(Inside: With this simple 3-step after-school routine you can avoid the after-school meltdowns so that you can actually enjoy the time with your kids after school!)
You get in the car to come home from school and you’ve barely shut the car door before it happens.
That one is screaming about the other one touching them.
The other one is whining because he doesn’t want to go home.
Then there’s the one who’s just plain screaming over nothing.
After-school meltdowns can be a major struggle, especially for autistic children.
And while it might help to remember that you’re your child’s safe space, you really just want to stop the after-school meltdowns before they even begin.
So today I’m going to share the super simple 3-step after-school routine to avoid the after-school meltdowns!
*Note, we primarily homeschool, but my oldest has been attending the local school 2 days a week this year.
(Image description: Little girl sits on the ground with her face in her hands. Text reads “3-step routine to avoid after-school meltdowns)
Simple 3-Step After-School Routine to Avoid After-School Meltdowns
Whether your child has a meltdown in the car on the way home, on your walk home from school, or the second you walk in the door, you know you’re in for a long afternoon when the after school meltdown hits.
Now, there are some calming strategies for meltdowns that you can try once it’s happening, but we’d much rather avoid the after-school meltdown altogether!
Why Do Kids Meltdown After School?
But first… Why does this happen?
Why do our kids fall apart immediately after school? Even when their teachers report they had a perfectly fine day?
Well, there are a few reasons.
Sometimes it’s actually because of that perfectly fine day… See, when our kids hold it together all day long at school for their teachers, they come home and they’ve lost every bit of control they had.
They’re finally in a space where they don’t have to keep it together, so they lose it.
You’re their safe place.
After-school meltdowns can also happen because there are a lot of transitions involved in coming home after school.
They have to finish their school day, pack their bag, make sure they don’t forget anything, get on the bus/in the car/find you to walk home, they have the actual trip home, then going in the house, putting their bags and shoes away, homework, etc.
While to you, it might be “leave school and come home”, to kids there are tons and tons of micro-transitions involved, and with each transition, there is another opportunity to meltdown.
And finally, some after-school meltdowns are caused because of pretty basic needs.
School is really long and has a pretty firm structure.
It may have been hours since your child has had a chance to rest, eat, or use the bathroom.
Any one of those things could make a child pretty cranky!
So we know why they happen, but how can we use an after-school routine to prevent the after-school meltdowns?
(Related: Are you doing these vital steps AFTER your child has a meltdown?)
#1 A Preferred Calming Activity
So the very first thing I recommend adding to your after school routine with your child is a preferred calming activity.
This will vary from child to child but think about the things your children do when they want to relax and stay calm.
This might be listening to music, watching a quick video, using a calming jar, or really anything that calms your child down when they’re stressed.
For my son, this is giving him a few minutes to watch a YouTube video or giving him a calming fidget.
For me, this is listening to music or a podcast.
Whatever it is for your child, this will give them some time to calm down, rest, and recover from the transitions at the end of the school day.
(We typically do this in the car on our way home)
#2 Meet Basic Needs
Next, you’re going to meet basic needs.
Everyone goes to the bathroom, everyone gets a drink, everyone gets a snack.
Just these few things help us avoid so many after-school meltdowns.
Think about it: I’m sure there has been a time where you have been super hungry, overtired, and you haven’t been at your best.
I know when I’m in that mode, I am snappy and cranky.
It’s no wonder our kids are having meltdowns after school!
We typically do these three things as soon as we get home, but I know some friends who give the snack and drink as soon as they pick the kids up so that it’s done by the time they get home.
#3 A Sensory Strategy
Okay, so by this point your child has calmed down from the transition, met their basic needs, but you still have to get homework done and continue with the evening…
But first, I encourage you to add this third step to your after-school routine.
A sensory strategy.
Now, I’m not getting really specific here and saying “you need to do a sensory bin” or “you need to use a weighted lap pad”.
That’s because all kids are going to respond differently to different sensory strategies and tools.
For one of my kids, a deep pressure activity would be best here. For another one of my kids, bouncing would work best.
You know your child best, but I know that the days we take a few minutes for a sensory activity before we jump into homework or other evening tasks are days we avoid the after-school meltdown.
When you add these three vital steps to your after-school routine, you will be able to avoid the daily after-school meltdown.
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These are great strategies. Any advice for grandparents?
Kaylene, this post is fantastic! I especially love step 3, as it’s easy to forget the underlying sensory need.