Tantrums at the Start of the Schoolyear

Tantrums at the Start of the Schoolyear

No matter how old your child is, the first few weeks of school can be rough at home. Here are tips for how you can help!

by Steve Silvestro, MD  @zendocsteve

You can also listen to this article as a podcast on your favorite podcast app or click on the player below:


The first few days or weeks of the new schoolyear can lead to some BIG emotions at home—often with tears from everyone. Why?

If you have a kindergartener, this is a HUGE transition. Your child’s been in the same learning environment for just about all of the life that she can remember, and now she has to get used to new people, places, and routines. To make matters worse, every adult she’s encountered over the past few weeks has probably said something like, “Are you excited to start kindergarten??” Sure, those people meant well, but all they really did was just amp up the expectations—every time your child got asked this, the big unknown of “kindergarten” became bigger and bigger and more unknown, painted now as something that must surely be very different from what your child already knew as school.

For kids of any age, perhaps the biggest change is that the start of the school year is utterly exhausting. Not only is it a long day, and not only are their brains constantly “on” for most of the day, but their emotions are also “on” full-blast for these first few weeks (if not much of the school year). Trying to figure out where and how you fit in, what’s going on, what expectations of you there are, how to meet those expectations, etc.—it’s draining. And unlike being at home all summer, at school there is no place to flop down and decompress with your own things and your own space.

Instead, that decompression happens at home. For some kids, it’s the moment they walk out of the door from school. The minute they see you or are back home, they can let down their guard and feel comfortable again. But—they’re letting down their guard when they’re also drained, hungry, and emotionally spent, which means that tantrums and difficult behavior ensue.

The saying “you hurt the ones you love” was practically built for describing a kid in the first month of school.

So what suggestions do I have?

First, as hard as it might be, try not to take any of your child’s behavior personally. Instead, really home in on the fact that a lot of this is a result of being physically and emotionally drained.

Give your child ample time to rest, snuggle, and decompress. In this Pinterest/Instagram-crazy world of ours, there’s often a desire to have some big celebration at the end of the first day or first week of school. Don’t. Get home, read, play, relax.

Having a snack and a drink ready at pickup can help a lot (aren’t most of us in a sugar low by 3:30-4:00?). Ensuring adequate protein and healthy fats with breakfast and lunch can also help (watch this space for recipes very soon!!).

Mainly, though, giving your child some space and a low-key environment at home right after school is probably the biggest thing you can do.

If you haven’t already listened to it, I have an interview with child psychiatrist Dr. Mercedes Kwiatkowski in which she outlines a handful of tips regarding the start of the school year. You can take a listen here.

Finally, even though I always feel bad recommending books (it feels like I’m giving an assignment!), this one is great: How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, How to Listen So Kids Will Talk. It’s highly respected and will help you learn what to do when emotions are charged not just after school, but all year long. Check it out here.

Best of luck, my friends!

If you have tips & success stories for managing new schoolyear behavior in your home, DM me on Instagram @zendocsteve — and if you’ve found this article helpful, shares are always appreciated!

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