After School for Young Children

Dear Sharon,

My son is having a difficult time being left at After School. He’s in Kindergarten and has to make a change on a bus to a different location. In the meantime he watches all the other kids being picked up by their parents or caregivers and then is escorted to the auditorium for pick-up. What can we do to make this easier for him? He is having emotional breakdowns.

Dear Parents,

I am sorry to hear that your son is having difficulty with the details of going to his after school program. It is not uncommon for 5 year olds to have a hard time with long and/or complicated periods of time in after care.

Many young children benefit greatly from a fair amount of time each day when one person is attending to their wants and needs in a personalized setting. With many parents needing to work long hours it can be difficult to find ways to provide this nurturing “one on one” time. As you mentioned in your question, it can be especially challenging for children to “keep going” to group settings when they see their friends getting to “go home. ”

Some parents I know who have successfully wrestled with this problem have asked a baby sitter or relative to pick their child up at dismissal time whenever possible. I have seen even one or two days a week of “right after school” pick up reduce the number of emotional breakdowns you referred to. I know many cases where a high school or college student has been particularly helpful. (People this age often can provide enough fun to really help.)

If parents manage to arrange for this pick up on a limited number of days of the week it has also helped to let their child clearly understand his or her weekly schedule. Sometimes a calendar made of drawings, photographs or stickers that is kept on the refrigerator can be used to explain the schedule of each day. It can be especially fun and useful for parents and children to make the calendar together.

Of course many parents are unable or think it unwise to alter an after school schedule. When this is the case it can be particularly important to put extra energy into the time when everyone is at home together. I often suggest that the parents of children who are in group settings for 8 hours or more a day spend as much time as possible playing with their children when they get home from work. Having an hour or two of fun with Mom or Dad is probably one of the best compensations for a long day away. Unfortunately this often means spending as little time as possible cooking, talking on the phone and doing other household chores while your child is awake Although difficult, if your child is happier and finding his schedule more manageable it will be well worthwhile.

Other full time working parents I know have balanced out their heavy workload by scheduling regular family weekdays off from work and school (possibly one day every 6- 8 weeks). Some have taken the whole day off and done things with their child that they love to do. Others have taken their children to work for part of the day. This “family” day has helped communicate to children that their parents know their adult work schedule has been challenging. Putting the day on the calendar I mentioned earlier also helps give the little one something to look forward to.

I have also known parents who regularly join their child in classroom activities or at lunchtime whenever they can. Even if saying good-bye is hard when the parent leaves it seems to help the child feel more secure in the long run.

It can even be helpful to send family photos or a note with drawings in a lunch box or backpack, (tell the teacher it is there so she can use it when needed). This simple act can help a little one feel close to Mom or Dad especially at difficult times of their day.

Juggling adult and children’s schedules is never easy, good luck as you sort it all through!