PARENTING

How to tackle after-school meltdowns

“Did you have a good day?” I asked Big Bear when he came out of school on the first day of the new school year.

“Yep”, he smiled.

“He’s had a fantastic day,” his Year 2 teacher replied beaming, before listing all the things he’d done that day. He’d even received a merit for his hard work.

“Brilliant,” I said smiling at Big Bear.

“See you tomorrow,” Big Bear called to the teacher as we turned and walked away.

However, no sooner had we turned round to the pushchair where Little Bear was sitting when Big Bear’s smile disappeared and his face started to crumble.

“I’m tired mummy, I need to sit in the pushchair.”

“I’m sorry, Little Bear’s sitting in the pushchair.”

“Mummy, MY legs are tired,” and the tears started to flow.

It took 45 minutes and several meltdowns (from both Bears, and almost me at one point) to make what should have been a 15-minute journey back home on foot.

The response wasn’t unexpected. Big Bear had been looking forward to going back to school but I knew it would take time to settle back into the familiar, yet new, surroundings.

The effort it takes for children with additional needs to self-regulate their emotions and control their impulses at school is immense.

Add in the fact that they’re at school learning and navigating new friendships, plus the fact they’re away from home all day, it’s no wonder they unravel when you pick them up.

It’s difficult to stop these explosions altogether but there are a few strategies we parents can use to try to minimise them and help restore calm.

Snacks

I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to have a snack with you at school pick-up. It’s the single most important thing I have in my armour. Getting their blood sugar up before they get home will help to regulate their emotions and also divert their attention from a meltdown.

Rest

Sometimes, especially at the beginning of term, children just need to lie down and unwind after a busy day at school.

Avoid too many questions

Try not to ask about their day until they’ve had the chance to relax a bit.

Quiet activities

Encourage them to take part in quiet activities. Big Bear likes sensory play with water but doing puzzles, painting colouring and playing with play dough are also good ways to unwind.

Play outside

Fresh air and the chance to blow off steam can do the world of good for a child who has been sitting still for most of the day.

Be patient

Easier said than done when your child is kicking, pinching and generally terrorising everyone in sight but modelling calmness is essential, and something I have to repeatedly remind myself, to avoid a full-scale war zone. Cuddles also go a long way.

Bath

If it’s all going wrong and nothing seems to be working, stick them in the bath with lots of bubbles. Water tends to have a calming influence on my two most of the time, paving the way for a more peaceful bedtime.

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