All you need to know about after-school restraint collapse!


It’s 3:30 p.m. Your child(ren) or teen(s) are coming off the bus or being picked up at school. Although your child or teen is usually all smiles and laughs, they look sullen or downcast. They ignore you.

Within minutes of getting home, the peace is shattered by crying, screaming, and fighting.

What is after-school restraint collapse?

After a long day of learning, it’s only natural for kids and teens to want to let off some steam. But for some, this escalates to full meltdowns. This has been coined ‘‘after-school restraint collapse’’.

These meltdowns can be caused by many things, including fatigue, hunger, and overstimulation. But they can also be a sign that your child or teen is struggling to cope with the multiple demands of school life.

What are common signs?

  • Angry, irritable, grumpy
  • Sullen, downcast
  • Silent, doesn’t respond or engage
  • Disrespectful, snarky, looking for an argument
  • Getting upset, crying, meltdown about little things

Dealing with your angry, disrespectful, or silent kid

For many parents, the after-school hours can be the most challenging part of the day. What can you do to survive the after-school hours? Here are a few tips:

1) Approach with Empathy

Just like adult, kids and teens can go through a lot of difficult situations during the course of their day. This can include negative feedback from teachers, conflict with peers, and being asked to focus continuously.

So when you see your child or teen irritable or downcast, assume that something happened, even if they cannot express that to you. Know that their apparent disrespect is not directed to you. It is an expression of their internal discomfort or distress.

2) Give them Space

Check in with your child. Some kids and teens love telling you about their day. Others, not so much. Short answers, ignoring you, and not responding may indicate that they need space.

Offer help and understanding, but if they do not respond don’t press further. Give them some time then re-engage periodically.

3) Have a consistent routine

Routines are important because they help children and teens know what to expect next, reducing possible anxiety or stress. Consistent routines can also help cue the body and mind to wind down.

4) Avoid overscheduling

Many parents understandably want their child or teen to participate in many activities and have varied experiences. However, many families (especially those with more than 1 child) often face overscheduling.

Oversheduling leads to stress (making sure everyone is one time, has the right equipment, etc) which take away from the enjoyment of the activity. How do you resist overscheduling? Make sure to schedule time to do absolutely nothing.

5) Offer healthy snacks / hydration

Another way to deal with after-school grumpiness is to have healthy snacks and water ready for your child or teen as soon as they get home. You can even send them with a snack to eat on the way home if they take the bus. This will help to tide them over until dinner and can cure ‘hangry’ dispositions.

6) Incorporate physical activity

Physical activity (particularly outside) can help kids and teens who feel like they have been cooped up all day at school. It is also a great stress reliever for everyone. After school is therefore the perfect time for kids to run around and burn off some energy, whether it’s an organized activity, going to the park, or having a family dance party.

Dr. Leon is a skilled child psychologist who can help parents and children with emotional regulation, difficult behaviours and anxiety or low mood. Take the first step and schedule a consultation today to learn the right tools to support and manage your child’s difficulties.

Frequently Asked Questions

My child has a meltdown as soon as I start talking about homework, what should I do?

As parents we know that it’s important for our kids and teens to stay on top of their homework and not fall behind. But kids and teens also need to have down time. Create a routine that incorporates both and works for your family. Review as often as necessary.

Keep in mind that chronic avoidance or averseness to homework can be a sign of a learning disorder/ADHD. Talk to your child or teen’s teacher about their progress and ask for a psychoeducational assessment if necessary.

Should I let my child have screentime after school?

This is a personal decision as a family. Screentime is not inherently bad or good for kids (there is research supporting both). The most important thing to consider when making this family decision is whether screentime is taking time away from the essential things in the child or teen’s life. For example, if your child or teen has tons of screentime but they spend very little time with you, playing outside or doing their homework, then yes, it is time to change the family rules.

My child is very energetic, should I enrol them in a competitive sport?

Enrol them in a sport, yes. Competitive sport? That depends. Most (but perhaps not all) competitive sports, by definition, put performance above enjoyment. Although some children feel that competitive sports are rewarding and can derive a strong sense of pride from it, other children can become more anxious and develop perfectionistic tendencies as a result.

After-school restraint collapse refers to the phenomenon where children display behavioral issues or meltdowns after suppressing their emotions and behavior at school. To address after-school restraint collapse, allow children time to decompress after school by engaging in relaxation, physical activities or providing a comfortable environment where they feel safe expressing their emotions without judgment.

Dr. Stephanie Leon

Dr. Leon is a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist practicing in the province of Ontario and Quebec. She works with children, teens, and their parents to address emotional, behavioural, and cognitive difficulties. Dr. Leon offers online psychology services through the Leon Psychology Clinic.

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