I’ve been asked my advice this week on what to do if a child is having difficulties with their emotions and or behaviour when they get home from school.
In my experience, this is incredibly common. And it can happen for a number of reasons such a hunger and tiredness. But what happens if it’s becoming more of a problem?
For some children it may be that at school they have spent the day trying to concentrate, ‘fit in’ and keep their feelings hidden. Some children may have been (perhaps without realising) ‘masking’ their emotions at school (keeping them hidden). When they return home to, what is usually, a safe place, all these emotions and responses to the various things that have happened at school may be let out.
This can be really hard on both the parents and the child. But it’s important to remember they aren’t misbehaving, but instead they have likely spent 6 hours plus trying so hard (perhaps subconsciously) to hide how they feel and when they return home they are emotionally and mentally drained.
This can be why some parents notice their children are struggling at home, but are told by their teachers that they are ‘absolutely fine’ in school.
When parents hear this, they may be concerned that they are doing something wrong. Why are they seemingly happy at school but not at home?
Parents aren’t doing anything ‘wrong’, quite the opposite, the reality is that the child is probably feeling the most comfortable at home with their family and are finally able to express their feelings. They are in fact, perhaps not OK in school and more needs to be done to help them in the classroom.
This is not the schools fault either, they are likely to be unaware of the difference in behaviour at home until it’s brought to their attention.
As well as keeping their feelings hidden the child may also have found various parts of the school day overstimulating. It can be everything from the sensory stimulation of a scratchy uniform, to the fluorescent lights, bright displays on the walls, chairs scratching on the floor, chatter of their friends and food smells in the dinner hall. The combination of these throughout the day can build up to make things really difficult for the child.
So what can parents do to help?
– Don’t be cross with your child, they genuinely have no control over this. Instead, continue to show them love and support. Let them know it’s OK and that you love them unconditionally and are there to help.
– Food – Often giving children food as soon as they get home from school or even on the way back from school can be helpful (not sweets). It’s even harder to regulate emotions when children (and adults) are hungry.
– Sensory Play – for some children, sensory play activities after school can be calming. It can give them a relaxing way to process the day and find some calm. (There’s lots of Sensory play suggestions in my book here)
– Reduce pressure/expectations on them straight after school. Don’t bring out the homework, reading folder and spellings as soon as they get in. Let them relax, have some time to themselves if they need it, watch some TV, read a book, play with a football, have a bath. Help them to find ways to relax and decompress from the day. Be led by them. It may be that after school gymnastics is what they need to relax, or it may be some quiet time in their room is more helpful. Help them work out what they need.
– Try to find a relaxing place for them when they come home, free of noise and distractions. If this is what they need, try to find somewhere they can truly relax.
– Be emotionally present and available, if they need to talk to you. But don’t press them with lots of questions about their day.
– Speak to the school, their teacher and SENDCO (Special Educational Needs Coordinator) and explain what you are noticing after school.
– Together with school, try to work out, if there are any specific triggers during the school day. Is there something that is particuarly overstimulating for them in the lessons, in the dinner hall, the playground? Is there something that they are finding difficult to navigate at school? Friendships? Playtime? A certain subject? Work with your child and the school to try and find some solutions.
What advice would you give parents to help them support their child? Tell me in the comments?