Emptying the Emotional Backpack: What to do when children get home from school
This blog post was exclusively created for Kids & Company by Jenn Abatiello. Jenn is a certified parent coach, and founder of Your Transformed Family specializing in guiding families around the world to end frustration, guilt and chaos and to find more peace, calm and connection in parenting.
We all know the feeling of being exhausted after a long day. We can barely keep our eyes open, let alone be present for our children when they need us. But just like children need to empty their physical backpack at the end of each day, it’s important that we take time to help them empty out their emotional backpack too.
When children are in school they are holding it together. They may have very little control over things and this is especially hard for strong-willed children that have a high need for autonomy.
It is natural that when children come home at the end of a long school day they have lots of built-up emotional, mental and physical energy. They may release it in ways we may not like. Why? Because they feel safe with us. We are their safe harbor. Believe it or not, it is a compliment. But what can we do to ease the emptying of the emotional backpack?
Helping to ease after-school transition
- Model stress management: Ensure you have regulated yourself before picking up your children. This might be taking a few deep breaths to put the events of your day behind you, playing some of your favourite tunes on your walk or drive to pick-up. Get yourself in the right mindset to greet your child. We can’t support our child's big emotions if we don’t have a handle on our own.
- Be aware of the emotional backpack: Know that it’s natural for children to have lots of built-up emotional, mental and physical energy at the end of their day, and that they may release that energy in ways we may not like. Don’t take it personally if your child is having a hard time. Instead, shift your focus on supporting them to release that energy in a safe, positive way — which we’ll outline below.
- Use positive strategies to empty their emotional backpack: Getting your child to move their body, even in small ways, helps to shift any negative energy from the day and release endorphins.
- Do you have time for a stop at the park to have them move their body and shift the negative energy?
- Maybe you have an indoor or outdoor trampoline they can jump on
- Can you have your children run around the kitchen island doing laps?
- Have a dance party when you get home. Put on their favourite tunes and shake your booty
- Establishing or re-establishing routines: Many children take comfort in knowing what to expect. You can set up a chart for after school routines just as you might for a morning or bedtime routine. Routines help to remove a lot of the nagging and negative energy (that can also trigger us and result in yelling and feeling like we need to use threats or rewards to get cooperation).
- Find ways to connect: Once they have released some energy, find ways to connect and ask them about their day. It could be while snuggling and reading a book, while they help you prepare dinner or while they are soaking in the bath. Instead of asking a broad question like, “How was your day?”, this usually gets answers like, “Fine”, “ok.” Instead, ask a specific question, like, “What was your favourite part of the day?”, “Who did you play with?”, “What did you find hard about today?” It is in these moments of connection, when they feel safe and secure, that they will tell you what’s going on and you can help them process their feelings.
When we get home from school, children empty their actual backpack and lunch boxes, they get a snack and play outside for ~15-30min.
Then they help with dinner and after dinner, we start the bedtime routine.
While my 7-year-old is in the bath, he shares with me, “Mom, I miss you when I’m at school. I don’t want to go.” Children are feeling that separation, especially if they have been home with you more often. Though we both need the time apart, it is natural to miss each other. Don’t be dismissive of the feelings. It is important to empathize. You want to make your child feel seen and heard. So instead of, “I miss you too but you have to go to school.” Say something like, “I miss you too when you’re at school. I look forward to spending time together when you get back. Is there something special you want to do with me after school tomorrow?” Empathize and validate their feelings. They will move through them and learn they can get through them.
I hope you find these 5 tips helpful as you manage stress and emotions throughout the school year. If you are looking for more support, join me for a live workshop on March 22nd at 12pm EDT where we explore ways to get your child to listen. In the meantime, take care of yourself and remember to expect a release of emotions at the end of the day. Allow some time to chill and release energy in positive ways. Find moments when you can be fully present with your children and connect with them. Most importantly, be gentle with yourself. Know that you are doing the best that you can, in that moment.
Thank you for reading.