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after school behavior fighting
Illustration courtesy Lauren Rebbeck

Back to School and Acting Up

The new school year just started and suddenly your child is acting out at home. Our expert weighs in on how to address this behavior before it gets worse.

My kids just started school and their behavior at home is atrocious. I feel like I’m constantly having to break up fights and redirect them. What happened?  

Katie Godfrey, Ph.D., licensed marriage and family therapist, child and family team coordinator at The Catalyst Center, shares the following advice for parents:

This behavior is common when there are life transitions such as starting the school year. Children typically go from a relaxed, fun summer schedule to a structured one, with more responsibilities and expectations. There are often added stressors that come with a new school year, such as social issues, anxiety over school performance, or switching to a new school or level.

Kids work hard during the school day to do well and manage academic and social demands, so when they get home, they have a lot of steam to burn off. Home is where children feel the most comfortable, and is, therefore, the place where they tend to act out. Try these tips to get your family through this transition.

  1. Hydrate and fuel. While children may tell you that they are “starving” after school, they typically come home dehydrated, too. Have a water bottle waiting in the car or at home. Give them a snack, preferably one with some protein, which is calming for the brain. We all do better when we are fed and hydrated!
  2. Limit extracurricular activities. Oftentimes, children are over-scheduled during the school year. When that happens, they become more stressed and argumentative. One after-school activity at a time is a good way to start the year.
  3. Create routines. Routines are comforting to children because they know what to expect. Establish a new school year routine, including times for an after-school snack, homework, outside play, reading, family dinner (let them help you cook), and bedtime. Post it in the kitchen or some other place where the family gathers so that everyone can follow it.
  4. Separate them. Have a consistent response when breaking up sibling fights. Typically, it works best to separate them. Don’t worry about finding them new activities. School-age kids are fully capable of finding something to do. And if they cannot, well, be ready to suggest some chores.

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