After School Restraint Collapse

Posted on: 20/11/2020

Nearly every teacher, at one point or another, has had the experience of speaking to parents at the school gates, or at a parents’ evening, waxing lyrical about how fantastic and enthusiastic their child is in class, only to be met with a wry smile. Some cannot believe that the demanding infants or sulky pre-adolescents that return home on some days can be the same child receiving glowing praise for their consistent diligence and participation in lessons. They are bursting with pride, but also wondering why such model behaviour does not always occur at home.

The school day undoubtedly takes a lot of effort for children. Hours spent having fun, learning new things, managing relationships, following instructions and remembering equipment can be mentally and physically draining. It is no surprise then that some children get home and allow their bubble to burst from time to time. This year in particular, children will be adjusting to several small differences in many of their usual routines at school and at home. For them, using a lot of energy to maintain self control for long periods of time can temporarily decrease their ability to self regulate.

Canadian teacher and psychotherapist Andrea Loewen Nair coined the term ‘after school restraint collapse’ in response to hearing these stories so regularly from parents. We are living in an age where everything seems to come with a label and people may argue that this is simply a bit of good old-fashioned defiance or misbehaviour. I am certainly no expert in the field of psychotherapy but I have encountered some anecdotal evidence in my years as a teacher, enough to believe there is at least a modicum of truth in the idea. At the very least, some families out there are affected by this pattern of behaviour. 

While it can happen with any child, those with additional needs will feel the strain more acutely. Imagine the will power necessary for a child with dyslexia to work with words for several hours a day? Or for a child with ADHD to sit still for large periods? Tiredness and hunger can lead any child to frustration (and, I have observed, any adult too, me included!). So, if you have noticed this occurring with your child, I have managed - whilst researching the ideas behind ‘after school restraint collapse’ - to compile a list of advice from parents across the world wide web on how to provide the sort of environment conducive to a peaceful transition from school to home. 

  • No matter how your day has gone, or how your child’s day has gone, greet them with a hug and a smile.

  • Avoid bombarding your child with questions about their day. They may need some time and space to settle, so save the conversations about school until later.

  • Address basic needs, such as tiredness and hunger.

  • While some children need a quiet, still space directly after school, others may benefit from physical activity. Try walking, scooting or cycling home or rhythmic activities like swinging or bouncing on a trampoline.

  • If you travel by car, try playing some music or an audiobook on your journey to create a calm space and allow your child time to decompress.

  • Leave homework until a little later if you can – after several hours at school, your child will likely need a brain break before starting on more work.

  • Try to maintain a predictable routine around home time. 

  • Make sure you are taking care of yourself. If post-school difficulties have been a feature in your home for some time, it is likely that you feel your own anxiety and tension levels rising as home time approaches, so make sure you are doing what it takes to look after yourself before you welcome your child home.

  • Finally, if a meltdown does happen, understanding and support will help a child to feel secure. One tactic that has perhaps never succeeded in the history of trying to calm people down, is telling them to calm down!

These tips are entirely stolen from others but I do endorse them. I am not yet six months into my own personal parenting journey and I am only just beginning to understand the very complex, difficult, but ultimately very rewarding job of being a parent. If this issue does resonate with you, I would love to hear your views and I hope that the ideas gathered will prove helpful in easing transitions on those difficult days. 

Mr. McLaughlin