Let the Kids Let the Air Out When They Need It

These days I have a certain pattern in the evenings. I am taking my son out of extracurricular care. I’m glad to see him; he’s glad to see me. We smile, hug, walk out the school door. And then everything goes bad.

I could ask him how his day went, forgetting that today is Tuesday, and so I should already know that his day was terrible because he had weekly music lessons that bore him endlessly. Or he asks me what is for dinner, and the answer is anything but “spaghetti” or “whatever you want.” Either I choose a friendly silence, and after a few minutes of thinking, he bursts out with a story about a classmate who told about him for no reason, or ranting about any video game another kid is allowed to play that he is not allowed to play.

I know that I am not alone. Everywhere, parents pick up perfectly happy kids from school and watch them spiral down the emotional drain in the time it takes to walk through the front door. It turns out it has a name. This is called post-secondary restraint. Today’s parent explains:

It happens, says Andrea Lowen Nair, a parenting consultant and educator in London, Ontario, who coined the term because children keep it together all day and only release their true emotions when they get to safety. Some children start crying, while others scream, throw things away and generally become unreasonable. Older children can be rude and disrespectful, insulting you and their siblings.

Adults do it too. Even if a coworker is acting like an idiot, or a boss throws you an unreasonable request, we (in most cases) remain polite. We follow the rules. We go to lengthy meetings that could just as easily be sent by email. We say, “Of course, no problem,” when we really want to say, “Let me tell you why this is a stupid request.”

And then we go home and give out. To our partners, our mothers, the dog – whoever or whatever is at hand. Our home (or happy hour with a friend) is our safe place. We don’t want anyone to solve our problems (and they couldn’t stop your boss from making stupid demands even if we wanted to). We just want to get off the rails for a minute; we just want them to listen.

Lisa Damour, psychologist and author of Untangled: Guding Teenage Girls Through Seven Transitions into Adulthood , writes for the New York Times that our kids want the same:

Teens, like adults, can find better relief if they simply articulate their worries and concerns. Indeed, it is a common saying among psychologists that most problems feel better when they are outside, not inside, and this is true regardless of whether the difficulties are great or small.

When teens bring us problems, it’s best to start by assuming that they are not offering them suggestions, or at least not inviting them yet. So let them unleash .

So let them unleash. Let their extracurricular restraint collapse.

For children, this may not be so much ranting and nonsense as a reprimand for you. But there’s a reason for that, too, ‘ educator and psychologist Vanessa Lapointe told Today’s Parent . This is because they can also experience what psychologists call “protective detachment” – the way people instinctively protect themselves from pain from separation, rejection, or abandonment:

“Your child really needed you [during the school day] and you weren’t there,” explains Lappoint. “You’re there now, but the initial tide of relief is quickly absorbed by the tidal wave of defensive detachment — they get angry and push you away. It’s like when a parent and child are reunited after the child goes missing at the grocery store. Parents will have a few seconds of relief as they hug their baby and then bam! Defensive detachment engages in anger when they rebuk their now-found child. ”

It can be easy to defend when they appear to attack you. (I had a long day too! And heck, all I said was “hello.”) But a little empathy and patience can go a long way here.

Give them time to relax (plus a glass of water and a healthy snack), reaffirm your feelings (“Sounds like you’ve had a really long day!”), And then sit down and let them vent.


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