Like many of the families in our private Facebook Group you may be experiencing after school meltdowns – or after school restraint collapse as it is also called. Maybe you are told they are “fine at school” but once they see you, their safe place, it is a very different story.
After school restraint collapse is difficult for everyone involved. There isn’t necessarily a quick solution but we’ve pulled together some of the approaches and strategies suggested by SPACE parents in our group and the SPACE team to help your children and yourself. Remember, you are not alone.
What it is
After school restraint collapse is a phrase coined by Psychotherpist Andrea Nair to describe the meltdowns that can happen when everything that a young person has been supressing all day at school comes tumbling out.
What it might look like
- Emotional outbursts
- Easily upset
- Short fuse
- Lashing out
Why it happens
Many neurodiverse children mask at school. Sitting still, concentrating, supressing their impulses, managing their emotions, ‘being good’ all takes it’s toll and they are likely to be both physically and mentally exhausted. When they come out of school and see you or get home and see you they are able to release all of those pent up emotions and energy. You are their safe space.
Strategies and approaches to help
Some children will benefit from a quiet, still space to decompress and regroup, others will benefit from physical activity – as always, you know your child best.
- Remember that they aren’t choosing to meltdown. Try to stay calm and meet them with compassion.
- Try to get to pick up on time to help keep any anxiety at bay.
- Re-connect with a smile and a hug if they can tolerate it.
Meet their basic needs
- Bring plenty of snacks and food to deal with Hanger.
- Crunchy food can be particularly good to help with regulation and drinks through straws/thick drinks.
Give them space
- Give them plenty of space to decompress. Let them take the lead – don’t speak to them until they are ready and don’t ask them lots of questions.
- Remove demands. Let them do whatever they need to do to decompress for a period after school – including ipad or TV time.
- Keep siblings apart if necessary eg one in front and one in back of the car.
Sensory and/or physical activities
- Heavy work can be regulating for some children – eg carrying a weighted rucksack on their back.
- Some children may benefit from stopping at a park on the way home.
- Rhythmic activity like jumping on a trampoline or rebounder or swinging can help with regulation
Speak to school
- Find ways to stay connected with your child during the day – this may be a photo, a note, something of yours that they can take to school etc.
- If it is happening regularly make an appointment with school to unpick what is happening and agree a plan to help – eg regular sensory breaks and support during the school day, being picked up slightly earlier, a different exit etc.
Take care of yourself. After-school restraint collapse is hard for everyone concerned. If it is happening regularly, you will probably find your stress levels and anxiety increasing before home time. Try to take some time to do what you need to do to look after yourself before pick up.