After-school meltdowns are something most parents have dealt with at some point.
Kids spend all day learning and keeping their emotions in check, but once they get home to a safe place they may let all their emotions out.
The clinical term is after-school restraint collapse. The term is new, but it refers to something that's been around for ages, says Saskatoon clinical psychologist Dr. Lila McCormick.
"It's the idea of our children going off to school and really being on their best behaviour and holding it all together and being very even-tempered," McCormick said.
"At the end of the day, to come home and walk into the house or into the car ... and see our loving faces and have a collapse of sorts with their emotions and really to have what some would term a meltdown."
School stresses grow with COVID-19
Children have a lot to deal with at school and it's exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"There's a lot of expectations to live up to in terms of learning, in terms of social skills and getting along with other kids, in terms of their behaviour and sitting quietly," McCormick said.
But it is a good sign if kids feel they can let go in front of their caregivers.
"When they come home and they are in a safe environment and they feel unconditionally supported by their parents, they're going to feel like they are safe to let that all go and to let out their emotions and get the support they need to to get through those feelings."
McCormick said parents can think of their children's emotions like a can of pop that has been shaken up all day.
"They get called on in class and they don't know the answer. Nobody picks them as a partner, they're wearing a mask. All these things are shaking up the can all day. And when they get home, that can opens and… the feelings fizz out and spill all over the place."
But there are preventative measures parents can do to help ease that anxiety.
The first thing is to connect with the child, McCormick said, adding that goes for kids doing online learning as well.
"That could be a hug. So instead of launching into 'how was your day,' try something like, 'I really missed you today' or 'I'm so happy to have you home' and save the questions for later," she said.
"We also want to help them engage in an activity that's relaxing or rejuvenating. So that could look like a walk or a bike ride or lying on the couch and listening to their favourite music."
And make sure there is a snack on hand.
"They often haven't eaten since lunchtime and we know that being hangry doesn't help any situation."
"If it's late in the day and they've calmed down, we can even ask them questions and try to figure out what some of the triggers are and problem solve around those."
Adults can teach them coping strategies like breathing exercises and getting their body moving to release those feelings.
McCormick said the best way is to lead by example.
"When we come home from work and we're exhausted and tapped out, we can say, 'No, I'm really stressed. It was a hard day and I'm going to go for a walk around the block. Who's coming with me.'
"When we teach them those coping strategies, they're more likely to want to adapt it themselves now that they've seen us use them."
And make sure there is down time between school and rushing off to piano lessons or soccer practice or even doing homework.
"Those can have some demands on them in terms of those impulse control and their emotional regulation, which are already maxed out."
Avoid letting the kids go straight to the iPad or video games as that can be more of an escape to avoid their feelings rather than to release them in a healthy way by talking or by playing, McCormick said.
These meltdowns should subside in a few weeks or even months, McCormick said, because there are more triggers present right now with the pandemic.
But if they continue and are happening regularly, parents might want to talk with their teachers or seek professional help to find any underlying factors.
"They might just have one [meltdown] if they're feeling a little under the weather or a little hungry or tired," McCormick said, "and other kids might have them pretty regularly, especially if that child is more sensitive or more spirited or has other challenges like learning challenges or autism or ADD or anxiety."