Montessori Parenting: How to deal with an after-school meltdown?

Do you have a child who has a meltdown after-school or when back from a nursery?⁠

After so many months at home, this school year is not like any other. But no matter the circumstances, it's very common for children to be "well-behaved" at school then to have huge meltdown as soon as they are back home.

It's normal! It's also called "after-school restraint collapse" by Andrea Loewen Nair.⁠

Basically, your child has been on his best behaviour all day and literally collapses when back at home, in his safe space with you!⁠

It's hard for us to see our little ones having a melt-down after-school and it doesn't mean that the day has been awful or that they don't like school. ⁠
But no matter their age, complying to someone else rules all day long is demanding. Even us, when back from work, we need a minute to gather yourself and don't enjoy being pressured to chat with our partner or to carry on with chores straightaway.⁠

Over the years, with my children being now 8 and 12, I have tried and tested some ways to ease the transition from school to family home.

What works well for my family is to go out directly after-school. Since my son has moved to the local school, this is the main advantage: we walk back from school and stop at the park. Hunger has a big influence on emotions so I always make sure that we have a healthy snack.⁠

And here are some more ways to cope with the after-school meltdown!

Prevention is always best:

I definitely make a huge effort to be available during those after-school hours. Which is hard as I run my own business and we have some datelines. I try to stop my work 20 minutes before I collect my son and I use those 20 minutes to prepare our after-school "time". I make sure that I know what we eat for dinner, I prepare what is needed for an after-school activity and I am around the children until dinner time. They are 8 and 12 so they don't want me to "play with them" but they constantly come near for questions, stuff they need and cuddles. I find that it's easier for them and for me if I am focused on them and on house chores during those two hours. ⁠

Maybe, it's time to review your routine and adapt it slightly to fit with the school-life.

Connect before questioning

Children don't like to be question. They don't remember their day like we do. They are much more in the present (the younger they are, the more they live in the moment). If you ask close questions, they will only answer with a "yes or no". Even if for us, it would be reassuring to have a run-down of their day, they probably are overwhelmed and not ready to chat. Connect first with your child who may have missed you, physically and spiritually, all day. Make sure you kiss them or cuddle them (if they like that). Another way to connect is to tell them that you have missed them, that you are so happy to see them. Some children are indeed more receptive to verbal than physical affection. You know your child! (for more info about the 5 Love language, read my blog post here)

Outdoor time and physical activity:

As we still have daylight and nice weather, I recommend that you schedule as much outdoor time as possible straight after-school. Walk or cycle back home if possible. Enjoy your garden or schedule an indoor physical activity.

Unfortunately, outdoor time is very limited in school and children have to sit for long periods of time. The more I allow my children to be out straight after-school, the better they handle the back to school time-frame.

Cater for their hunger!

Being hungry is a major contributor to meltdown and thirst as well. No matter how much food they have access to, most children are hungry after-school. In most schools, they cannot eat and drink whenever they want. It's likely that they will feel the pressure to eat quickly. They may not drink as much as they need. 

Make sure you have a healthy snack at the ready. Have an early dinner together as a family. I know it is an obvious advice. But this is something I struggle with. We are a late dinner family (French roots!) and I have to force myself to cook and eat earlier. I really see the difference in our family mood if we don't!

Limit Screen-time

I haven't been that strict during lock-down but now that both children are back to school, I have limited the screen-time to around 20 minutes (or as long is the show they want to watch and I don't let them watch a "movie"). With screen-time, I find that the clearer the rule, the easiest it is to end the screen-time. For more tips about how to manage screen-time, read here.

Forget Montessori!

Because this is a Montessori blog, I want to discuss this specific aspect. Maybe your child has just started formal education, mainstream or a Montessori school. Maybe until now, at home, he had access to some specific Montessori materials, some specific Montessori activities set up by you. And you had your own Montessori "work cycle" at home. 

It's common that children loose interests in educational or academics activities at home once they start school. Don't be disheartened and focus on the essence of Montessori!

Montessori is about Independence and about following your child. Most children, after learning academics at school all day, need connection with their parents. Offer more activities that you can do together: board games, cooking and carry on the house chores together, reading books together and so on. 

Even if Nursery and Reception are play-based, their freedom to play in the way they want might have been limited. So replace your Montessori activities by more open-ended play. Encourage arts and crafts that are always lacking in school.

When your child is more settled in school, he may asked for some specific toys, or asks to explore a specific interest. When my children were still in the first plane, they used to keep exploring in a Montessori way at the weekend. As they move into the second plane, especially my daughter, they were asking for more activities linked to the topic they were exploring in school. 

Don't fear the meltdown

No matter how  much you're going to try to prevent it, no matter how much you're going to connect with your children, they will likely have tantrums. 

When it happens, take it as an opportunity to role-model how to handle emotions. Be there and validate their feelings. More info about how to cope with a tantrum here.

I hope those tips will help!

Does your child have an after-school meltdown?⁠
What help you both to reconnect and to relax?⁠

About the Author Carine Robin

Carine Robin has a Master’s Degree in Psychology, specialising in child psychology. She worked for various social services in her home country of Belgium, before moving to Ireland in 2006. It was there that she started working in a nursery and discovered Montessori education. After having her first child, her passion for the philosophy grew and she qualified as a Montessori teacher and managed a preschool. Carine has been running a Montessori based parents and toddler group and coaching families for 9 years. She now also runs an online group for over 14000 parents, sharing her knowledge and passion with people from around the world. In 2018, Carine realised families needed more support and launched her popular online parenting courses and monthly subscription boxes, full of personally designed Montessori materials.