Toddler Tantrums after Daycare: A Parent’s Guide

Toddler Tantrums after Daycare

It is the conundrum of working parents: the after-daycare rush. Like many of you, being a stay-at-home mom wasn’t an option for me. It just wasn’t financially feasible. However, the transition from being home all day with me to going to daycare in the morning was easier than I thought. Those first few weeks went by fairly easily. My kids were tired at the end of the day. It was as if they were working too. In a way, they are. They’re taking on a scheduling commitment so we can provide for them.

But after those first few weeks there was a shift. Sure, they were thrilled to see me at pick-up! And I was thrilled too. All day long I missed them. We would say our goodbyes to the teachers and their little friends. We’d get into the car and start home. Then, a switch flipped. They went from happy, energetic kids to throwing severe tantrums. All of a sudden it seemed that nothing helped. They were tired and hungry. No matter what, I couldn’t get home and have dinner started fast enough.

The Mom’s Motto: Be Prepared

I’ll be honest, those afternoons were miserable. All I wanted was to come home and be with my little family. Instead, I rushed to get home and have dinner ready. Before I knew it, bedtime was near. All that quality family time had only been in my imagination.

To take a dent out of the time crunch my husband and I started cooking for the week in advance. Sunday was cooking day. We would prepare three or four entrees for the coming week. As an added bonus, our kids helped. This had an added benefit: it took the picky out of our picky eaters. When they helped prepare the food they were more likely to eat it. As a result, we had more time to relax and eat without complaints about the menu. Score one for team parents!

That was great for the at home half of the situation. I was still dealing with epic meltdowns in the car. Aside from being a total distraction when driving, it caused a whole lot of grief.

They (Really) Do Miss You

When we’re away, our kids miss us. Terribly. Think about it. When I was home with my kids, there wasn’t a single problem I couldn’t solve in the moment. However, when I returned to work, those little problems during the day began to add up. Sure, they have great teachers. But the teachers aren’t you. Did you ever notice how your kids behave around their grandparents or aunts and uncles? Bingo. They are usually angels.

Why? They expect us to love them unconditionally because we have seen them at their highs and lows. We are the steadying force to their stream of emotions. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and teachers are great. But they’re no substitute for mom and dad. We are the only ones that they can let their hair down in front of. So it should be no surprise that they throw such extreme tantrums after daycare. More specifically, as soon as they are in a private space like the family car. For an entire day, they’ve kept all those emotions to themselves. And now they are ready to gush.

The trick is to manage that gush. I won’t lie, it takes patience. Plenty of it. Especially after working an entire day you probably are running low on that ingredient. But channel as much as you can. When I’m in the car I start checking-in with my kids. Simple questions about their day. What did you learn? Who did you play with? What was your favorite thing that you did? Did anything make you sad? I found that once I got them talking they wouldn’t stop.

It’s the Little Things

Small comforts go a long way after daycare. For us it’s a fifteen minute drive home. In reality, that is an eternity for a child. I make sure to have their favorite blanket in the car. I pack water bottles for them and a light snack, since dinner will be ready for them within minutes of getting home. Take away the small things that could easily escalate into a tantrum.

Do they have a favorite toy? Pack it in the morning. Have them say goodbye to it. This way, when you pick them up, they will look forward to seeing their toy again. It’s a bit of a reward without having to actually give a reward. The expectations we set at the beginning of the day will greatly impact pick-up at daycare later in the day.

But Sometimes…

Sometimes, there is very little we can do to stop a tantrum. Keep in mind that your child is learning how to express their emotions. Developmentally, a tantrum is their way of learning to sort out those emotions. While it could be concerning, sometimes we just have to allow the tantrum to play itself out. In the end, the best method is to just be present. I can’t tell you how many times I have pulled my car off the road to deal with a tantrum. Most of the times, a simple hug and “I love you” were all it took to get our evening back on track.

Remember, tantrums are normal behavior. But if you sense something else is at the center of it, ask the teachers. Sometimes it’s a small issue like arguing over a favorite toy with a classmate. Turn those moments into teachable lessons. The benefit of daycare is that your child is learning how to function in a group setting. For only children, this could be a real challenge. Make those challenges work for you.

Stick to it

In the end following an established routine goes a long way. It all starts with the security they feel when we arrive at daycare. Allow that feeling to wrap itself up in you and your child. Chances are, the tantrums will pass soon enough. It’s all about being their rock, after all.

You might also enjoy this article from Mom Advice Line: How to Teach Your Child to Wipe Himself

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