The After School Attitude: Why Is My Child Acting Out at Home? | Still Playing School

The After School Attitude: Why Is My Child Acting Out at Home?

By Devany | Labels: ,
Yesterday a friend mentioned that her daughter has been coming home from preschool this week with a terrible attitude.

I started explaining why and giving tips about how she could help when I realized that this advice needed to reach more parents who are struggling with the dreaded After School Attitude

Your child recently started back to school and you are seeing a behavior fall out at home but here is what is really going on.

The After School Attitude What can parents do about kids' behavior after a long day at school?

As I typed out my experience as a kindergarten teacher to my struggling friend someone else chimed in and said, "I don't know who you are but you gave the best advice."

Sometimes I tend to undermine my degrees in early childhood education and educational psychology plus my classroom experience since my own kids give me struggles every day.

But what parent isn't struggling? The key to being a good parent is to keep trying. You're here, reading this, which proves you're one of the good ones!

So...let me describe what you've likely been seeing at home:

You send of your beautiful child on the bus each day with perfectly combed hair, (Or maybe not, but that's another battle to discuss another day!), a backpack that is still clean and new, and a wish for a great day.

Guess what?

They are most likely having a great day with beautiful behavior at school.  Trust me on this!
I'm the teacher who assured countless parents of this during the first weeks of ever school year.

And yet, your child is coming home from school grouchy:

- She doesn't want to tell you about her day.
- Her behavior is terrible!
- She's acting totally out of character.
- Who exactly is she learning this from at school?
- Is she hanging out with the wrong crowd?
- You're beginning to wonder what happened to the sweet child that you put on the bus this morning went and how to get her back!

What is going on? 

This is the After School Attitude. (cue dramatic music)

Your child is practicing becoming a student:

I outlined ways that you can ease the transition back to school and many of them still apply after the first day. Please check out the list to be sure you're giving your child the very best start to school.

Yet, your little learner needs plenty of sleep.

Is she still getting used to getting up earlier?
Is she adjusting by going to bed earlier?
Is it a struggle to get her to eat a healthy breakfast?
Don't forget your backpack!
Is she still, at no fault of your own, being rushed out of the house after enjoying lazy summer days at home?

You gave her a great summer that childhood memories are made of but she's transitioning from choosing her entertainment at home to listening to you before school then listening to the teacher at school.

She's adjusting to not being in charge in either place.

At home she can ask for a snack when she's hungry, use the bathroom without interrupting the whole class, and snuggle on the couch with her favorite stuffed animal (or you!) if she needs an emotional break.

She may have some of those same comforts at school but not always at the moment she needs them most. 

Your child needs a break:

Working adults use their commute home to unwind from their day going from work more to home mode. Kids need a transition too.

I recommend you don't ask about you child's day immediately. I know, I know, this is incredibly difficult because you want to know what she did while she was away!

You will get a much better response and attitude if you wait until after a short transition break to ask the questions instead of bombarding her with them as she switches from school to home.

Different kids need this break in different ways.

Some ideas to try:
- A snack
- A quiet activity
- Listening to you read a book
- Changing clothes
- A shower or bath (This also cuts down on illness as it's sure to wash the school germs away!)
- Active play
- Even an educational show!

You are looking for the best way to physically signify to your child that school is over. Don't be surprised if she starts telling you about her day as she unwinds!

(Yes, before homework if she has it. I promise this is beneficial!)

Your child (hopefully) behaved all day at school and her self control is maxed out: 

Expectations are very different at school. 

In addition to new rules and a new adult enforcing them, your child is being asked to do things in a group setting that are very different from home.

For example, she can't just tell the teacher what she is excited about (like she does at home with you). Now she has to remember to raise her hand, wait her turn, and maybe she'll get the chance to share before the teacher moves the class on to the next task.

Keeping a lid on all of those (typical and normal) childhood behaviors to meet behavioral expectations at school is hard work. At the end of the day your child has held it all in and kept it together for so long that she explodes where she feels safest and loved most: at home.

I'm so sorry that you are dealing with difficult Ms. Hyde while the teacher gets sweet Dr. Jekyll, but ask yourself if you'd really want it the other way around!

Looking for more parenting advice? Check out Cardigan Academy where I partner with a therapist to offer parenting workshops, classes, and a podcast!

What you can do to help:

In addition to providing lots of sleep, healthy food, and a break, you will want to lavish your child with praise, extra patience, and love during this tricky time.

"I am so proud of how you behaved at school today. Can you think about the way you are acting now at home so we continue to have a great day together?"

This adjustment period should last two weeks to a month. 

If your child's behavior doesn't adjust back to normal or you notice a behavioral change in the middle of the school year, do not hesitate to contact the teacher and ask your child what is going on!

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  1. I cannot thank you enough for writing this! Just last night I was telling my husband that I don't understand why our son (who just started kindergarten) is suddenly moody and explosive with emotions. This read was so normalizing, and gives me hope that this is just a normal phase.

    1. TOTALLY JUST HAD THIS HAPPEN TODAY!!! My daughter was a BEAR!!! Put her in bed at 6:30 after a bath, and she was down for the count and out like a light in 5 minutes....UUGH, so frustrating tho!! GOOD LUCK!!

  2. This came at just the perfect time for me, thank you!

  3. Thanks for this post! I know is is a challenge for many parents. I just wanted to make an additional suggestion: Many children have difficulty thinking & articulating why they are acting a certain way. If a child struggles with this transition, you may need to help them by giving them words to what they are (or may be) feeling. Something like, "It's so hard to sit still and follow directions all day! You must be really proud of yourself!" or "You love being at school, and you're also jealous that Lizzie got to go to the park without you." or "I'm hungry, I wonder if you're hungry too. Let's have a snack." For some kids, it might help to break the tension, be extra silly, play a game of Simon says (with your child being Simon) or run around the yard for a few minutes.

    Thanks again for this helpful post!

  4. This is wonderful, insightful info and totally makes sense! Thank you!

  5. I actually remember this from when I was in elementary school. I was always the shy, quiet, polite, nice little girl and had fun at school but after I came home I felt so irritated and grumpy. My mom would ask how my day was and I'd say "Fine!" then not want to talk anymore.

    Years later I learned about introverts vs extroverts and how for an introvert being in a large group of people is emotionally taxing and they need some personal recharge time afterward. I was done being "on" by the time I got home from school and finally felt able to relax and release my wall at home.

    Thanks for all your great suggestions and for putting it out there in a way to educate parents on ways to help and not just put down the child.

  6. Amazing!!! Thank you

  7. Do you have anything on acting out in kindergarten? My grandson is active and is having trouble settling down and behaving. Not listening, following directions, keeping hands to himself. Thanks

    1. I would check with the teacher regarding what her expectations and consequences are in the classroom!

  8. Ok- so my twin 3 year olds started preschool and I've been having the hardest time with one of them and to a lesser extent the other. They're so cranky when they get home and it's constant struggle until bedtime. I try and empathize and be present and play, etc as much as possible. They only go two days a week from 9-12 as I wanted to break them in slow for fall when they'll have to attend more.
    It's been two months now at this schedule and the teachers are so great and giving and there's lots of them. Am I missing something? What can I do to make this easier on all of us? I feel they're getting enough sleep and everything. And the school is play led, just like home.
    Help? :-)

    1. Maybe it would be easier for them if they went everyday? So they could have a set routine? At 3 it's hard for them to understand that sometimes they go to school & sometimes they don't. Just a suggestion. Good luck!

  9. This is my boy's first year of not staying home with me and I was wondering why he was so irritable after school when I know he loves going to class.

    Thanks for explaining it to me. My next move was to throw my own tantrums and eat all his snacks.

  10. Hi! Thank you so much for your post! We have been having a problem in our kindergarten group with 3 aggressive kids, plus another some who act up almost continuously, as they don't always get what they want. Unfortunately since they are in the group many of the other parents have been complaining about their own children acting like the above mentioned: from yelling at parents, even raising their hands on their parents to actually hitting them, acting up for anything and everything and I could go on. We have seen the sweetest, most tender hearted kids, who would only hug and love, turn into aggressive, uncontrollable ones. I have spoken to the teachers and asked on behalf of the parents what we can do, but they give us no solutions, not even answers! They can't even tell us why they think this is happening! We are desperate! We have no idea how to help our children be as they were, and I don't think punishment is the answer. Unfortunately most of us have ran out of resources... We fear for what will happen next year in school...We don't want them to be perceived as the "bad kids". Please help us with your thoughts! Thank you!

  11. Loved loved loved this and have shared it to my friends who've shared it to theirs! Great words and ideas for us parents to remember about how much our little ones are taking in, processing, and trying to incorporate into their little worlds! Thanks!!

  12. I have seen a change in my nieces behavior change drastically. She just started the 1st grade about 3 weeks ago. The first week was okay she cried the first day but I figured that to be normal. She was ok for the rest of the week, but not so good ever since. She now screams and cries when being dropped off. Well my sister can't actually drop her off. She runs out of the classroom, fights( and I do mean fight, kicking, punching, scratching) the principal and teachers. She said she hates being at school. We think the longer hours the new school and teacher, new friends and change of environment is to much for her to take in. We've all tried to sit and talk to her to figure out what shes feeling but we get nowhere. Ive tried to work with her having worked in childcare and early school years for over 10 years. Positive reinforcement when she does even the slightest things good but nothing has helped. She now has a school psychologist to help work with her but still no change. It has become an every day thing at school. But while at home she is like a total different child. Has anyone had a child who has acted out like this or know someone who has? I would appreciate any help if possible because we have just about tried everything we know possible.

    And thanks for sharing this post!!

    1. My son would do the same thing when he went into Kindergarten and the school didn't help at all. I ended up coming in and watching the class and saw that the teacher just didn't understand that some kids need direction not suggestion and we actually ended up switching schools and haven't had a problem since. In all fairness to the teacher it was her first year teaching and they put her in Kindergarten.

  13. "This adjustment period should last two weeks to a month." No, unfortunately, this is how my daughter was in ENTIRE 1st grade AND 2nd grade. (She just started her 3rd. So far, this is still ongoing.) However, she didn't have much of this when she was in pre-school, pre-K and Kinder years. I think this has all started and got ugly as soon as the homework has increased, and having weekly tests, and so on.

    Everyday, I have to watch her working on her homework with such a horrible attitude. The sweetest kid every parents envies totally turns into a child you can't even stand to be in the same room with! Crazy thing is that she is one of the best students in the school. So, this afterschool attitude has been a long time mystery for me. I appreciate this article for giving me the insight. I know this will not get any better any time soon, but at least I know what is causing it. I hope she will grow out of it someday... (keeping my fingers crossed.)

    1. My Mom said I was like this back in the day. The way she dealt with it is that I played after school and didn't start my homework until after dinner. That gave me the break I needed to get back to sorts and be able to focus on schoolwork again.

    2. My daughter is the same, a very bad attitude once home but at school she is the perfect student

  14. As a high school student, this article is very true to me still!

  15. It could also be worth considering that school is a coercive environment. It's natural to have an averse reaction as a part of being reintroduced to a situation where you have little or no freedom to interact with your friends of follow your interests. If your child continues to be unhappy you might want to consider looking at

  16. Perfect timing for me too!

  17. This is such a helpful post - thank you for writing it!

  18. I am a pediatric occupational therapist. I could not of said it better myself!

  19. I have SEEN this in my children. Now I have three of them in school, and they all are showing this type of behavior. Thanks so much for this wonderful post and tips. Now I have some better tips for helping them and now I know why my kids respond better when I ask them at dinner about their day than right after school. Thank You. I am pinning this and will share it on my facebook page.

  20. Sharing as this is great reassurance for most parents, and thank you for the disclaimer that this should only last about a month. I think it's important to note that sometimes our children are dealing with something else (like bullying or feelings of failure), or something needs to change in their school day. One of my children with ADHD we finally decided to have him stay inside for the last recess and we saw a huge attitude change -- he was exhausted from the self-control required in dealing with peers and switching back and forth between structured classroom settings and unstructured outdoor time -- having that 20 minute break halfway through the afternoon to sit in quiet and decompress made a world of difference!

  21. Love this post! This will help me a lot with my oldest. Thanks for sharing:)

  22. Thank you! My daughter just started full day kindergarten on weds. This morning I watched as her teacher took her down the hall to her classroom crying hysterically. She loved preschool so this is not the norm for her. Last night she was also refusing to listen to us and do anything she was asked to. Tonight she was telling me how much she missed me and how she doesnt want to go back on monday. I really hope it doesnt last long. I cant take her crocodile tears every morning!

  23. Thank you for posting this. My son has been in preschool since he was 3 with very little issues when he came home, however once he started kindergarten he would come home with a major attitude.

    The same attitude I remember having when I came home from school. Except for me, my mom chose to ignore my attitude and disrespect rather than talking about it or trying to find a solution. That was not something I wanted for my son, and especially not something I was going to accept!

    I loved the idea of having a transition period between school and home, even if it's as simple as changing clothes. For us, we started having our "after school snack" and quiet time with a movie or show. No talking, just relaxing and taking a moment for ourselves. It's been working wonders! Of course there is the option to talk if he wants, but it's mostly just quiet. He's done so much better, no attitude, no acting out, no fighting with his brothers or his mama (thank goodness!) It's been quite a turn around from the first few days home from school. ♡

  24. My daughter is only 3 days into starting shool but this is excellent advice thank you. Yesterday she wouldn't tell me about her day and was in a sulky mood. Then when I got the Lego out and we were concentrating on building that she started volunteering some info about her day.

  25. I have seen my daughter (now in 5th) behave in a quite similar way, where she'd rather be a closed book, and never seem to let me into her school world. I will say that this year is Drastically different, and may have something to do with more friends, and now her little Kindergarten sister to walk home from school with (I walk with them). I also try to let them play with their friends for a little while (yes I'm still around for that) after they have a little snack, and unload their bookbags. I find that the other children will also tell me about their days, and I feel blessed that everyone's willing to open up to me, being the only parent outside with them. (They seem to all just want someone who will listen)

  26. My 2 and a half year old boy acts out before going to daycare but I can still totally relate to this. Thanks for sheding some light.

  27. Im so glad i came across your article. My son just started kinder after being home all his 4 1/2 years. Everytime i picked him up and ask him about his day he would have an attitude and would not share anything about what was done in class. He'd actually get mad and snap saying "i dont know".
    So when we get home he'd eat, relax and then will come out and say," mom you want to hear my story?" Thats when we'd sit and I'd listen to him. He would tell me what he did in class.
    So thank you for your article and for making me understand my child more.

  28. Thank you for this. I have been stressing for the past week on the way my son's attitude and actions have been. He is 4 years old he has been in prek since he was 3. This year we moved so is a new school new teachers. The first week he was ok going and coming from school but for the past week or 2 every morning he says he doesn't want to go to school and he cries and fights (when getting dress). I asked the teacher how he is at school and she said he is good and happy little boy. But his behavior at home after school has been bad too. He has being having alot of tantrums that last so long with crying when he doesn't get something that he wants. He was never like this in the past. I am so stress that i don't know what else to do. Any help would be appreciated. Thank you.

  29. Just today my son came back from nursery and was all hyper. I am truly happy it is not the other way around, though!

  30. I remember my son's teachers always telling me how "well behaved" he was at school. I was absolutely shocked that they were talking about the same kid I lived with. I just flat out asked my son, "WHY are you so good at school and so crazy at home?" His reply was, "Because I KNOW you will LOVE me anyways." I am so thankful he was well behaved at school AND also thankful that he was comfortable being himself at home. I much prefer that to the reverse.

  31. Great article! I certainly figured out your technique after 1st grade and have now applied it to my now 2nd grader and new Kindergartner. However, they always say you should have kids do their homework after school before switching into Home Mode. I have found the grumpy does not help with after school homework and if I wait to long, then it is worse because his focus is not there. Still working it out....... Thank you for putting this all into words for us to see.

  32. I was an Elementary Art Educator in public schools for over 35 years. I am also type 2 diabetic. Mom of a sweet 4th-grade student called me once saying that daughter came home raging and acting out, Art was her last class of the day. This sounded completely opposite the girl I knew in class. I wondered if she was having food / blood sugar issues, and that it
    might be reasonable to check with her doctor. Sure enough, she called me soon after to report the student was hypoglycemic, and she was able to solve the problem with her doctor's help. Don't overlook foods, nutrition, blood sugars,
    and especially transition time. Kids have a tough, tough time with transitions.

  33. Great article and helpful tips - as an adult it's often hard to remember what it was like to be a kid going through these things, and my 7 year old often has a hard time verbalizing when she's upset or tired or afraid of something so many times I have to try to guess.

  34. This is incredibly insightful and I appreciate the advice! Thank you

  35. All of those are very good reasons and a final one, they are just tired! They need rest because they are going, goining, going all day. Those children and preschoolers that are in an all day program need to just get some sleep. It might mean they aren't in a ballet program, or start t-ball, or go to a art lesson,etc. They need rest and in this day and age we fail to let our children rest. We make them into little adults that have to be constantly busy and their little bodies are beggin for a break. Thank you for insightfully saying what many parents should know but feel pressured to keep up with the Jones to have their child involved in everything.

  36. Thank you so much for writing this. My daughter was so tired after her second full day of Kindergarten that all she collapsed into a nap. I thought she'd wake up happy but instead she had problems forming sentences and could only cry at every little thing. It was exhausting for all of us and I was terribly worried about her. This article was just what I needed. Thank you!

  37. This is absolutely spot on when it comes to what I have been seeing from my Kindergartner, and I was completely lost as to why my sweetheart was going completely bananas all of a sudden. And she is truly the model student at school. Thank you so much for the insight and pointers, this is truly appreciated.