Why Your Kid Turns Into A Monster When School Starts Back & What To Do About It

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School is back in session. Your kid has been making friends, and they seem to be enjoying their days in class. Everything is fine. Until they get home, and all Hades breaks loose. Whining and crying at every little thing.  

Why is your normally mild-mannered child beginning to resemble one of the raging brats that placed 2nd runner-up in an episode of Toddlers and Tiaras? It’s shocking when emotional outbursts and meltdowns rear their ugly head after you thought that phase of childhood was long gone.

Through my days ear-hustling on teacher gossip in the school workroom, and my many post-bedtime vent sessions with other moms, I have some ideas as to why back-to-school meltdowns occur, and how you can help bring your fallen angel back from the depths.

Have a Hearty Snack Waiting.

Hanger is a real thing, and I have personally been affected from this vicious syndrome. You become irrational. You say things you regret. You throw out all of your husband’s underwear, because if he can’t pick them up off the floor, HE DOESN’T DESERVE TO HAVE UNDERWEAR. This hangry behavior could have been prevented if only momma had been allowed to eat her breakfast. 

Your kid has gone from snacking on goldfish whenever the urge strikes, to no snacks at all. They now go 6 hours, consuming only a questionable school cafeteria meal, or a lunch box packed with love and healthy food you convinced yourself your child would eat. Spoiler Alert: They won’t. And, if you happen to have a social butterfly fluttering around, chances are they didn’t even touch their lunch because Katie rolled her eyes at Susie and then Susie got caught talking trash on Katie and now the whole social infrastructure of elementary school is breaking down. Who has time to eat with all the drama? 

At our house, when the school year is in full swing, we often switch dinner and snack. My kids eat a large hearty snack right after school, which seems to be their hungriest point of their day, and then they eat a small dinner later. This works great, because they would much rather have extra yogurt and granola at 3pm than whatever garbage dinner mom busted her rump to cook and serve her beloved family. But I’m not bitter. Feed your kids. Science has proven that 92% of problems with children can be fixed with a snack and some water. I made that up, but I’m holding strong that it’s a fact.

Remember, Sheer Exhaustion Has Set In. 

Going from the park to swimming to unending games of Minecraft is surely paradise to a kid. They have had all summer to do whatever the heck they want, within reason (See future post: My Kid Tried to Sell Leaves to Strangers on the Side of the Road // Alternate Title: Your Kid Will For Sure Get Kidnapped if You Turn Your Back For 2 Minutes.)

The kids are excited to get back to school, be with their friends, and indulge in that sweet rectangular cafeteria pizza, but it’s also really hard work to be on a schedule. When they aren’t snapping at their siblings out of meanness and exhaustion, they look like they are drunk on Benadryl and could fade away at any second. This may sound counter-intuitive, but whatever you do, don’t let them nap! Let them go to bed for the night at 6pm if they want to, but no napping. Afternoon naps lead to late nights, which lead to an overtired child being drug from their bed at 7am. Say it with me, naps are traps. (Unless of course, you have mandatory evening plans, or your kid is acting like they may need an exorcism, in which case let that baby sleep!)   

We also try to take a short break from piano lessons, tennis practice, and all the other activities we constantly have our children enrolled in to insure that we have absolutely no down time or semblance of sanity. It’s a fun game we play, but this time of year we give it a rest. School is a lot, and it’s okay for it to be the only thing your kids are committed to while you transition into a Fall family who has their ish together.

You, Dear Parent, May be Part of the Problem.        

As with most parenting dilemmas, the answer often lies with the HBIC, the head honcho, the (wo)man in the mirror. The Parent. We don’t have a lot of control over how our children act. (I am not one to question the Sovereign Creator of the universe, but why don’t we as parents have more power over these little people?) However, we do have control over how we react.

Take a deep breath, and choose not to go on this journey with them. Go hide in the closet for a few minutes if you need to. Just don’t let yourself get sucked into the trap of matching their energy. They don’t need a plus-one on their emotional roller coaster, but they do need a calm and collected momma waiting with a hug and maybe some advise when they are finished with their ride. Don’t yell because they are yelling. Don’t be frustrated because they are frustrated. Take a deep breath. Be a cool mom!

I imagine it is really tough on our children to go from so much summer freedom, to being told what to do and where to sit all day. It has to be a frustrating shock to their system. Combine this with all the other things going on that we might not even know about. New friend groups, being left out, feeling inadequate, not being sure if they will be able to keep up academically. Am I smart enough? Pretty enough? Kind enough? Cool enough? Am I enough? Our kids are going through a lot. Let's give them an extra helping of grace. Let's try to love them through the bad attitudes and the eye rolls. One day, we will look back and remember how little they were. We will remember the excitement of back-to-school, and the funny things they said and did. When we look back, we won't remember the meltdowns and the moments our head almost exploded from stress. We won't remember counting down the minutes until bedtime, when we could finally get the break we craved for hours. We will remember the hope, and newness, and the priceless moments we got to witness as our child started this new chapter. 

They have grown so much in a year, and they are about to learn and grow even more. I wish we could press pause for just a bit. Let's soak in how big they look in their backpack and how excited they are about their new pencil box. Let's take more time with the good parts, and coast through the bad. Let's hold off on the lectures and consequences for a few weeks. Let's give extra hugs, and cuddles, and down time. Let's allow space for the growing pains. Let's try our best to be a soft place for them to land as they figure out their new routine and their new role in getting older. Surely, it won't be like this for long.

Soon enough, everyone will be fully adjusted to the new school routine.

Before you know it, you will be able to blame your kid’s irrational behavior on Halloween-candy-hangover instead of back-to-school struggles. In the meantime, I hope my completely unqualified expert advice helps you to tame your emotional little monster.

But if not, I hear boarding school is more affordable than you might think.