How to beat the after school meltdowns

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

We've all been there – the after-school meltdown.

Your kids are tired, hungry and emotional and they let you know in a variety ways, but mainly by screaming.

And it's worse in the first weeks of each school term and the last weeks of each school term.

According to child and adolescent psychiatrist Steven Dickstein tantrums or meltdowns are a sign your child is struggling to regulate their emotions.

"The thing is, there's no such thing as tantrum disorder, or meltdown disorder," Dr Dickstein told the Child Mind Institute.

"Tantrums and meltdowns are like fevers – they can be triggered by so many different problems that we can't make them stop until we understand what's triggering them."

Sometimes if your child is having meltdowns on a regular basis it could be a sign that there's something deeper going on like anxiety, ADHD, learning problems, depression/irritability and sensory processing issues.

Other times it could be that they've have a bad day at school, they've put too much pressure on themselves to behave and learn, or the routine of long school days is leading to tiredness and stress.

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And it could simply be that they are hungry.

Leading paediatric dietitian, from Smartbite Nutrition Consulting, and mum of two kids, Karina Savage said meltdowns could be caused by a number of issues, namely exhaustion.

"Whilst exhaustion can come from a jam-packed day of stimulation, concentration and simply trying their best, nutrition can definitely influence a child's energy levels, level of tolerance and overall wellbeing," Ms Savage said.

"A slump in energy can definitely reduce their level of tolerance and whilst may not prevent meltdowns, may soften them.

"A good quality breakfast and healthy lunch box will provide them with longer lasting energy which will better sustain them." 

It's also important to make sure your child isn't dehydrated.

"Often thirst is confused with hunger, so yes fresh water is always encouraged together with a nutritious snack straight after school," she said.

"I would suggest wholesome foods including fresh fruit, yoghurt, cheese, nuts, hummous with vegetable sticks, grainy bread/toast with peanut butter, home-made healthy baked goods such as a wholemeal fruit muffin. 

"I would avoid white refined (often packaged) foods such as rice crackers, rice cakes, puffed potato sticks or crisps, white bread, cheese and bacon rolls, sweet biscuits or sweet cakes/buns."

For children heading straight out the door to after-school sport, and other extra curricular activities, it's vital they get an extra energy boost.

"Children that go straight to sport need to have access to a healthy snack that contains good quality (complex) carbohydrates which will help to 'top up' their fuel tank," she said.

"Good options include grainy bread or toast with peanut butter, fruit and yoghurt, healthy breakfast cereal with milk or yoghurt, homemade healthy baked goods such as date balls, banana bread and wholemeal muffins."

She also advises parents not to over feed their children, because that can have negative impacts on their health and wellbeing.

"Some children are certainly taller nowadays, and for those children their overall nutrition requirements will be greater," she said.

"Having said that, some children do overeat and it's very important that all children no matter what size learn to eat to appetite.

"Teaching children to eat mindfully and being more aware of their body's signs of hunger and fullness is an incredibly powerful way to set them up as competent eaters moving into adulthood."