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The After School Behavior Meltdown

Am I the only one who kind of hates spending time with their kids from 3:00PM to 5:00PM every day? Like… I love them… but I really don’t like them right after they’ve gotten out of school for the day.

If your kids are anything like mine, they’re absolutely psychotic from the moment they step into your car after school to right around dinner time. Or, as with my middle schooler, their chaos starts as soon as they open your car door and throw their flute in the floorboard. The don’t even get a foot in the door before they’re griping about their science substitute and complaining about how their math test was nothing like the study guide.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m just extra sensitive to their chaos during those hours because I’ve only just gotten off work myself. I haven’t had any time to decompress in a quiet space before they all started yelling and whining so everything they say and do is extra frustrating.

My four-year-old starts whining THE VERY MOMENT we step out of her preschool building every afternoon. She’s a star pupil all day long, but as soon as that door shuts behind us, all bets are off. She’s starving, her legs are broken, she doesn’t like the books we keep in the car (that she picked out), she hates the sun, her sisters are annoying, and every song on the radio is the worst.

My eight-year-old has a “massive headache” every. single. day. after school gets over, and it makes her the grumpiest girl on the planet. We’ve gone through all of the possible reasons she could be having headaches (glasses, water, sleepy, hungry, etc), but nothing helps. Every day, at 3:05, she gets a headache.

I’m pretty sure it’s from being so tense all day at school, and then finally detoxing in the car afterward, that she’s getting headaches from muscle tension. The number of times I’ve heard her say, “Would everyone just PLEASE STOP TALKING?” is directly proportionate to the number of coffees I wish I had in my hand while driving during those hours.

(Honestly, sometimes it feels like my car is a tomb that I’ll just rot away in at some point.)

My middle schooler is a little different than the younger two. She tries so hard to get in the car with a good attitude everyday. She knows how tired I am and how much her attitude affects everyone else in the car.

… But as soon as she starts talking, only to be interrupted by one of her sisters screaming about a bump in their sock, she loses it. She becomes overstimulated by all the noise just as much as I do.

Or if she hears someone chewing their snack too loudly in the backseat… heaven forbid. Hide your souls because she’s about to stare a hole through them.

(Shout of solidarity to anyone who is raising a preteen right now. God bless you.)

I’ve always kind of assumed that my kids are nuts after school because of the amount of driving we have to do as soon as the day is over. We always have appointments of some sort, or we have a hundred errands to run before we crash on the couch for the day, and everyone is really, really hungry. I’ve always sort of thought that if we could just go straight home after school, we’d avoid the meltdowns.

However, the more time I spend around other families with school-aged children, who all have varying schedules, the more I realize it’s not just my kids that melt. My busy schedule really isn’t the culprit because I have friends who really do go straight home after school, and their kids are still whacky, too.

ALL kids lose their ever-loving minds as soon as they leave school in the afternoons.

But why is that? Is their more to it than what we typically think? Is there a way to make it stop FOR THE LOVE OF GOD?

Is the problem that our kids use all of their sweetness and charm on their teachers, leaving nothing nice for us?
Do they expend so much energy trying to obey during the day that they’re exhausted by the time we ask them for obedience at night?
Are they falling apart with us because we’re their safe places, whereas their teachers are authority figures?
Are they just hungry? Thirsty? Tired? Bored? Overstimulated? Anxious? Hot and sweaty?

I think the answer to all of those–at varying points in time–is yes.

Kids expend so much energy throughout the day at school that there’s absolutely nothing left by three o’clock. We don’t give them enough credit for the amount of work they have to put forth simply by showing up to school each day.

They use physical energy in gym class, at recess, and walking from class to class to class. Some of us never leave our cubicle all day.

They use emotional energy by trying to be on their best behavior for eight straight hours. That’s a long time, even for adults. At least we can sit in our cars during lunch and swear at the steering wheel. They don’t even get that.

They use mental energy doing endless math problems and memorizing U.S. presidents all day. We can’t even remember what our boss said in last week’s meeting.

They even have to exert energy by NOT moving, NOT talking, and NOT giving in to their impulses all day long, while we’re often free to give in to whatever feels right because we don’t have an adult micromanaging us.

I think by the time our kids get to us in the afternoon, they’re wiped out. Their exhaustion might manifest as yelling, crying, whining, or snapping at the people they love, but it all stems from the same place. It’s tiredness, and it doesn’t mean that our families are bad or broken.

It just means that our kids have worked their tails off for yet another day so they need some time to let their emotions out… just like how I need to sit on the couch, take my glasses off, and rub my eyes at the end of every day.

They just need a moment to decompress before they can really work on ending the day well. Make some snack packs for the car, help them learn how to unwind, and move on with your evening. You’re entirely normal.

The After School Behavior Meltdown

W. R. Cummings

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APA Reference
Cummings, W. (2019). The After School Behavior Meltdown. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 14, 2020, from


Last updated: 10 Oct 2019
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