If you find yourself asking, “Why is my child so tired after school?” you’re not alone. The first days and weeks of the school year are filled with new routines, new teachers, new friends, and new activities and experiences, which can leave children tired and over-stimulated. This back-to-school exhaustion is not only common but also makes sense given all that young children are learning, processing, and experiencing at school during the day, especially at the start of the year.
What Back-to-School Exhaustion Looks Like
Back-to-school exhaustion can show itself in different ways for different children. It can manifest as a child falling asleep on the car ride home, immediately laying down on the couch once they arrive at home, or seeking out time for connecting or cuddling with a parent. This cannot-stay-awake feeling overwhelms some children and prevents them from doing just about anything else during the post-school hours.
For some children, this back-to-school exhaustion leads to overly sensitive reactions or intense feelings as soon as they are with their family at the end of the day. When children focus so intently during the day on following the rules or managing their emotions, some fall apart when they are with those they feel most comfortable. This response to tiredness is often called “after-school restraint collapse,” and is characterized by children responding unreasonably or even regressing in behavior.
Supporting Your Child
As your child acclimates to their days at school, you can support them by encouraging healthy habits and refining routines that will help them develop the stamina they need to benefit from their engaging and wondrous days of learning at school.
- Create consistency at home. A consistent schedule helps your child know what to expect each day. A morning routine helps children start the day in a good emotional space and ready to learn. An after-school routine provides structure and clear expectations that can be comforting for over-tired children. In the morning, you might help your child get dressed, have breakfast together, brush their teeth, and pack their bags before heading to school. After school, you might set aside regular time for snacks, outdoor play, bathtime, and dinner.
- Provide healthy and energy-boosting snacks and meals. Before your child heads to school, make sure they eat a good breakfast. Consider including foods that are filling and rich with protein. You might give them toast with peanut butter, bacon or sausage, eggs, or a healthy cereal with milk. For snacks to pack or prepare after school, include healthy and nutritious foods such as hard-boiled eggs, apple slices, or cheese. These healthy and filling foods will help your child maintain a consistent energy level throughout their day.
- Find ways to encourage movement and exercise. Even though most preschools and childcare centers embed play and movement into the school day, children still spend days practicing a great deal of self control as they walk in line, sit on the carpet to listen to a story, or wait their turn for a special toy. Finding ways to get your child moving after school can be a great way to allow them to release energy or frustration in a productive and healthy way. You might take a family walk, play at a park, or throw or kick a ball back and forth. This physical activity helps to ensure that your child is ready for an early bedtime to rest up for the following day.
- Offer some opportunities for downtime. While movement and exercise are important, creating opportunities for relaxation can also be very valuable to decompress from an over-stimulating day. You might encourage your child to play quietly in their room, set out materials for coloring, or read together. Most young children need a mix of physical activity and calm, quiet time. Finding ways to offer both throughout the week can help balance your child’s energy and emotions.
- Focus on building a regular bedtime routine. Getting a good night’s sleep is the foundation for a child’s overall health and happiness. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that children ages 1-2 require 11-14 hours of sleep (including naps) and children ages 3-5 require 10-13 hours of sleep (including naps). To create a good bedtime routine, choose a few things that you can do each evening to comfort your child. You might read a story, sing a song, or tuck them in with a special blanket. Remember to limit screens, lights, and noise in the time leading up to bedtime. And, try to maintain the same routine on weekends so that your child develops a consistent, healthy sleep pattern.
Most children get used to the school routines and eventually build up stamina and settle into a more balanced after-school rhythm. Any time the routine changes, however, especially after longer school breaks, you may once again be asking yourself, “Why is my child so tired after school?” Remember to use these strategies to help with any transitions or changes to their schedule.