Child & Family Development Child & Family Development

September 14, 2021

Managing Back to School Meltdowns

By: Epiphany Stephens, OTR/L

Hooray for school being back in session! This exciting time creates new opportunities for learning, growing, and socializing. The beginning of the school year also comes with new demands and hidden rules that kids need to remember, in addition to the educational lessons each day. Returning to the classroom can also mean brighter lights and louder environments. Some kids spend so much energy trying to process, regulate, and follow the rules to do their best, that they are exhausted when they get home. These are typically the kids whose teachers report that they do so well following directions and playing nicely with others while at school. It is hard for them to keep their emotions and bodies in control throughout the day. Their home is a safe place where they can relax, which can result in an afterschool meltdown, especially for younger kids. Afterschool meltdowns are real and rarely discussed.

Most adults are allowed to give their body what it needs during the workday to focus. This may include eating a snack, walking around the building, getting coffee, talking to co-workers, chewing gum, or scrolling social media. These mini brain breaks or sensory breaks allow us to regulate ourselves and successfully complete the next task or engage in the next meeting. Our kids need these same breaks and opportunities for sensory input throughout their day, to maintain the attention and engagement required for learning. Some kids need more input than others, and that is okay.  When children do not get the input their body needs, they can become dysregulated and unfocused, which manifests into yelling, crying, or aversive behaviors.

Here are a few ideas to help your child regulate, after school, to avoid the afternoon meltdown:

1- Play with a fidget or stress/squishy ball

2- Give big bear hugs

3- Eat a crunchy or chewy snack (i.e. raw carrots, big pretzel rods, beef/turkey jerky, fruit leather)

4- Drink thick liquids (i.e. yogurt, apple sauce, smoothie) through a thin straw, Camelbak, or stir stick

5- Move your body (i.e. jumping, walking backwards, stomp your feet, wall pushes)

6- Play outside (i.e. ride bikes, scooters, climb, dig, any sport)

7- Swinging

8- Yoga poses, stretch, dance

9- Create an obstacle course, play floor is lava

10- Invert your head, go upside down, wall walks, handstand

While these are just a few general ideas, the occupational therapists at Child & Family Development are available to design individualized strategies specific to your child’s needs.