Curing the After School Blues

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grumpy boy

It’s 3:30 p.m., and my second grader is on the floor crying because I asked him if he liked his snack. (I think maybe he didn’t like his snack.)

Back-to-school time has come and gone, and we are officially in the swing of things. The school year is no longer shiny and new and exciting. The pencils are dull; the crayons are broken. The new clothes have been through a cycle in the laundry. The homework. The folder signing. Packing lunches. PTA functions. Calendar juggling.

I’m exhausted. My kid is exhausted. And he’s still on the floor crying.

The beginning of the school year brings with it a new season of moodiness, and grumpiness, and all around unpleasantness in our once joyful, exuberant kids. The witching hour of babyhood returns with a vengeance once children reach elementary school.

What can we we do to ease into evenings and make our afternoons just a bit less . . . cranky?

Keep Quiet

During the school day, kids are continuously stimulated. They are ushered from activity to activity. It’s busy, and noisy, and fast paced, and demanding. Sometimes, the very last thing an over stimulated child wants is to be immediately peppered with questions when he or she gets in the car at the pick-up line. Our well meaning inquiries — What did you do today? How was your lunch? Who did you play with? Do you have homework? — can be overwhelming and frustrating. Instead, try a cheerful hello followed by a quiet ride home. A little quiet music and some free time with her own thoughts may be just the down time your child needs to decompress.

Feed the Beast

Kids have tiny tummies and speedy metabolisms. Even if dinner is just a little while away, a small snack can do big things to improve a mood quickly. We all feel better when we’re well fed. And, who doesn’t love cookies and milk?

Hit the Hay

Kids need a lot of sleep – significantly more than grown ups. It can be hard to get them to bed on time, especially in the late summer months when we are heading back to school because it is still so sunny at bedtime. If your evenings are consistently unpleasant, perhaps consider an earlier bedtime. A little more sleep can make a big difference in our ability to function – and be nice to our parents. If your child is having trouble adjusting to an earlier bedtime after a summer of late night shenanigans, you might try blackout curtains or a little fan for some white noise. You might even talk with your doctor about the magic of melatonin.

Choose Your Choice

Little kids want to feel like big kids. They seek out bits of independence, and sometimes during the school day, they have very few choices. They are told when to eat, when to go to the bathroom, whom to sit with, whom to work with, when to talk, when not to talk. We can give our children just a little of their power back. Try asking, “Would you like to do your homework now or in 15 minutes?” “Would you like carrots or apples for a snack?” You get to decide what the options are – but the kids get to decide which one to choose. You might find that when your child has a little more control over his day, his mood might be just a little bit more even.

Stick to the Schedule

Predictability and consistency can head off significant behavior problems. If children have clear expectations and a consistent routine, if they know what to expect, it eases anxiety and makes even frustrating tasks more manageable. Set an after-school schedule. Make it visual. It can be as simple as: Step 1, Step 2, Step 3. Timers, checklists, and routines are very effective tools in your child’s classroom. There is no reason you can’t borrow one or two of these ideas from “the experts” and put them to good use in your home. You might even let your child help decide on the schedule, fulfilling her developing need for autonomy.

And, sweet Momma, know that this too shall pass. This school year will speed by in the blink of an eye just like the last one did. If tonight is just more than you can manage, order a pizza, turn on the TV, and pour a glass of wine or grab a handful of m&m’s. Or both. You deserve it. Give your kid one too. Kiss him on the face and tell him you love him, even when he’s on the floor.

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