If you have a young child who is at school or nursery all day long, you might notice that they are a little cranky after-school. Perhaps your questions about their day go unanswered or maybe they burst into tears over something that wouldn’t usually bother them.
When I was teaching Grade 2, concerned parents of one of the children I taught asked me what her behaviour was like at school because at home, she would have huge meltdowns. I was surprised by the question as the girl in question was a model pupil: she was kind, helpful and worked very hard in all of her lessons. When I started to research this further, I realised that the girl was probably experiencing something called after-school restraint collapse.
What is after-school restraint collapse?
The term was coined by counsellor and parenting educator, Andrea Loewen Nair. Key attributes include:
- anger and frustration
- disrespectful attitude
The collapse typically happens after children have held their emotions in check all day long and followed the behaviour expectations and rules of the school. When they get home to their safe space, it’s easier for children to let their emotions run free.
A simple afternoon rhythm can be beneficial for children. Focus on connection time and plenty of independent play.
A Simple After-School Rhythm for Young Children
Young children thrive on consistency so try to ensure that each day after-school is more or less the same. Whilst it might be tempting to pack in loads of activities when the school day finishes at 3pm, the majority of your child’s time should be spend playing.
If you are a working parent/ carer, keep scrolling down for a simplified version of this rhythm.
Nutritious Snack & Drink + Connection Time
Children often don’t eat or drink enough during the day. Sometimes this is because break and lunchtimes in school simply aren’t long enough. Ensure that your child has a nutritious snack or smoothie when they get home.
This is also a really good opportunity to reconnect with your child after school. Ask them specific questions about their day:
- What was your favourite part of the day?
- Who did you sit next to at lunchtime?
- Who did you play with a recess?
If they bring home a piece of art or schoolwork, as them to tell you a little bit about it. Sometimes it’s hard to decipher exactly what a young child’s drawing or writing is about, so here are some openers:
- I really like the way you’ve used (colour/pen/shape) in your art.
- Can you tell me about your picture?
- Can you read your story aloud to me?
- You tried so hard to stay on the lines! (when writing)
The website Yummy Toddler Food has some good suggestions for snack ideas that take less than 5 minutes to put together.
Outdoor Time/ Walk Home
Children need at least 2 hours outside every single day – it’s crucial for wellbeing and is a great way to let off some steam after a busy day of learning. You could combine this with the walk home from school or make outside play in the garden a focus (as opposed to TV Time).
Invitation to Play / Independent Play Time
A simple invitation to play or create can help calm your child a day at school. Some of our favourite invitations include:
- Using the art cart
- Calming lavender sensory rice
- Water Play
- Play Dough
The emphasis is putting the focus on play rather than a strictly structured activity. Open-ended activities, like the suggestions above, mean that your child can choose the direction of play which is more relaxing than a structured activity.
Aside from an invitation, also encourage plenty of independent play. You can get some tips on independent play here.
The dreaded homework! If your child does get homework after-school each week, you need to figure out an optimal time to do it. Immediately after school might seem like a good idea, but give your child plenty of time to decompress first.
For us, this is actually in the morning before school – we all wake up incredibly early and it means that after-school time can be all about play and spending time connecting with one another.
You can get some tips on encouraging reading at home here.
TV Time before Dinner
Just before dinner is a good opportunity to have some quality screen-time. Having a structured TV break after play and homework, but before dinner means that you avoid having screens on for hours before bed.
A lot of the suggestions I have made so far do work on the assumption that you are available to collect your child after school without having to return to work. If this is not the case for you, allowing your child to help out and make dinner with you can be a great chance to reconnect after a busy day and do something together. This more Montessori style approach means that you don’t have to seek out a separate activity. There are more suggestions below for parents and carers who do work during the after school period.
Again, this depends upon your family rhythms. My youngest two children have a bath right before bed as it helps signal that it is time to winddown.
Bath time is another great opportunity to play (it can be as simple as adding some bath dye and Duplo blocks) plus in this new Covid-era, we personally like to ensure that the day is washed off before a new one begins!
A non-negotiable at bedtime should be READING together for pleasure. This is not a time to test your child on what words they know, but a time to snuggle down and let the magic of a good book take hold!
After-School Rhythm for Working Parents/Carers
If you are working until 5 – 6pm then a lot of things on this list wont be appropriate – there would simply be too much to pack in! If your child is in an after-school club or at a childminders, then it’s more than likely that they have at least had a snack, played and been outside.
Instead focus on:
- Independent play time
- Reading together
- Using meal preparation as an opportunity to spend time together
- Using bath time as a swap for sensory play style activities