Does your child go into meltdown mode when you pick them up from school?  Don’t worry. Meltdowns are part and parcel of growing up and the ones that occur after school are quite common.  Starting formal schooling is a major shift to a five-year-old.  When they are confused, overwhelmed, and scared, they can turn to temper tantrums as a coping mechanism.   


There are ways to prevent an after-school meltdown.  Today’s article, we will examine after-school tantrums and how to prevent them. 

Why big emotions? Where do they come from?

Your even-tempered five-year-old who has never thrown a tantrum in his or her life is throwing the mother-of-all tantrums after a week in school.  What’s going on?  The important thing to understand is that your child is not misbehaving.  They are stressed out. 

Young children cannot define how they are feeling.  Sometimes the only way they can cope is to lash out.   As parents, the best thing we can do for our kids is to carry some of this load for them.  We do this through empathy and by showing them that they are not alone in dealing with these big feelings. 

One of the first things to do is to recognise the stresses and prevent them from getting out of hand.  Also, you need to stay calm and to deal with each episode rationally.  The last thing you want to do is to lose your cool and transfer your anger and anxiety to your five-year-old. Your child learns from you so whatever emotions you put down is what they will pick up.  If you don’t manage after school tantrums well, you run the risk of bringing up a child who is not equipped to handle big emotions like anger, jealousy, or insecurity.

What can trigger after-school meltdowns?

Every child is unique. Some children are unsettled by loud sounds. Some are upset by the unfamiliar.  Some are shy and self-conscious in front of strangers.  There are hundreds of triggers that can cause your child to lose control.  These triggers can be grouped into five large categories namely physical, emotional, cognitive, social, and pro-social. 


School is a brand-new environment for your five-year-old. They may have had some practice at kindy, but school is different.

What can trigger after-school meltdowns

Physical triggers can include sounds, smells or artefacts.  For example, the sheer size of a school can be overwhelming.  So can strange and unfamiliar sounds like the constant ringing of the school bell.  Emotional triggers refer to feeling confused, frightened, upset, or anxious.  Cognitive pressure comes from the pressure of learning new things.  For example, if your child is not learning to count as quickly as his or her classmates, he or she can become frustrated and angry with themselves.  Socially, your child is expected to form new relationships with other children and adults. He or she is also expected to conform to certain rules and norms.  All these can create anxiety in your child.  Finally, pro-social triggers refer to the external pressures that may influence your child’s behaviour.  For example, if you are stressed with school pick-up, you may be unintentionally transferring this stress to your child.


How to deal with after-school tantrums

The most effective way to diffuse a tantrum is to stay calm.  Take a deep breath, count to 10, and don’t lose your temper.  Screaming, scolding, and spanking your kid when he or she is in a full-blown temper tantrum can only make things worse. 


Speak calmly and clearly to your child.  Tell him or her that tantrums are not acceptable behaviour.  If you are in a public place like a supermarket, take your child out and calm him or her down before returning.  Tantrums are a way to get your attention.  If you are not reacting, your child will realise that it is not working, and the screaming will stop.


If your child has become inconsolable, hug him or her to you closely.  Speak slowly to soothe and calm them.  Tell them you love them, but a tantrum is not going to give them what they want.  If that doesn’t work, put them in time-out; one minute per age of the child. 

Strategies for dealing with after-school meltdowns

  1. Recognise the triggers.

Start by recognising the triggers.  If you can identify what is causing your child to throw a tantrum after school, you may be able to diffuse the situation and prevent it from happening again.  

Children have changing moods.  After waking, he is grumpy. By mid-morning, he has perked up and is lively and happy.  At the end of the school day, he is exhausted. He may come home with low energy and high tension.  This is when tantrums and temper outbursts are most likely to happen. 

If you can recognise the signs, you can nip it in the bud before it gets out of control.  The tell-tale signs are not difficult to identify.  Your child may have a higher pitch in his or her voice, he or she may be saying ‘No’ to everything you suggest, they may be acting rough to their favourite toy or annoying a sibling.

  1. Teach your child to self-regulate.

Tell-tale signs can help you mitigate your child’s emotional rollercoaster and calm them down before their emotions become a tantrum.   These signs can also be used as a learning tool to help them understand their emotions and to calm themselves down. 

Find activities that can calm them down.  It could be asking them to go to their room and playing quietly by themselves for several minutes. Or giving them their favourite blanket to cuddle. Or reading their favourite story to them. If you used the tactics that work – to avert a tantrum – your child may eventually learn that he or she can control their emotions by repeating these activities themselves.

  1. Practise self-regulating activities.

Practise self-regulating activities

Here are more things you can do to prevent after-school meltdowns.

i)  Feed them.

Feed them immediately.  If you have to drive them home, prepare a snack that they can eat in the car.  Make sure they have plenty of water as well.  This will get their blood sugar levels up and prevent a meltdown brought about by hunger.

ii) Make sure they get plenty of rest.

Sleep is restorative.  If your child is exhausted after school, make sure they lie down and have some rest when they get home. They don’t have to sleep during this time, but they must have a proper lie down without any distractions. 

A good night’s sleep can give your child the energy they need to survive a hectic school day.  On school days, ensure your child can fall asleep easily and stay asleep. At least an hour before bedtime should be media-free time.  Turn off the television. Store away their mobile phones and digital device.  Try reading instead.  It is a natural calming activity and a great way to connect with your child.

iii) Give them a balanced diet.

A healthy diet is important for health and wellbeing.  Make sure you are packing a solid and nutritious lunch for them to take to school.  Don’t forget to include plenty of fluids.

iv) Try calming activities.

Go outdoors.  Spending a little time outdoors after school is good for the soul.  Whether it’s a gardening, cycling around the block, shooting hoops in the backyard or a quick visit to the playground, the outdoors will give them plenty of sunshine and fresh air.

Create a to-do-list.  A checklist of things to do after school can be turned into a fun activity.  The list can include things like putting away their school bag, shoes, and lunchbox, washing their hands, eating a snack, having 10 minutes of chill time, helping mom with tomorrow’s school lunch or any other activity that can give your child some structure.  Sometimes having a clear picture of what needs to be done can help the child stay calm and not lose their temper. 

After-school tantrums are unpleasant.  It is stressful for both parent and child. When an after-school tantrum occurred, stay calm and be firm.  Remember that your five-year-old has not learned how to process what it is happening to him or her and will not know how to deal with big emotions yet. It is up to us parents to guide them in the right direction.  Happy parenting!       


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