There's a Legitimate Reason Why Your Kids Seem 1,000 Times Worse After School


angry kid throwing a tantrum

Once kids are old enough to start school, there's an interesting phenomenon that sometimes takes place. They act like perfect little angels all day with their teachers, and then as soon as they get home, they turn the tables and spend the afternoon tantruming, whining, and refusing to do pretty much anything their parents say. If you've noticed this phenomenon with your own kids, you're not alone and you're not just imagining it. It's a real thing, and it's even got a fancy, scientific-sounding name: after school restraint collapse.

  • After school restraint collapse is basically a short-term emotional regression that can happen after a day at day care, preschool, or regular school.

    "They have been holding it together -- restraining their emotions and behaviors -- all day at school and, when they get home, they may just let it all out, showing less self-control than one might expect." says Dr. Jennifer Hartstein, an adolescent and family psychologist and the author of Princess Recovery: A How-To Guide to Raising Strong, Empowered Girls Who Can Create Their Own Happily Ever Afters.

    Kids who have after school restraint collapse might act younger than their age, throw tantrums, act needy, cry, act extremely clingy, or generally just have a meltdown.

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  • Restraint collapse is more common in kids under 12, especially at the beginning of a new school year or when they're just starting a new schedule.

    "As children build up more emotional resilience and an ability to more effectively manage emotional dysregulation, these behaviors tend to decrease. It’s also possible that it will get better as the year goes on and routine settles in," Dr. Hartstein tells CafeMom. 

  • But in the meantime, there are ways to help the kiddos get out of the funk. 

    kid relaxing on the couch

    Even though parents might be bursting to ask kids all about their day and get them started on homework as soon as they get home, it simply might not be the best time. "If you notice that this is something that your child does, give them some space when they initially come home," Dr. Hartstein tells CafeMom. "Let them have some time to relax and regroup. Maybe even find something physical for them to engage in when they get home to release the tension."

    She notes that parents should try to model the behavior they expect, too. If we come home moody, stressed, and agitated every day, our kids pick up on that. "Are you struggling with after-work restraint collapse? How are you managing it? Take some of this advice for yourself, too," she adds.

  • The important thing, says Dr. Hartstein, is to recognize whether restraint collapse is happening consistently or is just a "one-off."

    "Everyone has a bad day once in a while, but if it is happening more frequently, your child may be struggling with this," she says.

    It's important to keep talking with your kids and to ask open-ended questions (tell me about your friends, what do you think about this new stuff you're learning in math). "Check in with school to see if there is any behavior happening in the classroom or if there has been any noticeable changes," advises Dr. Hartstein. "Don’t be afraid to ask -- your child may be hoping you will."