Hi all, Terrie here. I’ll start with a little update for those of you that have been reading my Blogs. My daughter is doing well in school, surprisingly well considering that during lockdown she was an exceptionally anxious, angry, dysregulated little girl. Is this some sort of miracle I hear you ask? No, she just really wants to do well so she tries really, exhaustively hard all day. But here’s the rub – when I collect her from school, she’s run out of energy to try. She becomes either tearful or naughty (I hate that word but that’s how it feels to me) and occasionally has a full-blown meltdown.
So, what’s happening? As a parent, it’s easy to become discouraged by this. Am I doing something wrong? Why is she good for her teacher and not for me? But as an ex-teacher I know it’s common. I saw it often, a child I thought was exceptionally calm and laid back would turn into a completely different person as soon as they lay eyes on a parent. We (parents) are their safe space, which means they can finally let out whatever they have been holding back all day when they are with us. It sucks but it actually means you are doing something right (although not all children do this so you’re also not doing anything wrong if they don’t!)
It’s even got a name, get ready for it…. After school constraint release! Phew! A young child might break down, act out or melt down and an older child or teenager may become surly, oppositional, rude, or downright unresponsive. Sound familiar?
So, what can we do about it? The first and most important thing as always is empathy. They aren’t doing it to upset or annoy us, they don’t want us to feel like bad parents and actually up to a point they can’t help it. Here are some tips that might help…
- Walk home if you can. The walk may not be fun for you, but it gives them extra time to calm whilst getting fresh air and exercise. The decompression will help you too.
- Even better than a walk, take them to the park if you can! Getting outside into blue and green spaces is proven to lift mental health and the physical activity will be an outlet. (Government guidelines permitting)
- For a younger child it might be nice to bring a little piece of home with you at school collection. I bring one of my daughter’s dolls, which gives her something to focus on during the walk home.
- Give them space – we talk about my daughter’s day at the dinner table. She enjoys that. I don’t ask her anything until then apart from whether her day was OK. It’s hard and feels strange but it’s worth the wait. Try distractions such as talking about what’s for dinner or their favourite tv show.
- Older children/teenagers may want to be alone for a while, let them.
- A snack and a drink are downright miraculous! (But not too much sugar!)
- Find activities that are calming for your child and if you they don’t want alone time to give them your undivided attention for a little while. Just knowing that they are seen, after a day of potentially vying for attention can be really restorative.
- Stay calm and if they start to bubble up try to remain playful and find ways to distract them.
- Remain firm about boundaries, some things are still not OK, just be sure to let them know it’s the behaviour that’s not OK, not how they are feeling.
- Some sensory input may help. A fluffy or weighted blanket, a sensory toy or games that involve sensory input. My daughter likes to be palm to palm with me applying pressure. We make it a fun game trying to push each other over.
Finally, I think it’s really easy to just stop enjoying your time with your child after school. There were a couple of weeks where I really felt like that. These feelings are really natural when they are being such awfully hard work! Remember though that they are behaving this way because you make them feel safe. If you find yourself feeling negative your children can sometimes pick up on it and this will only make their behaviour worse. Here are some things you can say to your young people when you feel caught up in a negative cycle.
Finally, find an after-school routine that works for you and the age of your young people. Make it special and keep adjusting it as you learn what works. Eventually you will enjoy that time with them a whole lot more. And remember that some days everything will go wrong and that’s OK too. Just keep trying and keep having empathy. Remember that just like for us, everything looks and feels different for them at the moment. As always, stay safe, stay strong and stay kind.
– Blog written by Terrie