Is Your Child’s Behaviour Difficult After School?

Written by Dr Lucy Russell DClinPsyc CPsychol AFBPsS
Dr Lucy Russell Founder of They Are The Future
Author: Dr Lucy Russell

Is your Child’s behaviour difficult after school?

Perhaps this is having a serious impact on you, or the rest of the family. I’ve been there. And I’ve learned a few lessons along the way.

It’s also a very common concern amongst our families who come to Everlief, my clinic.

Immediate Mood Flips or Treading on Eggshells?

Ever noticed that after a long day at school, your child’s behaviour suddenly becomes unpredictable?

Children have an innate capacity to maintain a controlled demeanor throughout their school day, abiding by the rules and expectations of the educational environment.

However, the moment they are back in the safety of your presence, their mood seems to take a drastic turn.

If you’ve been questioning why this happens, you’ll find answers in this article I wrote recently about the reasons why children act differently at school.

child lying on floor stressed unhappy

The transformation isn’t always immediate.

Occasionally, it unfolds subtly during the car ride or the walk home from school. You might notice an unexpected squabble ensue between siblings or a spontaneous, minor physical altercation.

These subtle mood flips could be indicative of your child’s pent-up emotions, ready to burst the moment they’re out of the highly structured school environment..

In the ensuing moments, parents often find themselves metaphorically treading on eggshells, particularly during that initial hour after arriving home.

The family home becomes an emotional battlefield.

The mere suggestion of carrying out basic responsibilities like hanging up their coats or emptying lunch boxes might trigger an outburst.

Understanding your child’s behaviour is crucial in successfully navigating their post-school emotional landscape.

dad and young son reading together on a sofa

Take a Step Back

Very often, the emotional turbulence your child experiences post-school is caused by their “stress cup” overflowing.

If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of a “stress cup,” don’t worry. This article about stress and stress cups explains.

Picture their stress as water filling a cup; when the cup is full, any additional droplets – such as direct demands or confrontations – will cause it to overflow, leading to a surge in anger and problematic behaviour.

Understanding this dynamic is critical in managing your child’s emotions effectively, and I’d like to share some of my top strategies for handling these situations.

Is your child's behaviour difficult after school?

What To Do When Your Child’s Behaviour is Difficult After School

1. Be Ready

Brace yourself, as you are on the cusp of an emotional tornado! To weather this storm, it’s essential to be in a tranquil state of mind.

This three minute body-scan meditation by Headspace will reduce stress, ground you and increase your self-compassion.

It will prepare you to receive and process your child’s emotions effectively.

2. Manage Blood Sugar

Keeping your child’s energy levels balanced is a crucial part of managing their post-school mood swings.

Always have a variety of snacks at hand.

Slow-release energy bars, bananas, dried fruits, nuts, and seeds are excellent options to keep their blood sugar levels steady and fend off any hunger-induced irritability.

3. Don’t Ask Questions

I know how tempting it is. The urge to inquire about your child’s day at school is understandably strong.

You’re eager to hear about their day, their social interactions, and their academic tasks.

However, the immediate post-school phase isn’t the right time for a barrage of questions. It’s best to give your child an hour-long breather before diving into these conversations.


4. Don’t Make Demands

Postpone any demands or requests for later, unless absolutely necessary. When it’s unavoidable, try to phrase it as a choice rather than an order.

For instance: “It’s a bit chilly for our walk home, would you like to put on your coat yourself or would you like me to help you?”

This approach reduces the feeling of pressure and gives your child a sense of control.

5. Calm Their Senses

If your child is overwhelmed, it indicates their brain is grappling to process everything.

It’s a signal to soothe their senses, which in turn will calm their nervous system and decrease the odds of meltdowns or challenging behaviour.

Consider creating a sensory box – a shoe box filled with items that your child finds comforting.

The contents will vary for each child, so it’s an adventure to discover what works best for your little one

child's behaviour difficult after school

6. Make a Plan

Let’s reduce the likelihood that your child is going to lose her cool after school in the future.

To preemptively manage the likelihood of post-school emotional outbursts, consider creating an after-school routine chart with your child.

This visual plan will guide your child through a sequence of calming activities, easing the transition from school to home and helping maintain a peaceful atmosphere.

a mum and daughter doing a painting craft activity together

You could also make a chart like this one and ask your child to fill it out, with your help. Use it to plan your after-school routine to keep everyone calm.

child's behaviour difficult after school

Summary: When Your Child’s Behaviour is Challenging After School

In this article, we’ve looked at why kids often seem moody or angry after school. This can be because their “stress cup” is full. When they’ve had all the stress they can handle, even small things can make them upset.

I’ve shared some ways you can help. These include getting yourself ready for a possible mood swing, giving your child healthy snacks, waiting to ask questions about their day, and trying not to make demands right away.

We also talked about ways to calm their senses and how to make a plan for after-school time.

With these steps, it’s possible to make the after-school period a lot calmer and happier for everyone.

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Dr Lucy Russell is a UK clinical psychologist who works with children and families. Her work involves both therapeutic support and autism assessments. She is the Clinical Director of Everlief Child Psychology, and also worked in the National Health Service for many years. In 2019 Lucy launched They Are The Future, a support website for parents of school-aged children.

Through TATF Lucy is passionate about giving practical, manageable strategies to parents and children who may otherwise struggle to find the support they need.

Lucy is a mum to two teenage children. She lives in Buckinghamshire with her husband, children, rescue dog and three rescue cats. She enjoys caravanning and outdoor living, singing and musical theatre.

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