Q: My child is a model student. The teacher said he participates very well in class, does all his work and is well liked by the other kids. He never has any discipline problems and all his teachers have loved working with him. However, within minutes of coming home after school he has a total meltdown, usually over something very trivial like a book that was moved from one table to another. He is not like this on weekends, only on school days. Why does he meltdown like this after school?
A: He is probably overstimulated at school. This is a very common issue with our kids. They hold it together really well but as soon as they are in a safe place, they let it all out. Have you ever had him checked for sensory issues? There may be something throughout the school day that is causing the overstimulation, and often it comes from sensory overload due to sensory processing issues.
You might also ask him what bothers him at school. Is it noise, or fear of not being able to keep up, or are there too many people? Maybe the lights in the classroom bug him. Sometimes the kids are just exhausted working so hard because of there disability. For example, kids with auditory processing problems are often exhausted when they come home from school because they have to work so hard to keep up with what everybody is saying. Even during recess and lunch they have to work hard to understand everybody.
How to help your child with after school meltdowns.
- Knowing what bugs him at school can give a clue to where the issue is. If noise is a problem, you can get him earplug filters (musician’s earplugs like Earasers) which aren’t noticeable but could cut down on the overstimulation. I would help him try and reduce the issues at school so he doesn’t come home so overwrought.
- Teach him to take breaks in school. If he has an IEP or 504, get breaks written into the accommodation section. This can help with the sense of overwhelm and minimize the after school eruptions. If you explain to him why the sense of overwhelm happens, he is more apt to ask for the support he needs in school in order to minimize it. Also teach him the signs that lead up to an impending meltdown.
- Help him regroup after school. If you do something for him after school to help him ‘come down’ from the overstimulation, that might help with the meltdowns. If he knows he will get a chance to calm down after school, that also might help him self-soothe after the over stimulation.One of my kids used to come home overstimulated from the excess noise at school. When he came home he would go straight into his room for about an hour. We knew not to disturb him during that time. Sometimes he would out and go to the garage to punch on his punching bag, but usually he would build stuff or read or do something quiet. When he emerged we knew he was ready for interaction. He did this for years before we resolved his noise sensitivity, and it really helped a lot.
- Do not overschedule him. It’s important that he have plenty of quiet time to regroup and ground. If he is doing sports, Scouts or a lot of other after school activities, the overstimulation continues. This can lead to massive meltdowns that can cause physical harm or an overwhelming sense of fear. Be very conscious of how much you ask him to do and participate in. Gradually work up to a busier schedule knowing that some days it will be harder than others.
- Make sure he knows you support him. It can be scary for a child who feels out of control of his feelings. Reassure him that you understand why he is emotional, and remind him you are are there to help if he asks.
So really the key here is try to figure out what is causing the problems at school and see if there is a way to help the overstimulation. Then, create a habit for after school that gives your child time to calm down and regroup. Being proactive and doing this daily will help reduce the meltdowns at home.