our proprioceptive sense and heavy work!

My daughter is a cheerleader and she is a base.  She is responsible with 4 other teammates to lift their flyer in the air.  That requires a lot of strength! At practice, they do it over and over again to get it perfected.  As an Occupational Therapist, I am often recommending “heavy work”.  Heavy work is any activity that involves using your muscles working against gravity or resistance.

This is all part of our proprioceptive sense.  Our what!  That is a big word.  You can now use it to impress your friends.  Proprioception is the sense of where our bodies are and how much pressure or force we have to use to move an object.  The receptors for proprioception are found in ligaments, joints, muscles, tendons and connective tissue.  If you have good proprioception you know where your body is in space.  Think of the football receiver that can jump up, catch the ball and land with his feet in bounds.  That is excellent proprioception! He knows where his body is in relation to the ball, in relation to the sidelines, how high he has to jump, when he has to jump, it is truly proprioception at it’s finest.  What about the other side? What does poor proprioception look like?  I think of children with poor proprioception as the “bangers and the crashers”.  They do not know where their bodies are in space so they bang into walls, desks, other children.  They seem to have no sense of personal space.  They love to crash and fall as this gives a lot of feedback to their sensory system so that they can feel where their bodies are.

As OT’s we recommend heavy work for these children, it provides a calming and an alerting response to the nervous system.  It stimulates those receptors in the muscles, ligaments and joints providing feedback to the nervous system about where their body is.   Think if you were just floating around random all day banging and crashing into things, wouldn’t it feel good to have this extra input to your body, helping you to feel your arms, legs and other parts of your body.  Wouldn’t it help you to feel more calm and grounded?  That is what heavy work does.  The other benefit of “heavy work” is that it stays in your system for one to one and a half hours.

I like to use purposeful activity whenever I can.  A child is not going to be motivated to do something if it feels like work.  But they will be if it is fun and it makes them feel like they are accomplishing something.  Favourite activity for younger kids is “make the room bigger”.  Ask the child to help you make the room bigger for Ms. Smith.  Have them push against the wall as hard as they can with their hands, turning to use one shoulder then the other and pushing with their back.   Older students can have jobs around home or school.  Putting all of their toys into a bin and pushing them to their room.  Filling up the wagon with toys and pulling it around the yard. Elementary and high school students can be given jobs around the school.  Picking up recycling and taking it to a central location.  Delivering lunches or carrying stacks of paper to the classrooms.

A great resource for activity suggestions is A Buffet of Sensory Interventions:Solutions for Middle and High School Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders by Susan Culp.  Another must read for Sensory processing and intervention is Building Bridges through Sensory Integration by Ellen Yack, Shirley Sutton and Paula Aquilla.  These are the two most dog eared resources in my OT toolbox and a must for anyone wanting to know more about sensory integration and helping children with these challenges.

Click here for Heavy Work Activities handout.

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