The end of summer is approaching and many of our kiddos are heading back to school (at least, here in Canada). This time every year I like to talk about the experience MANY of us have with our little ones. Getting home from school is often accompanied by an unexpected wave of exhaustion and irritability, commonly referred to as the "after-school crash." It can be draining for both the kids AND the parents., especially at the beginning of the year. So let's explore why this happens and some tools to help support our kids.
The Masking Effect: A Hidden Struggle Imagine spending several hours each day trying to uphold a certain image or behavior. Now imagine doing this while sitting in a classroom, surrounded by peers, teachers, and social dynamics. Welcome to the daily life of many school-age children. They often find themselves "masking," or hiding their true emotions and reactions, in order to fit in, avoid conflict, or meet the expectations set by educators and classmates.
This act of masking is particularly pronounced in environments like school, where kids are required to sit still, pay attention, and adhere to specific rules. From raising their hands to speak to suppressing their natural impulses, children are frequently suppressing their authentic selves in favor of conformity. As a result, their emotional energy becomes depleted, leading to what experts are now calling the after-school crash.
The Emotional Toll of Masking While masking might seem like a harmless coping mechanism, it can have significant emotional consequences for children. Just as adults experience fatigue after a day of putting on a professional face at work, kids feel drained after constantly curbing their natural behaviors and emotions. This suppression can lead to feelings of anxiety, frustration, and even resentment, which tend to emerge when the pressure is finally released.
Moreover, the disconnect between their true selves and the personas they present can cause confusion and stress, impacting their self-esteem and overall mental health. Imagine trying to balance being studious, social, and composed all day long—it's a daunting task even for adults, let alone young minds that are still developing a sense of self.
What can you do?
Recognizing the challenges that come with masking in school is the first step towards supporting your kiddo. If they are melting down at home, that means it is a space where they feel safe to express what they're feeling. Here are some tools that can help everyone during the school to home transition.
Setting up Safe Spaces: If we know the meltdown will happen, consider ahead of time things that you can do to help make the transition easier. Perhaps this means having snacks, water and a comfortable place to sit. Perhaps this means setting up a sensory-friendly space they can escape to immediately after school. For more physical kids, having a punching bag ready can help with the release.
Gentle Activities: It can be extremely helpful to have an after-school routine that includes time for kiddos to decompress and transition from their school personas to their authentic selves. Activities like screen time, free play, journaling, or engaging in hobbies can provide a healthy outlet for their suppressed emotions.
Open Communication: Ask your kiddos what they need after school. Do they want to talk? Do they want to be left alone? Granted, this is harder with younger grades, but can help your child to feel seen, heard and validated.
Let it Happen: The meltdown isn't a bad thing. If anything, it's important for your child to be safe to express themselves in a safe place. It can be absolutely exhausting for everyone involved, but giving our kiddos a place to "let it all out" can be CRUCIAL to their emotional development.
In conclusion, the after-school "crash" experienced by many kids is a clear signal that they are likely masking at school, and withholding their emotions until they get home from school. However, by implementing strategies to support our little (or big) ones to feel seen, heard and taken care of, can make a world of difference.
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"The After-School Restraint Collapse: Why the Meltdowns?"Link: https://www.friendshipcircle.org/blog/2012/04/04/the-after-school-restraint-collapse-why-the-meltdowns/Description: This article explores the concept of the after-school restraint collapse and discusses why kids often have meltdowns after holding themselves together throughout the school day.
"The Impact of Masking for Autistic Individuals"Link: https://neuroclastic.com/2020/06/19/the-impact-of-masking-for-autistic-individuals/Description: This article sheds light on the concept of masking, particularly in the context of autistic individuals. It discusses the toll that masking can take on mental health and well-being.
"The Cost of Conformity: The Impact of Masking in Schools"Link: https://www.edutopia.org/article/cost-conformity-impact-masking-schoolsDescription: This Edutopia article examines the effects of masking in school environments, providing insights into the emotional toll it can have on students and suggesting strategies for teachers to promote authenticity.
"Autistic Burnout: The Cost of Masking and Passing"Link: https://theaspergian.com/2019/05/05/autistic-burnout-the-cost-of-masking-and-passing/Description: This article delves into the concept of autistic burnout caused by masking and passing behaviors, providing an in-depth look at the detrimental effects on mental and emotional well-being.
"The Dangers of Emotional Masking: Why You Need to Be Yourself"Link: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/cutting-edge-leadership/201206/the-dangers-emotional-masking-why-you-need-be-yourselfDescription: While not focused solely on children, this Psychology Today article discusses the broader concept of emotional masking and its negative impact on mental health and relationships.
"Teaching Kids to Embrace Their Authentic Selves"Link: https://www.parents.com/kids/development/social/teaching-kids-to-embrace-their-authentic-selves/Description: This Parents.com article provides practical tips for parents on helping their children embrace their authentic selves, both at home and in school.
These resources offer a range of perspectives on the after-school "crash" phenomenon and the impact of masking on children's well-being. They delve into the emotional, psychological, and social aspects of the issue, providing valuable insights for parents, educators, and anyone interested in supporting children's mental health and authenticity.
I have used AI assistance to craft this post, incorporating my own thoughts and voice. The tools and strategies mentioned are ones that I genuinely use and have thoroughly vetted.
The information provided in this blog post is accurate and up to date at the time of publishing. It is essential to recognize that research in the field of ADHD, Autism, and other forms of Neurodivergence is continuously evolving, and new insights may emerge over time.
Please bear in mind that the content of this post is not intended to serve as a diagnostic tool. It is purely for informational purposes and should not be considered a substitute for professional medical advice or consultation. If you suspect or are living with ADHD, Autism, or any other form of Neurodivergence, I strongly urge you to seek guidance from a trained medical professional or qualified healthcare provider who can provide a proper evaluation and personalized recommendations based on your individual circumstances.
Every individual's situation is unique, and the information presented here may not apply to everyone. Therefore, I strongly encourage you to consult with a medical professional or trusted healthcare provider for accurate diagnosis, guidance, and tailored support. Your well-being is of utmost importance, and seeking expert advice is crucial to ensure you receive the best care and support for your specific needs.