If your child tends to have more frequent meltdowns shortly after coming home from school, you’re not alone. Known as restraint collapse, this behavior is common, especially for children with neurodevelopmental disorders, such as ADHD. Here’s a look into why this phenomenon happens and what you can do to make the end-of-day transition easier for you and your child.
Why Does This Happen?
The term “after-school restraint collapse” was first introduced several years ago by psychotherapist and former teacher Andrea Nair. Also referred to as “post-restraint collapse,” it describes the meltdowns, temper tantrums, and other behavioral outbursts that often occur when children come home from school.
Nair describes the restraint children maintain throughout the school day as a “bubble” which requires significant energy, containment, and physical restraint to maintain. When children arrive home, this bubble bursts. They’ve entered their safe space—there’s no longer a need to exercise the same restraint they held for others throughout the day.
While parents can take comfort in knowing their children feel safe expressing themselves fully once they’re home, the effects of this post-restraint collapse aren’t always pleasant. Some children get weepy and whiny, while others may yell and become rude. Others still may act out physically by throwing things. Many kids will express defiance, refusing to do chores or homework. For children with ADHD, these effects may be more pronounced, as medications given in the morning have likely worn off by the end of the school day.
5 Tips for Managing After-School Restraint Collapse
Fortunately, restraint collapse doesn’t have to be an inevitable part of your daily routine. While there may still be some meltdowns and tantrums to overcome on especially challenging days, there are steps you can take to help prevent restraint collapse and make the transition into the early evening easier for you and your child.
1. Reconnect in a Positive Way
Although they may not recognize it, your child may be experiencing some confusing emotions about the school day or from being away from you for several hours. Connecting with them in a positive way can help to alleviate stress and other unpleasant feelings. A simple smile and hug can establish positive emotional connections at the end of a long day.
2. Spend Time Outside
After being inside in a structured environment for several hours, it’s normal for children to crave some outdoor time. Instead of jumping right into homework, consider having some free play time outside. Whether it’s at the park or in your backyard, this can help your child self-regulate by providing a physical outlet to reduce tension.
3. Offer a Snack
Even adults get cranky when they’re hungry, so it should come as no surprise that it can happen to children, too. Most kids don’t have an opportunity to eat at school after lunch, but a quick snack can quiet a rumbling tummy and tame the outbursts that might come with it. Offer a snack with protein and fiber, such as apple slices and peanut butter or string cheese and berries, to keep them full until dinner.
4. Facilitate Decompression
Restraint collapse may be less likely to occur in a soothing environment. After your child has spent some time outdoors, avoid peppering them with questions about their day. Instead, save inquiries for later when they’ve had some time to wind down. Create a calm environment and prevent dysregulation by minimizing any excess stimuli, such as background noise. Consider setting up a cozy nook where your child can unwind.
5. Stay Connected During the School Day
A final but important way to prevent restraint collapse is to remind your child that, even if you can’t be there physically, they still have your support throughout the school day. A note in their lunchbox, matching bracelets, or a picture of you in their backpack can help little ones feel like you’re with them all the time, which may make the school day “bubble” less burdensome.
The end of the school day may never be completely perfect, but parental support at home and executive function coaching can help make the transition more manageable.