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After School Restraint Collapse: It's science's way of validating your kid's arvo meltdown.

Parents, many of you know the drill.

You’ve picked up your darling cherub from school, and the second that car door closes, they ‘disappear’, morphing into a being which makes you wonder if they’ve suddenly been possessed by a demon.

You know I’m not exaggerating. Post-pick up behaviour can go from zero to Dear God what fresh hell is this in a second.

We tried to imagine what the world would look like if adults acted like children… it wasn’t pretty. Post continues below.

Video by MMC

From younger kids, there’s tears, screaming, back-of-the-seat kicking… or, almost worse, from the older ones: deathly silence and/or angry grunting.

As you drive home, fondly remembering the time they were infants and couldn’t speak, or daydreaming about ditching them ‘for five minutes’ on the side of the road, you wonder why this happens almost daily, and what you can do to help.

Well, we have some answers for you.

Your child might be experiencing After-School Restraint Collapse.

The term was coined by Canadian psychologist and parenting educator Andrea Loewen Nair in 2016. In an article which has since gone viral, Nair wrote that After-School Restraint Collapse (ASRC) is a real thing in many families – and more importantly, that it’s manageable.

Hurrah!

Nair explains how ASRC happens:

“It takes a great deal of energy, mental motivation, emotional containment, and physical restraint to keep ourselves at our best while at work, or school, for other people.

“You conduct, orchestrate, produce, think, smile, keep things in your inside brain that you wish you could say out loud.

“After we’ve done that all day, we get to the point where we just don’t have the energy to keep this restraint, and it feels like a big bubble that needs to burst.”

Even adults can relate to that – but Nair adds the difference is we are (supposedly) more mature when it comes to dealing with those overwhelming feelings than our children.

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Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Raji Guterres, from Joben House in Adelaide, agrees that ASRC is real.

“It’s true, kids hold it together until they get to a safe space to let it all go,” she tells Mamamia.

“School can be hard on children.

“They are asked to suppress their biological needs (for example, waiting for the right time to use the bathroom), there’s a lack of autonomy – eat when told, exert energy when told, abide by rules that do not make sense to them.

“They are often expected to conform and not allowed to be themselves. That’s just what happens at school, but it doesn’t mean it’s not taxing, especially on younger children.”

And the result of all of that?

“It’s natural that when they’re then with a parent, they regress to some extent because they want to be looked after,” Dr Guterres explains.

How you can help your child if they have ASRC

Nair recommends things you can do to help your kid through an episode of ASRC, and maybe even prevent it from happening:

1. Reconnect positively.

“Try a hug and a smile”, Nair suggests. Don’t ask even innocent questions such as ‘how was your day’, immediately. And don’t talk about homework until later!

2. Create space.

Nair recommends minimal conversation for as long as your child needs. “This isn’t the time for big conversations.”

3. Feed them.

Nair says to offer food, and let them take what they need – with water, too. But don’t preface feeding with a conversation about choice, as it can quickly turn into a battle of wills if your child is at emotional capacity.

4. Reduce household clutter and noise.

Ensure an environment with as little external stimulation as possible during the after-school period, Nair says. While a child is decompressing, don’t for example decide to vacuum the house.

5. Provide decompression time.

Nair says not to force conversation, and to let your child talk when they’re ready. She also suggests using play time together as a chance to help natural conversation.

These suggestions – especially the one about not talking – could be a struggle for some parents, who just want to know about their child’s day. But if we want to help manage the ASRC, we have to try it in our own ways.

With my 12-year-old son, who’s at the ‘no talking in the car’ stage, I’ve found it difficult not to talk at all – so what I do is talk about myself.

Luckily, that comes very naturally to me.

It tends to warm him up a bit; he can listen to me prattle on about my day, rather than me demanding anything from him.

Another thing we do is Friday Night Fight Club – where my son and I tackle each other in play-fighting at home. It’s physical, and funny, and helps my kid exert some pent-up energy. It’s so effective, we do it most nights.

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friday night fight club
Image: Supplied.

Another way my kid decompresses is with device time. He has a set 30 mins when he can just be – completely vegging out. If you think about it, a lot of us adults feel like we need to visit our usual sites and just sit with something familiar at the end of the day – and kids are no different.

My last tip for either the car or at home is to put on some music, because it’s true what they say: it soothes the savage beast.

How you can help yourself.

Remember Robin Williams in that famous scene with Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting and repeat the mantra, “It’s not your fault.”

In the midst of an ASRC, say that to yourself, so you don’t feel like it’s a failed parenting moment, and say it to your kid, too. Because now you know they are simply responding naturally to the end of their emotionally exhausting day.

The other thing to consider is that at least you, and their car/home, are a ‘safe space’ where your child feels they can have a release. Don’t undervalue the importance of that.

And lastly – keep in mind that Brenda next door is probably going through the very same thing at that very moment.

You are definitely not alone, my friends.

Nama Winston has had a legal career (paid), and a parenting career (unpaid). She uses her past experience as a lawyer to discuss everything from politics, to parenting. You can follow her on Instagram: @namawinston and Facebook: @NamaWinston.


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