Oftentimes, after-school hours and times of transition can be extremely difficult for children, especially for children with sensory processing disorder (SPD). Children may often perform well throughout the school day, but then quickly meltdown after they get home. Meltdowns occur because the child will often take in a high amount of sensory experiences (e.g. noisy lunchroom) and has many demands placed on him/her throughout the school day. Once the school day is finished, the child is usually exhausted upon arriving at home, therefore, it is vital for parents to overly-prepare their children for what is expected of them after school (e.g. extracurricular activities, homework, bath time, relaxation time, and bedtime) so that the entire family can have a more positive end to the school and work day.
5 Ways To Prevent Meltdowns After School:
- Over exaggerate expectations: It may feel silly at first, but it is extremely beneficial to talk aloud with your child about
what is expected of him/her and what the day’s schedule will look like. This becomes even more important during the weekends when there is not as much structure within the day. Overall, children crave rules, directions, structure and routines, therefore, it is crucial for parents to be clear and consistent and provide fair and obtainable expectations for their children.
- Picture/visual schedule: These tools can be incredibly helpful for younger children and/or those children who are particularly visual learners. Picture/visual schedules help the child see what the schedule is (e.g. first snack, then homework, and last television time). Similarly, when one of the tasks is completed, the child can put an “X” through the task or remove it from the schedule (e.g. if it is Velcro). This provides the child with independence and a feeling of accomplishment. Ideally, this prevents the parents from having to ‘nag’ the child too frequently.
- Timer: Both visual timers and auditory timers can provide a child with structure and with a reasonable goal to work towards (e.g. We’re going to practice your spelling words for 15 minutes and when the timer goes off, you can take a 5-minute movement break before moving onto the next piece of homework). A timer helps the child know that there is an end in sight. Similarly, for older children, a timer can help them to become more independent with time management.
- Calendar/Assignment notebook: These tools can help promote responsibility and time management. In addition, they can also help provide a visual cue. Similarly, these tools can serve as a ‘to-do’ list and it can be a great motivator to cross something off of the ‘to-do’ list as it provides a sense of accomplishment and completion. Try making it a habit to look over your child’s calendar/assignment notebook with him/her each morning. This will help both of you stay on the same page and so that you may successfully plan ahead together. Ideally, this will instill good habits for the child down the road as well.
- Write a note: Who doesn’t love receiving a thoughtful note or card? Try leaving your child some encouragement throughout his/her week (e.g. Before her big math test tomorrow, leave her a note the morning before, near her spot at the breakfast table. Remind your child that you know he/she has a big test tomorrow and that you are happy to help her study tonight. In addition, remind her to just take one day at a time and encourage him/her to just try her best). Having a positive support system can help your child feel less pressure and less stress, even during difficult times.
Overall, structure and over-communication are the keys to your child’s reduction in meltdowns after getting home from a long school day. Keep in mind that even adults crave structure and consistency throughout the day. Feel free to ask your child which one of the strategies above would be most helpful for him/her- children are often more aware and knowledgeable than we usually give them credit for. In fact, they will most likely have input as to what works best for their body! Please reach out to an occupational therapist or behavior therapist if you require more individualized ideas for your own child regarding after-school meltdowns.