It can seem like Invasion of the Body Snatchers: The school bus pulls up and instead of that smiling, happy kid who left this morning, off comes a grumpy, whining, tantrum-prone look-alike. "Going back to school is completely draining for kids -- mentally, physically, and emotionally. By the time they get home, they almost can't help but fall apart," says Jed Baker, Ph.D., the Maplewood, NJ, author of No More Meltdowns. Below, some end-of-the-day-insanity prevention strategies:
Set an after-school timeline
Then stick to the routine. If your kid knows exactly what to expect -- and when to expect it -- he's less apt to be surprised (and set off) when, say, you ask him to turn off the TV and come to dinner.
Get some food into him -- stat
Your child is already exhausted; add low blood sugar to the mix and you've got a recipe for disaster. A small snack and a glass of milk can work wonders.
Defuse homework tantrums
Don't wait too long to do homework, says Baker. Give your child a bite to eat, a little playtime, and then get right to it. If his tired brain can't deal, calm him by saying something like "It's okay, you're not supposed to know this stuff -- that's why you're learning it." Then help him break down the assignment into more manageable parts.
Offer a privilege or treat -- a little extra video time, a promise of pancakes the next morning -- if your child tries hard to hold it together.
Tackle the tough stuff first
Instead of spending an hour trying to get your kid to brush his teeth and put on pj's, have him do it right after dinner -- before any fun pre-bed activities.
Do something really mellow right before bed
Try turning off the lights and making shadows on the wall with a flashlight. I listen to books on tape -- also in a dark room -- with my cranky kid. After one chapter he shuffles right upstairs to bed. Magic!