On After-School Meltdowns and Letting my Kid be the Boss

IMG_1209Last month there was a stretch of time when it seemed like every day that I picked Gavin up from preschool he was flipping his lid.  So much so that I started to dread pick up which then led to mom guilt for feeling dread.  What kind of mother gets in her car after a long day at the office, sighs, and thinks, oh sweet, sweet Jesus, please, PLEASE, PLEASE, just let him be his normal self today?!

I talked about this with my husband and I think we ended up blaming all the malarkey on “just being three.”  Not one to just throw my hands in the air and let things be how they are I was determined to make the meltdowns go away.  I’m not sure if any of you even know what I’m talking about, maybe my kid is the only kid who does this, I don’t know.  But, here’s what I do know and have learned over the past few weeks and want to share as it has improved home life 100%.

  • Give him a snack! Call me stupid, but I didn’t know this one.  I started really paying attention to what was happening from the time I got Gavin in the car to the time we arrived home from school.  On days when he didn’t ask me for a snack?  Grumps McGee. Normally, I carry treats in my (absurdly large) purse, animal crackers, fruit snacks, wheat thins, but I only gave them to him if he asked, because, well, I don’t know.  Now?  As soon as we are buckled in and ready to go I hand him a snack. Prevention, folks, it’s all about prevention.  His snack time at school is 3 pm, so it makes sense that his tummy would be starting to rumble 2 hours later.
  • He’s the boss.  PSYCH! No he isn’t, but he doesn’t have to know that.  I make sure instead of just turning the radio on, I say something like “Gav, do you want to listen to some jams?” Some days he does, some days he doesn’t, and whatever he wants? I oblige because he sure likes feeling in control.  Who doesn’t, am I right?
  • Make plans. This here? This helps to prevent a meltdown once we walk through the door at home.  Sort of in the same vein as letting my kid me the boss, I let him tell me what we’re going to do tonight.   In the car I am a non-stop talker. I think my reasoning is if I don’t give Gavin’s mind a chance to wander he won’t freak out, well, that and my kid is pretty entertaining to have a conversation with.  So instead of just talking about randomness, I use this time to plan how our night will go.  I ask him what 3 things he’d like for dinner because when he chooses it, he’s 100% more likely to eat it.  No, I don’t let my kid have Reeses every night if he tells me that’s what he wants.  Limited choices are still choices, he can have 3 things, he knows one has to be a fruit and one has to be a vegetable.   I also ask him what he would like to do when we get home because I should not be so deluded as to think that what he said to me this morning about after school activities doesn’t change by the time we get home!   I used to spend hours Googling/Pinteresting craft ideas, etc. to do with Gavin at night and they would all bomb.  Finally, it dawned on me to just ask him what HE wants to do! Toddlers like their own ideas SO MUCH MORE!  (Mom Bonus: When/if they get all “mom this is boring” you can get all “well YOU picked it” and then them remember they picked it and it’s magically awesome again.)

All of these combined make a happier after school routine.  The snack keeps him calm in until me or Jim can get his dinner out of the oven.  A dinner that he’s going to eat because, hey, it’s what he said he wanted and he got it (he thinks he’s a parental mind control mastermind, muahahahah!!) He has already told us what he wants to do so when dinner is over, there’s no “what the heck do we do with this kid now” confusion.   He knows bath is at 7:00 and he knows if he takes a long time in the bath he won’t have as much “fun” time, which has consequently led to less 45 minute bath marathons (praise jeebus!).

A lot of you may be looking at his like “duh, Lisa,” but truly it took me some time to figure these things out about my kid.  I am not a great planner by nature, more of a fly by the seat of my pants gal, so all this structure is new to me.  And a bonus of having Gavin lay out the plans has been that there is little to no time for TV.  By the time we fit in all of the things he wants to do, it’s bedtime!

Since our second son was born (almost 6 months ago) we have struggled with finding a good nighttime/after work/school routine.  I really feel like this is working for us and we are all so much happier for it.

Anybody else struggling with the post school shenanigans with a toddler? Any other tips to share?


Lisa is just your typical working mom who juggles being a mother to her two boys, a career in real estate, and her marriage.  When she’s not staring at spreadsheets or wiping noses, she enjoys an ice cold beer, reading, and hanging out with her husband and best girlfriends, preferably while eating Mexican.  You can tweet with her at @luckyandsass, if you’re into that kind of thing.


  • Mary Beth says:

    i <3 that you ask him if he wants to listen to some jams. :)
    Mary Beth recently posted..Bye Bye Baby YearsMy Profile
    Twitter: bloombing

  • Jamie says:

    We have some freakouts after pickup too — but usually it’s on the day when we do gymnastics right after school. My kids need downtime as soon as we arrive home and on Tuesdays they don’t get it since we head straight to gymnastics. I definitely utilize the snack idea but I can’t really give them control of dinner — I’d be making three different ones — and while I do short-order breakfast most days, I’m not really willing to do that for dinner! I’ve also enlisted my husband to pick up the girls after their class instead of making them wait around for Bo to be done. That seems to be helping. I like your ideas though! Anything to avoid the meltdowns!
    Jamie recently posted..Finally! Snow!My Profile

  • Sarah says:

    I remember going through this with Brooke. I even blogged about it…I called it the “Emotional Dump”! LOL

    Sarah recently posted..Halfway There!!My Profile
    Twitter: tiredmommytales

  • Observacious says:

    Yes! Freak outs! What a delightful way to be greeted by one’s child! I like your techniques. I need to start employing snacks because my kids both expect dinner to be on the table as soon as we get home even though I’ve been at work all day.
    Observacious recently posted..Teach kids Internet security before the sex talk says Google Chairman Eric SchmidtMy Profile
    Twitter: observacious

  • It took me a long time once I went back to work to figure out that my daughter did not want me to plan some big outing for right then and there because she was tired after a long day, too. I miss all the post-work walks and exploring adventures, but they were really stretching her thin. And yes, SNACKS!
    Twitter: mommeetmom

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

CommentLuv badge