10 Ideas to Avoid an After-School Meltdown in Toddlers | Strategies That Work for Us

Earlier, when I picked kids up from their school, I thought after a few hours being away from each other they would be as excited to see me as I was.  But each day I would deal with another toddler tantrum, and I would wonder where I was going wrong.  Why were they being so cranky instead of being happy to see me, the way I was looking forward?  It took me a while to understand that kids feel overwhelmed after all that they've kept bottled up inside, and then act out because I am where they could totally be themselves.  So I came up with some strategies to deal with it, and here I'm sharing some ideas that I keep in my back pocket to prevent an after school meltdown in the first place.

1. Questions
If my kids are in a good mood to answer, I ask them Yes/No and/or Open-Ended questions.  Because they are 5 years old, I ask them simple questions like:
- How was your day?
- Did you have fun today?
- Did you go to the library?
- What did you play with your friends?
- What did your teacher say?
- Did you eat at the cafeteria?

Usually, one question leads to another question, one answer leads to another story.

2.  Let Them Talk
The follow up to the Questions, is to let them talk.  To say anything and everything that they have not had the chance to speak that day.  Just the way when we meet someone we love or who understands us, we can go on and on talking our heart out.  So I ask a question and let them take the lead.  And oh my, kids have a LOT to talk about!

3. Playtime
I let my kids play with their classmates after dismissal.  They played at school only during playtime, movement, or recess, and had to sit quietly in class on their seat otherwise.  So they feel free playing and running around with their classmates and it tires them out.  Some days it takes 15-30 minutes of my time when I let them play, and it delays our lunchtime (I'm particular about following our schedule), but if that's what makes them happy, I'm game for it.  So I usually prepare the lunch before leaving home so that when they are back and tired, the food is ready on the table and I'm not dealing with HANGRY kids!

4. 100% Attention
Is your kid getting restless because you are busy on your phone? I know we are addicted to our phones.  Even I want to finish watching that YouTube video I was watching while I was waiting to pick them up, or I was to finish reading that article, or I want to respond to that email or comment just when I pick them up.  But whenever I catch myself spending more time on the phone than looking at them or listening to what they are saying, I remind myself to talk, listen, pay 100% attention to them, and ask them follow up questions.

5. Snack
I offer them a healthy snack, a quick one, or even a small treat after school on our way home that won't hurt lunchtime. They don't usually sit to eat right away after coming home.  After washing hands and putting their backpack in place, they'll probably go to their playroom, get distracted, and come to have lunch (after I've called 10 times... *eyeroll*).  So a small snack helps in case they get cranky because they were hungry.  Also, when I ask them to share with me too, sharing makes them feel good and then they're in a good mood.  Or I offer them to drink water.  May be they're dehyrated or forgot to drink water in a while.  So a simple "hi baby, would you like to drink some water before we leave?" works.

6. Activity
I always keep crayons, pens, and papers in my car to keep the kids busy whenever we are driving long distance.  There are so many activity sheets, coloring pages, and so on that are available in Dollar Tree.  I give a clipboard and a cookie sheet (both from Dollar Tree) to my kids to scribble or color or whatever they want on the way.  It helped them be occupied even on our road trip to Los Angeles and on our drive to Tahoe with twins.

7.  Entertainment
On a good day if my kids feel like listening to music or dancing, I'll play a song and let them dance before we buckle up.  It lets their energy out, and music instantly boosts our mood.  I also look up for animal jokes for kids, fruit riddles for kids, and so on to entertain them.  For example: What do you call a banana that likes to dance?  Answer: A banana shake!  We've done fruit riddles earlier too in this video on fun riddles for young kids.

8. Storytime
There are so many short stories online or the ones I remember from my childhood, and I keep them in my back pocket whether I tell them during a road trip, while waiting at the restaurant, or while walking from their classroom to our car in the parking lot.  If I don't feel like saying stories or run out of them, then I will genuinely share something about me, about what I did, or a problem I had, or a mistake I made, and ask them to help find a solution.  I don't know why we adults like to portray ourselves as perfect beings in front of the kids.  But letting them know something silly we did helps them lighten up too.  Mommy makes mistakes too.  And when I ask them for their views, it makes them feel important.  And when we tell stories and talk, we don't have time for a tantrum.

9.  Fun Facts
I keep a list of fun facts on paper or on the Notes in my phone ready (too many for my memory to handle!).  Fun facts catch their attention, distracts them from throwing a fit, and teaches them something new.  But also, choose fun facts that are age appropriate.  My 5 year olds don't understand large numbers, weight, distance, speed, time (they don't even understand what hurry up means... *eyeroll*).  So if I tell them that one million Earths could fit inside the sun (which is a fun fact), they won't get it.  Or that it takes 8 minutes for light to travel from Sun to Earth; they won't get it.  But if your kids are older and understand, then there are so many fun facts in so many categories (human body, science, animals, birds, planets, and so on), that even if you have one fact for each day you will have plenty for the entire year.  You can get a book of thousands of facts, something like this 5000 Awesome Facts (National Geographic Kids)  Here's a small list of fun facts for kids that I googled up from various websites and saved on my phone:

- Kangaroos can not walk backwards
- It is impossible for most people to lick their own elbow
- A crocodile cannot stick its tongue out
- Cows and horses sleep while standing up
- Shrimps hearts are in their heads
- An ostrich's eye is bigger than its whole brain
- Human teeth are as strong as shark teeth
- You can not talk and inhale or exhale at the same time
- Your heart is about the same size as your fist
- Jellyfish is not fish. It has no brain, no heart, and no bones
- Like fingerprints, everyone's tongue print is different
- Baby koalas are fed poo by their parents after they are born, this helps them digest Eucalyptus leaves later in life
- Ostriches can run faster than horses, and male ostriches can roar like lions
- Pineapples take 2 years to grow
- Strawberry is the only fruit whose seed grows on the outside
- A female seahorse lets her husband store her babies inside his stomach
- Octopuses have three hearts
- Squirrels plant more trees than an average human in their lifetime! How? They just hide their acorns and nuts underground and forget about them
- Bees visit about five million flowers to make one average-size jar of honey
- Snails take the longest naps, sometimes as long as 3 years

10. Keep It Simple
Sometimes it takes just a simple Hi! with a smile, or a high-five, or a fist bump, or my favorite "Hi, I'm so happy to see you".  How would you feel if someone tells you they are happy to see you?  It feels so warm even for an adult to say or hear "I'm so happy to see you!"

+1 Bonus: Breathe. Calm Down!
When you calm down, it makes it much easier to avoid an after-school meltdown, or to deal with a tantrum.

All these strategies to prevent an after-school restraint collapse is not to distract kids from expressing their emotions just because I don't want a tantrum.  If there are days they are feeling sentimental, I'll let them feel free to let it out.  All feelings and emotions are valid and we talk about it.  But having some ideas ready with me helps me handle them better and not give meltdown a chance...at least not until we reach home.

Because then, I prepare myself for some more strategies to keep the kids happy as I have my 5th cup of coffee midday.

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