All About Kids

Kids Melting Down After School? It’s Called After-School Restraint Collapse

When our kids cry or are more irritable after school, it’s called an “after-school restraint collapse.”

Schools train our kids to handle eight hours of learning so they can handle an 8-hour workday. But as adults, many of us struggle. What more kids? They’re little people who have been juggling the expectations of teachers and their peers, so it shouldn’t be a shock to us when they have meltdowns once they get home. Their meltdowns have a name. It’s called an “After-School Restraint Collapse.”

Adults also have something similar called the “After-Work Jerk Syndrome.”

What is “After-School Restraint Collapse”?

Coined by counselor and parenting expert Andrea Loewen Nair, After-School Restraint Collapse is when kids lose their emotional self-control after school. They become more irritable, angry, and even have more crying spells. Just like adults who spend 8 hours dealing with many expectations at work, kids need to settle and calm down, too. It’s unrealistic to expect kids to be calm coming home after 8 hours of school when we spent 8 hours at work and come out huffing and puffing.

A kid at school
Photo by Mikhail Nilov

Ways Kids Melt Down after School

Every kid has their own way of expressing they’re tired from school (Graham et. al, 2011). But some are more common depending on how old they are. After-School Restraint Collapse is not something easily communicated but it’s easily noticed. If it has been a long day in school, here are some ways that kids will express After-School Restraint Collapse:

  • Toddlers and Kids (3-6 years old) – Toddlers express after-school restraint collapse through both physical and emotional states. They can either be screaming and howling or, complaining of a stomach ache. Most of the time when toddlers are tired, they usually complain of a painful tummy. Another is that their gait or way of walking gets wobbly.
  • Pre-Teens and Tweens (7-12 tears old) – Although pre-teens have a wider vocabulary than toddlers, the way they express after-school collapse restraint is more silent or they do so just in one word. Sometimes, they will plop down on the car seat, drop their head in the back and snore. Or, some of them may just fluff up their jackets into pillows. Others will complain about being hungry.
  • Teens (13-17 years old) – As they get older, that doesn’t mean their meltdowns get easier to deal with. Teens, especially with all the hormones and their brains still developing, get extra angsty and start grumbling, sulking, or becoming sarcastic. It’s hard to keep our tempers when they answer back, but sometimes, school just drains so much from them. We have to remember: they’re in High School — and that has more drama (sometimes) than a K-Drama or a Filipino telenovela!

Why do these collapses happen?

As kids grow into teens, their pre-frontal cortex (the part of the brain responsible for decision-making) is still developing, whereas some other parts mature ahead. Coupled with loud sounds, human contact, and big emotions, hormones are the last thing anyone needs when they’re trying to process everything else. We’ve heard ourselves complain and groan about needing a vacation after a messy fight in the office. Kids have it, too. And although it seems so simple for us to solve, it’s not for them. Their brains are still developing, after all.

A kid studying
Photo by Annushka Ahuja

How to ease the after-school restraint collapse:

Unfortunately, the best way to deal with after-school restraint collapse is to ease it out. Here are ways you can help ease the after-school restraint collapse:

1. Recognize that your kids are not out to irritate you.

When kids melt into a hot mess after school, we have to stop ourselves from thinking that they’re out to irritate us on purpose by melting down. Instead, we need to recognize that our kids are melting down at home because they’ve reached a space where they feel safe enough to express all the stress. Once we keep that thought in mind, it’ll be easier to come up with ways to ease the after-school restraint collapse.

2. Give them some space.

When teens storm off to their room, it’s not because they’re mad at you. It’s because they need a break from all the people they’ve had to deal with in school. We don’t know what happens in their high school lives. They could be their barkada’s mom friend, they can be a friend’s wingman or even the leader of a research group. Worse, they can even be all three at the same time.

3. Don’t shame them for trying to destress.

Everyone has a way of de-stressing. Some get budol-ed by online shopping, others play video games for a few more hours than we’re comfortable with, and some even stress-eat via ordering through food delivery or just consuming leftovers out of the fridge. Coping mechanisms for stress have two categories: maladaptive and adaptive. Maladaptive means that it hurts them more than it helps so, these are coping mechanisms like heavy drinking, smoking, and even engaging in life-endangering activities.

4. When they meltdown, make sure they know that you love all of them.

People often hide their emotions because there’s this need to please people by proving their resilience. Crying has been shamed, but that’s not something that extends all the way to the home. Kids go home and try to find a safe space to express themselves. They don’t need another place that demands they walk on eggshells.

5. Allow them leeway for their after-school programs.

We want our kids to always be ahead of their classmates. So we enroll them in all these tutorials and classes. But that’s sometimes the reason they suffer after-school restraint collapse. With all the physical and mental energy spent, it’s no surprise they have meltdowns at home (Arons, 1981; Halpern, 2002). If they have it more often, maybe it’s time to reconsider some of those after-school programs.

After-School Restraint Collapse
Photo by Anna Shvets

There’s nothing malicious about after-school restraint collapse!

It may feel that kids are trying our patience when they become a hot mess after school because it’s easy to forget that they had to deal with almost 20-30 people for the next 8 hours along with their academic requirements. Just like how there are days we want to go crawl into a dark corner and sip a Merlot to de-stress, we need to create that same safe space for our kids so that it’ll be easier to deal with the after-school restraint collapse.


Arons, S. (1981). Public School Meltdown.

Bennett, D. D. (2014). Decreasing tantrum/meltdown behaviors of school children with high functioning autism through parent training.

Driver, R., Squires, A., Rushworth, P., & Wood-Robinson, V. (2014). Making sense of secondary science: Research into children’s ideas. Routledge.

Graham, A., Phelps, R., Maddison, C., & Fitzgerald, R. (2011). Supporting children’s mental health in schools: Teacher views. Teachers and Teaching17(4), 479-496.

Gusafson, K. (2018). Comment on: The Difference Between a Tantrum and an Autistic Meltdown. Making Knowledge Public.

Halpern, R. (2002). A different kind of child development institution: The history of after-school programs for low-income children. Teachers College Record104(2), 178-211.

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