Your preschool or kindergarten-age child may sail through the school day. But when he comes home, he’s sometimes downright uncooperative and tests your patience. What’s going on? Educators and psychologists say this about-face is perfectly normal. A young child who has worked hard all day to pay attention, listen to the teacher, get along with peers and master new skills may need to simply let down when he comes home.
How can you help him ease back into his home routine? Try these tips culled from educators and child development experts:
• Don’t expect a conversation. Just because your child goes to school, she’s still emotionally very young. Her verbal skills may not be advanced enough for her to tell you how she’s feeling about something that happened in school or the difficulty of making the transition from classroom to home. A 3- or 4-year-old probably can’t tell you why she’s cranky.
• Be patient. Young children often take a few steps back before they take a big developmental step forward. If they’re on the brink of learning a new skill – mastering the alphabet, for example – they may seem moody or crabby while they put all the pieces together in their brains. Understand that this can happen and look for the positive changes that follow a few tricky days.
• Serve healthy snacks. Don’t load your child up with sugary treats after school; it can lead to irritability. Set out carrot sticks and hummus, corn chips and salsa, cut-up fruit, nuts or yogurt, or make a smoothie with yogurt and fruit.
• Encourage down time. Picking your child up from preschool or kindergarten and taking him directly to the mall could set the stage for a major meltdown. Whenever possible, let your child spend some quiet time at home before putting him in the middle of a shopping trip, a play date or an extracurricular activity.
• Get outdoors. Exercise and fresh air are great stress reducers for all ages. After school, take your child out for a stroll, walk the dog together, go to the playground, or find a game that you can play in the backyard.
• Be consistent. Preschool and kindergarten are all about learning rules. Ask your child to tell you about the rules he’s learning, and enforce them at home. If, for example, he isn’t allowed to interrupt when others are speaking, don’t allow him to do this around the dinner table or when you are on the phone.
• Get to know the teacher. Aside from scheduled parent/ teacher conferences, talk to your child’s teacher about any concerns you have and to clue the educator in to things happening at home that could affect your child’s behavior.
Check in with the teacher to get the whole story about something that has upset your child.
Above all, realize that your child is most comfortable with you and that letting off steam or acting out because of fatigue, stress or irritability is a sign of that comfort. While the above strategies won’t head off every meltdown, they will ease the way to a more balanced day.
Updated August 2012