Some days do you pick your child up from school and just get snapped up when you ask about their day? Do you get moaned at or ignored the whole way home and shouted at all evening? Hard as it can be this is pretty common and is much more likely to happen at the beginning of school terms. After school restraint collapse is the phenomenon where children spend all day in school making such an effort to be polite and friendly that when they come home they just don’t have the energy to be nice any more.

A school child going home from school in the rain in a bad mood
After school restraint collapse can be hard to deal with for both the child and parents

How To Manage Difficult Behaviour After School Pick Up

Try not to let it get to you

Children can behave this way with their parents and siblings because they are secure in the knowledge that they are loved, even if they are being horrible. While it isn’t nice to be on the receiving end try not to take it personally and give them room to relax. That’s not to say you have to accept any behaviour; set the boundaries of what you will tolerate, but recognise their need to let off steam and rebel a little. It can also be seen as a positive sign that they have been trying hard at school to be respectful to their teachers and to make friends.

Bring snacks

You might get told that whatever you bring is the wrong thing, but bringing food to the school gates will help children to restore some of that energy and be more in control of their emotions. They are often hungry after school anyway and you want to avoid hanger adding into the mix. A banana is perfect. 

Let them have control

One of the ways to help quickly gain some balance is to let your child feel they have some control. Give them options, let them make some decisions about what happens. These don’t need to be open ended, but you could ask them if they want crackers or fruit for their snack or ask them if they want to choose what to watch on TV. As the children get older they are given less freedom at school so allowing them to feel they can make decisions at home makes them feel better. They might snap at you when you provide options or ask questions, but it should shake them out of the behaviour fairly quickly.

Give them space

Once fed and given some control give them room to breathe. This allows them to reset themselves. Depending on their personality they will either then seek you out to talk at you non stop or they might do the opposite and just need some quiet time without interruption . Let them know that you are there when they want company, but give them time to unwind.

Give them attention

When they are ready to be with people again try and make some time to totally focus on them. Listen to what they are saying, show an interest, look at them. Spend at least a few minutes without being distracted by your phone or cooking to show them they are loved, appreciated and valued. 

Sometimes if their behaviour has been particularly bad you will want speak to them about how they are behaving and how it made you feel. Give them some attention first for a minute or so and then raise your concerns. If you do it too early they will close off again, if you get the time right then they will listen to what you say and apologise. That doesn’t mean they wont be challenging again the next evening, but they might try harder. 

After school restraint collapse can hit particularly hard at the beginning of term as it takes a week or two for them to get used to the challenges of school again. It normally settles down though and these 5 tips will help you manage the days it hits. Remember: it's not you or your parenting, in fact it's a sign that your child feels safe enough around you to not hide how they feel.

By Kate, mum of 3