Updated: Jul 28
When my children first started going to day care, I was prepared that drop off time could be difficult, but no one warned me about the epic meltdowns that follow on from pickups. I love seeing my kids after spending the day apart, but the tantrums that seem to start during the car ride home can definitely be a challenge.
Here are a few tips for surviving the post day care meltdowns.
1. Communicate with the Day Care Centre
Most day care centres these days have a digital platform where they keep track of your child’s day including meals, nappy changes, activities and naps etc. You can use this easily accessible information to your advantage.
You will be armed with conversation topics for the car ride home. You can ask your child specific questions about what activities they did that day and engage with them by encouraging them to talk about their experiences.
Also, by knowing how they napped you can be prepared for how cranky your little one will potentially be. If they didn’t sleep well, you know you may be up for a bit more of a battle and you can plan ahead to aim to get them into bed a little earlier that night. On the flip side, some kids tend to sleep better at day care than at home. If you have an older child that has had a long nap or one that ended late in the afternoon, they probably won’t be tired when it comes to bed time. At least you will know why they may be bouncing off the walls and not ready for bed at the normal time.
If naps at day care are regularly throwing your evenings off because your little one is getting too little or too much sleep. It’s ok to talk to the day care staff to see if they can do anything to encourage a longer or shorter nap depending on your preference. Most centres, in my experience, will be happy to accommodate your wishes.
2. Have a Snack for the car ride home
Kids are often hungry by that time of day. Even if they’ve eaten well during the day, their days are usually very busy and active so an afternoon snack can ease that hunger. Having something to eat in the car also acts as a distraction. It doesn’t have to be anything too big, or unhealthy that will put them off dinner. A small container with some fruit or crackers and cheese is all you need.
Just be mindful to keep the snacks age appropriate and don’t offer anything that can be a choking hazard. If you have a younger baby, a snack may not be a good option, but a quick feed before getting in the car and toy for distraction may work just as well.
3. Have frozen meals on hand for a quick, no prep dinner
Having a stash of home cooked meals in the freezer allows you to be able to pull out a nutritious meal as soon as you get home. That means you don’t need to worry about what to cook that night and dinner can be ready to serve shortly after arriving home.
4. Spend time with them
You’ve just spent the whole day apart. Your kids will have missed you (and you them). Don’t become frustrated when they seem to want to just hang off you like a koala. Sit down with them and play or read a book for a few minutes when you get home while dinner is heating up.
Be present both physically and emotionally for the evening routine. Don’t get distracted by your phone or checking emails. This is the only couple of hours in the day that you will have to spend with them, so acknowledge them and their feelings, no matter how upset they may get.
You’ve probably noticed that your kids are better behaved for others than when they are with you. This is because you are their safe place. They feel comfortable around you to be able to let out their raw emotions. They have just spent the day keeping their emotions in check and supressing their feelings, so don’t be surprised if all those emotions come flooding out at the end of the day when they see you. Take it as a sign of love.
5. Keep on routine
The last thing you want to do is stop by the shops to run an errand on the way home. Your little one doesn’t need any more stimulation at this stage.
Kids love predictability. If they are already in a fragile state, keeping to your daily routine will help alleviate some of their (and your) stress levels.
Aim to keep the dinner, bath, bed routine as close to the norm as possible. Try adding a little bit of Epsom salts to their bath to help relax their little muscles and remember to adjust bedtime if needed depending on how they napped that day.
6. Plan ahead
If you can plan ahead and be prepared by knowing how their day went, having dinner sorted, snacks on hand and have a general expectation of what sort of mood your little one will be in when you pick them up, you will be able to keep on top of your own emotions. If you become frustrated or overly anxious your child will pick up on your feelings and their behaviour will reflect that.