How to help the 'after-school crash'

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As children settle into a new school year, many families experience tough afternoons after a long day at school. Children need to decompress after their day just like us! But when a parent picks up their child or sees him after a work day, it's instinctive to ask 20 questions: “How was your day? What did you do? Did you talk to any friends? What were their names? What work did you choose? Did you go outside? Did you eat your lunch? Tell me everything!” 

Consider these rules of engagement instead:

  1. Acknowledge. Just like it’s expected for us to feel tired after work, it’s expected for our children to feel tired after school. Putting this into words for your child can be a huge boost. If he starts whining in the car ride home, kindly help your child identify with, “You worked hard today, and you were around a lot of people. It’s okay if you feel you need to rest right now, and I will help you do that as soon as we get home.”
  2. Be available. Afternoon pickups might be a big new shift in your routine, and if there is going to be a crash in the form of a tantrum, it will likely happen as you pull into your driveway. Instead of rushing to get your kids in the house and rushing to make snacks, adjust your schedule in a way that allows you to be present for your child's transition from school to home. Unlike active engagement, availability simply sends a message to our children that we are here for them, but that we also respect whatever space they might need.
  3. Don’t expect connection, model it. If we want our children to be open with us about their days, then we need to be open about our days, too. On your car ride home, share what you did today, and further normalize this by sharing more at dinner. This shift can be seen as much more respectful because it sends the message that, "I am not entitled to my child telling me things just because I’m the adult." Instead, it builds communication between us as something that is reciprocated.
  4. Release the expectation for them to always “be on.” We expect a lot of our children, sometimes unfairly in these early years where we are so eager to nurture their independence. But if we don’t always feel like moving quickly in the morning or cleaning the house at the end of each work day, why should we expect our children to always be on it in similar ways? There will be times they don’t want to pick up their toys or help with prepping dinner when prompted, and it won’t be because of a lack of order or discipline, but a valid need to recharge. It’s nice to take strides in independence, but it’s also nice to honor where they may still want our help.

What has worked for your family when coping with back-to-school changes in routine?

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