By Isabell Fisher – co-founder of Little Hands Learning
Before my son started school, I had images of picking him up from school, getting a huge cuddle and spending the afternoon chatting about what he had learnt that day… Our reality couldn’t be more different! On a good day, I may get a grunt when I pick him up. My sweet, happy, easy-going little boy turns into the Incredible Hulk after school and I have a huge target on my back!
But I know I am not the only one. From talking to other parents and carers, the majority of children at the end of the school day turn into monsters. To be honest, it’s not surprising, since nursery and school are full on. All day our children have been following instructions, compromising with friends and their sensory systems have taken a battering. Remember how you feel after a long day at work!
So, these are top tips for taming your mini-Hulk.
I quickly learnt to give my son a snack as soon as he leaves school. The quicker I feed him, the better. He will often have a sandwich, a piece of fruit, crackers, flapjack whatever it takes to prevent his blood sugar levels hitting rock bottom.
Don’t bombard them with chatter
I always ask my son how his day was but unless he offers up more than a “fine” I leave it at that.
I also don’t ‘chat’ about my day because when I have had a long day at work I don’t want to listen to someone else’s chatter. Sometimes we all just need and want some quiet time to switch off and decompress from everything that has happened. I have found it is the same with my son. I have noticed that as he relaxes from his day at school, he slowly offers up more and more nuggets of information. I relish every one of these.
Give them space and time
When we first get back from school, my son does exactly what he wants; colouring, TV, running around the garden. Whatever will help him to start to unwind. I often find that after he’s had some time, he will want to do something together.
Give them control
From the moment our children wake up they have been told what to do. “Brush your teeth, eat your breakfast, sit on the carpet, eat this lunch…” So, give them some control back and allow them to be in charge of what they get up to after school.
At home we have a jar filled with lolly sticks and on each lolly stick I have included simple after-school activities that I know my son enjoys. So that when he is ready, he can choose an activity for us to do together (or separately if he prefers).
All of these activities are open-ended; they have no rules and there is no right or wrong way to interact with them. Now is not the time for handwriting, phonics or sums! They include:
Playing with playdough is a wonderful way to release tension and can calm stress away. Add cinnamon, rosemary, jasmine to your playdough to give the activity an extra calming element.
Water play is wonderfully open-ended and there is no right or wrong way to engage with it. It doesn’t need to be complicated. Simply fill a tray with water and add some jars and ladles and pour water from one jar to the other.
There is something really soothing about someone reading to you. Let them choose the book, cuddle up on the sofa together and escape to wherever the story is set.
Small world play is a wonderful way for children to act out and process any difficult situations that may have happened. So just put out some playdough and some figures and see where you both end up.
Getting some fresh air can help us all feel calmer and happier. If my son chooses to go for a walk after school, he will choose which direction we head in and will often return with our pockets full of various natural treasures.
Arts and crafts
My son enjoys arts and crafts after school and when his hands are distracted with drawing or crafting, he will often share more about his day. Doodling, colouring, painting with watercolours and cutting and sticking can all offer creative outlets to destress. However, my son will stop the activity and move away if I give him too much direction about what he is creating. The process is much more important than the end product!
Lastly and this is important!
Please remember not to take your child’s irritability personally. You will see the very worst of your children because you are their safe space and they know that you will love them no matter what. They are showing you how they feel through their behaviour because they love you. Remember you are the person that your children can show their vulnerability, frustration and anger to.
However, parents are human too and there will be times when my son is shouting and stomping his feet that I will be hiding in the fridge, desperately shoving chocolate (or wine) in my mouth whilst banging my head against the wall. So don’t beat yourself up if you too find yourself in the fridge from time to time!
About the expert
Isabell Fisher is co-founder of Little Hands Learning, an educational and eco-friendly subscription box for children aged three and over. Every month your child will receive an exciting gift in the post containing a beautiful book and everything needed for engaging and fun activities linked to the book.
The fun and meaningful activities are designed by teachers to focus on key areas of the National Curriculum. The curated books together with the activities help nurture healthy minds and encourage literacy skills, giving children the best start to their education. www.littlehandslearning.co.uk