Meltdowns & Anger

How to Survive the After-School Witching Hour

He’s tired, grouchy, and hungry. His meds are wearing off and school just ended, so he’s headed your way! Quick, here’s how to stop your child’s meltdowns before they begin.

ADHD Children playing with each other and avoiding meltdowns.
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Why It's the Witching Hour (or Two)

We parents know that it’s a roller-coaster ride from the time our kids with ADHD get home from school or camp until they go to bed. That shouldn’t be surprising. Kids walk through the door mentally exhausted, physically edgy, and starving. What’s more, their medication has usually worn off, causing their ADHD symptoms to return with a vengeance. Here, an expert offers her six best strategies for surviving the afternoon angst.

A girl with ADHD draws after school instead of having a meltdown.
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Avoid Over-Scheduling

Don’t over-schedule your child with afternoon activities. Kids with attention deficit work at least twice as hard as their peers without ADHD and need about twice as much downtime. Try setting up a space for your child to calm down in when she gets overly stressed. Outfit the room with activities and games she can quietly play with on her own — such as jigsaw puzzles, video games, and books to read.

A mom runs errands with her child with ADHD, and hopes to avoid a meltdown in the store.
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Save the Errands for Later

Since moodiness, irritability, anger, and defiance are common in kids with ADHD who are tired and hungry, don’t force your child to accompany you on errands right when he gets home. Running errands will only tire your child out more. If you have to go out, spending the money to hire an ADHD-friendly babysitter is a better option than dragging your child along with you.

[Free Download: Find the Right Sitter for Your Child]

A dad plays outside with his daughter with ADHD to expend extra energy and avoid a meltdown.
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Take It Outside

Set aside time for physical activity. Not only does getting outdoors and moving around release tension and hyperactivity, it also increases neurotransmitters in the brain, allowing your child with ADHD to sustain mental focus for longer periods of time. Suggest that your child rake the leaves, ride a bike, go swimming, or take a walk in the park when she gets home in the afternoon.

A girl with ADHD takes an afternoon dose of medication to avoid an afterschool meltdown.
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Consider an Afternoon Dose of Meds

Talk with your child's doctor about giving him an afternoon dose of ADHD medication. Many children benefit from a second dose, which helps them focus and stay calm during the second half of the day. Remember, no child likes to feel out of control.

A boy eats a turkey drumstick, a high-protein snack that can help control symptoms and avoid a meltdown.
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Pile On the Protein

Watch what your child snacks on in the afternoon. Foods rich in protein will help balance a child’s mood better than foods high in simple carbohydrates. Sticking with complex carbohydrates will also help to avoid blood sugar spikes and crashes. Consider an early dinner if your child with ADHD just can’t wait for the family meal.

A tutor helps a student with ADHD work on homework.
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Hire a Tutor

During the school year, consider hiring a tutor or a high school student to help your child with homework. A non-family member is usually a better homework helper than parents, who may quickly butt heads with their child.

A mom kisses her daughter with ADHD on the cheek.
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Be Supportive

Be realistic about your expectations and don’t compare your child with his siblings who don't have ADHD. Remember that children with ADHD need positive reinforcement, even on tough days. Acknowledge the accomplishments he made that day, large and small.

[A Practical Guide to Positive Parenting]

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  1. I can especially certainly attest to #3. If my son has had a day at school where he has had a harder time taking him to run errands is a bear every time.

  2. So…what if you have all these same behaviors and moodiness, anger, etc., but as an adult?
    This is me to a T, except instead of it being when a child gets home from school, for me it’s when I get home from work. I swear I still have symptoms of a child but I’m an adult.

    1. YES!! Same here. I have transition issues from work to home. One thing that works for me is to actually mark the transition by changing my clothes. I also find myself still wanting to concentrate on work things (where I have a lot more control), but my family is pulling me in 18 different directions! Good luck to all of us adults!

      1. I’m also an adult with these same struggles. And I work for myself so there is no clear line between work and home.

        I find it is helping me to give myself space after I get off of long calls, especially in the afternoon.

        Changing clothes and getting out into nature for a bit helps a lot. Even when I feel that there is so much to do, and my list is still long, I know I won’t be effective in that state. Connecting with nature and taking time to rest is much more helpful to me in the long run.

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