How we handled after-school restraint collapse.


When my kids were in kindergarten and 1st grade, we noticed that they were completely exhausted by Thursday night during the school year – for a few years we even avoided extracurricular activities on Thursdays, because we knew they were too tired to do much.

As they have gotten older, we realized that we had to be open to Thursday extracurriculars, so we needed to find ways for them to decompress during the week.  This was around the same time that I started hearing more about restraint collapse.

Restraint collapse is the idea that they spend so much of the day holding it together, that when they get home, they kind of “collapse” into temporary dis-regulation.  Initially, I thought this was kind of a “hokey” idea, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense.  When we get home from work, we usually need a little time to decompress before we jump into our evening… why should it be any different for them?  Most kids are gone for 8+ hours a day for school once we figure in transportation, which isn’t so different from our days of work, and they often have extra work to do in the evening – imagine if you worked all day, then came home and had additional work from your job to do 4-5 nights a week, and it was this way for many years?  When you reframe your thinking, it’s easier to understand why they might experience this.

We now do the following when they get home from school to help with this.

  1. I greet them with a big hug and a smile.  Yes, I know this sounds cheesy, but my now 7th and 6th graders run into my office each day when they get home and I am literally waiting with my arms wide open for their hugs.  We chat for a moment about their day before I get back to work.
  2. Aside from putting away their backpacks and lunch bags, I don’t ask them to do chores right away.  I want them to relax – not jump right into the next thing.  This also means I don’t ask them to do their homework right away, unless we need to.
  3. They have a snack of their own choosing and they have about an hour of free time before my husband gets home and we transition to our evening.

Since we have started doing this, I have seen an improvement in our evenings…. Even those dreaded Thursdays.

Understanding that many kids attend after-school programs or daycare and may not get home until the 10-hour mark, you could adapt this to work for your family – maybe just 20 minutes of downtime while dinner is being prepared or whatever works for your family.  I feel like just acknowledging that they need this time and having a conversation about accommodating it is a great first step.

Check out back-to-school meal planning tips here.

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