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THE MOM SCENE: The after-school freak out

Getting back into the school routine can be a challenge.
Getting back into the school routine can be a challenge. - Heather Laura Clarke

As happy as I am that the kids are back in school, there’s one really annoying part I’d forgotten about: the after-school freak out.

It happens almost every day, immediately after our daughter gets off the bus. She’s smiling, she’s running toward me, she’s hugging me — that’s all fine. But then she asks if she can play with so-and-so or do something when we have other commitments, and I have to say no.

And she loses it. 

Right there in front of everyone, she starts screaming or crying or throwing herself down on the sidewalk. It’s called “after-school restraint collapse,” and apparently I’m not alone here (which is quite reassuring). But I am still so over it.

It’s common in kids under 12 and experts describe it as them “releasing their emotional, mental and physical energy” after showing so much self-control during the school day.

Some kids cry and have tantrums — ahem, our daughter — while other kids get really quiet and sort of withdraw for a while after school. I realized that’s exactly what our eight-year-old son does, although I’d never really thought of it as “restraint collapse.” 

Almost every day after school this year, he’s gone into the basement for a while and played quietly with Playmobil. He’s cried after bumping his head or stubbing his toe and generally needed more hugs and cuddles than usual.

Meanwhile, our daughter — the screamer — is sent to her room to chill out if she’s had a freak out at the bus stop. She calms down pretty quickly and starts playing quietly with her toys, and then we bring her back downstairs for a snack. 

No matter how many times we talk about the importance of staying calm after school and not pitching a tantrum on the sidewalk, you just never know if you’ll be picking up Jekyll or Hyde. 

We go through this every fall, to some degree. September is rough on everyone, especially exhausted little kids who are getting used to the school routine. I know it’ll get better after a month or so, as they settle in and adjust, but it’s majorly embarrassing when it’s happening.

The good thing about restraint collapse is that it means the kid is, likely, restraining themselves and keeping it together at school. I constantly hear that my kids are happy and polite and behave themselves at school, and for that I’m grateful.

I’d much rather my daughter was an angel for her teacher and a devil for me. Still, does she have to be a devil in front of the whole neighbourhood?!

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