Understanding After School Restraint Collapse and How to Help Our Children Handle It

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I don’t know about you, but I have been perplexed by the mountain of praise heaved onto me about my three-year-old’s behavior in daycare.

“Streater is so sweet; she’s such a good helper; I love how she shares with others and expresses herself.”

I’m not sure if the person who complimented her can see my confusion through my half-crooked smile and veiled attempt to hold back the urge to scream.

“My kid?”

Don’t get me wrong, she has her moments, but I know for a fact the moment we drive away from the daycare, she magically morphs into the Tasmanian devil; unable to sit still, form coherent sentences, and share? Ha. She would sooner break every toy in sight than share it with her brother.

If you have also experienced the discrepancy between what you hear about your child and what you see, keep reading!

Understanding After School Restraint Collapse (ASRC)

After School Restraint Collapse (ASRC) is a real thing! I first heard about it while explaining to my daughter’s occupational therapist that therapy was not going to work because, “She puts on a good show for you guys and unleashes on me.”

Her therapist didn’t give it a name but pointed out to me that even my then two-year-old knew that certain behaviors are socially acceptable and safe outside of mommy and daddy’s care. The therapist said, “She feels safe with you and knows that I could be in trouble because of my behavior, but Mommy won’t hurt me. You are her safe space.”

Although we may find it hard to believe as parents, our children hold it together all day until they are home, and collapse under the expectations of others and the mental exhaustion of keeping their true feelings hidden.

Children Experiencing ASRC may show some of the following traits:

  • Become weepy
  • Become generally unreasonable
  • Make demands
  • Throw things
  • Display uncharacteristically disrespectful behavior 
  • Screaming
  • Crying
  • Whining

While fatigue significantly contributes to ASRC, psychologists say defensive detachment may also be at play. In this case, defensive detachment occurs due to your child being away from you and facing emotionally difficult situations in which they would generally look to you for reassurance, and you weren’t there (Don’t feel guilty. You couldn’t be there). So, once they have access to you, you receive a flood of emotion that previously felt forced to hold in.

How to Address ASRC in the Moment

First, it is essential to know that ASRC is NOT a tantrum. Tantrums are your child’s way of pushing boundaries and attempting to get their way. ASRC is simply about releasing. Your child is emotionally exhausted and cannot hold it together for another moment. So here are some ways you can help your child when they are at their emotional breaking point. 

1. Give Them a Break

When your little one gets in the car, don’t start the rapid-fire questions, interrogating them about their day. Give them space to breathe & decompress.

2. Make Recreation Part of the Routine 

There may be homework that needs to get done and chores to attend to, but they can wait. Decompression is still in full swing. Encourage your child to play outside with friends, ride their bike, listen to music, or play a quick family game.

3. Eat Happy Foods

After your little one has had some play time, it’s time to break out the happy foods. Don’t think comfort foods; this is not about learning emotional eating, but about intaking healthy oxytocin-releasing goodness. Provide foods like avocados, watermelon, spinach, chia seeds, oranges, and … well, there’s a lot out there.

4. Hug It Out! 

Nothing gets the happiness flowing like a hug. Especially one from mama! Hold space for your little ones to share their feelings, validate their feelings, and encourage them to take time outs when needed.

All in all, it’s important that your children know that home is, in fact, their safe space and that you are committed to providing safe outlets for their feelings. You want to have open dialogue with your children that leaves them feeling supported. Discover new ways for them to tap into the connection they have with you and ground themselves in the moment, even when you can’t be with them.

What tips would you add to this list?

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Jessica Vann is a wife, mother, friend, and licensed professional counselor in private practice in Columbia. Jessica is a military brat who has called Charleston home for 14 years, where she graduated from Stratford High. She attended Winthrop University, where she met her husband; she paid him no attention then. It was not until they reconnected in 2011 that they were swept away in a whirlwind romance that resulted in their oldest son Jackson in 2012. Carl & Jessica were married in 2014 and are the proud parent of two beautiful children, Jackson & Streater! Jessica firmly believes that moms are the backbone of the family and worthy of respite. They are many things, mother, partner, lover, friend, and sexual being. We no longer have to struggle to be good moms but can be T.R.A.S.H. moms, thoughtful, rested, accountable, secure, and happy, as we lean into our brand of motherhood!

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