Managing afterschool meltdowns in a busy household
After school meltdowns in my house are quite common. To me I feel like the kids are holding it together throughout the day with all the pressures of schoolwork, paying attention, their appetite may be affected from either medication or anxiety and they have had to navigate social situations that cognitively they are not on the same level as their peers. We are their safe space as parents and often for this reason we seem to cop the extremes of the behaviour, where at school, if they are medicated, they are getting the premium version where they are focused and seem to be on best behaviour.
My children fly into the car at school pick up, talking over the top of one another, blurting out random facts about their day or sometimes crying and sobbing uncontrollably. Usually, these outbursts come on quick and disappear pretty quickly too leaving you feeling a bit emotionally drained and stunned with what on earth just happened. And it’s not even 3.30pm.
Next is the afterschool routine of emptying out their bags, lunchboxes and producing any homework notes or information passed on from the school. Firstly, they often forget they even have this information. Out of sight out of mind. Or secondly, its wet and crumpled or often downright missing and never made it home. Homework makes it home wrapped up in a protective sleeve or folder but at times it can be a challenge to get done. My 5-year-old is refusing to look at his home reader “I can’t even read Mum”. When we finally calm down enough to do the reading, we find he is actually a fantastic reader and reads really well. The book he brought home was all about someone called Tim looking in the mirror and Tim was fat. Not sure if fat is just easy to sound out or if I missed some hidden message but I do ponder why they have books encouraging kids to call themselves or each other fat. It’s not as if their young minds are impressionable or anything! But anyway, that’s another topic for another day!
When medication wears off in our house it suddenly gets really LOUD. It’s like someone gets a volume knob and turned it right up and everything gets a little crazier. Doors are left open and dogs escape leaving our neighbours to bring back 2 missing pug dogs that I didn’t even know had gotten out. Turns out when the door is left ajar this is what can happen, and the door was left open because one of the kids forgot something they left outside in the car. Then when the dogs are returned there is squeals of excitement, and suddenly they are being dressed up in elf costumes and the math's homework is lying on the table completely abandoned.
We ride this wave for the next couple of hours when finally, I decide again to scrap homework after school, after my whinge about teachers creating more work for me, and homework is making my life hard. I come up with an amazing new idea to do homework in the mornings after medication had kicked in and when they are feeling alert. Well, it’s not entirely new, its recycled really from last year when I remember this method worked well. That’s the thing about ADHD something could work really well and then one day it just doesn’t. This doesn’t mean it will never work again, it just needs to go into the recycled ideas pile, and we can retrieve it again at a later date. I call this on ice.
Afternoons are now spent packing their lunch for the next day, taking the dogs for a walk and playing doing something creative like lego or arts and craft. Once they have done this for a certain amount of time (i.e., until it becomes boring) then they get a chance to have their screen time. I also vote for lots of energy burning activities such as swimming in the pool, bouncing on the trampoline or riding their bikes.
The last thing I want to mention is how much my kids eat when they get home! It’s like they haven’t eaten all day. Which sometimes is true. Their lunchbox remains untouched but in the afternoon they spend this time filling up on what they haven’t eaten during the day. I used to think it would ruin their appetite for dinner but now I have accepted it and if I’m honest I wouldn’t know it any other way. Over time the meltdowns, the lack of appetite and then increased appetite at random times fade into the background. Often doing the opposite of what is expected seems most effective e.g., Homework straight after school vs in the morning before school. Traditionally you would think after school but in our family between the meltdowns, meds wearing off and hunger this is the least favourable time for them to sit down and concentrate.
The thing I love about ADHD is the flexibility and trialing new things. Routine is fantastic and while we crave it, we also get bored easily so need to find creative ways to keep things bright and shiny. I’m hoping to teach the kids to be adaptable to change, resilient and responsible and the key to this for us is flexibility.
Katie is a mother of 4 children and is also diagnosed with ADHD. She was diagnosed as an adult and has learnt so much from her children’s diagnosis that she wishes to share her stories in a hope to connect with other families in the same situation. We welcome Katie to the Peel ADHD Parent Support team as our monthly blog writer!