After-School Restraint Collapse Is a Reality for Many Black Kids

Black children may be more likely to experience this kind of fatigue for unique reasons. Here's what Black therapists say can help.

Black boy grabs father's leg as he is holding laundry basket and sibling

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Much like adults, children of all ages are capable of experiencing fatigue from the demands and rigidity of their lives. Long school days paired with a child still developing coping skills for their emotions can cause their exhaustion to manifest in several ways.

“After-school restraint collapse,” a term coined by counselor Andrea Loewen Nair, describes the release of feelings and emotions a child may express in the comfort of their home after holding it in all day at school. 

Some parents may have a difficult time understanding why their child’s at-home behavior isn’t parallel to the behavior that is praised at school. But Loewen Nair explains on her site why the phenomenon is actually common in children and adults.

“We push ourselves to not be snarly, crabby people where doing so might have seriously negative consequences like losing our jobs, getting sent to the principal’s office, or missing sandbox time,” Loewen Nair says.

And for Black students, the demands to self-regulate and have positive behavior constantly are even greater than their white peers, due to the higher rate that they experience punishment. Research published by the American Psychological Association found that “26% of the Black students received at least one suspension for a minor infraction over the course of the three years, compared with just 2% of white students.”

Jaynay Johnson who is a licensed marriage and family therapist and specializes in working with teenagers, wants parents and teachers to be mindful that teens are still children and “after-school restraint collapse or fatigue” impacts them too.

“I think often because they have their own development, they often get left out of the conversation around what younger kids experience, and it also can look different than how younger kids experience it,” Johnson said. “But they are also experiencing some after-school fatigue. A child has to be in school all day and there are a lot of expectations. If you really think about it, you're in school all day and every adult for the most part may have a different set of expectations for you and that is really exhausting to try to maintain and manage.”

Like Johnson, Dr. Monica Blied believes that fatigue can be expressed differently depending on age and a child’s personality. Blied is a clinical psychologist who specializes in serving people with chronic medical illnesses and helping kids, teens, and young adults that may be suspected to be living with ADHD or autism.

“I know no parent wants to hear this, but it's a compliment when the child falls apart at home because it means that the parents have built an environment that is nurturing and safe enough the for the child to just be themselves, for the child to be able to release and express what's really going on for them without all these pretenses and firm expectations for their behavior,” Blied said.

Kindred by Parents chatted with Johnson and Blied, to further understand the fatigue adolescents experience. Here are their tips and solutions for both parents and teachers to be cognizant of in observing “after-school restraint fatigue” in children.

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Teach Mindfulness to Regulate Emotions

Mindfulness skills like deep breathing and self-soothing can help children learn how to regulate their feelings before resorting to more passionate responses like yelling or hitting. For teachers in particular that have Black students, they must learn how to model these coping mechanisms rather than assume that stringent punishments are the go-to solution for behavior modification. Blied says that children of all ages can learn these simple practices. Johnson believes that the school system needs to be more humanized to reduce some of the rigid and inflexible structures currently in place.

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Restructuring the School Day

Johnson believes the COVID-19 pandemic proved that big structural changes can be made to how students learn, and now is the time to make some changes. She believes there need to be more opportunities throughout the day for children of all ages to move around and interact with each other. Changing the length of class times and certain curriculum that isn’t necessarily relevant can be easier ways to lift some of the heavy burdens off of students.

While Blied isn’t in favor of a four-day school week due to the demands it would place on parents, Johnson is. She believes that modifying the five-day school week to four will allow both students and teachers to have needed downtime and can increase morale and productivity.

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Talk to Your Child

Although it may sound obvious, Blied recommends that parents talk about all parts of their child’s day, not just the negative stuff. Blied who is a mother of three, practices a “roses and thorns” strategy to engage with her children. She recommends parents allow their children to talk about the highs or positives of their day so that conversations about school aren’t just reserved for homework, negative talk, or punishments.

Additionally, Johnson encourages adults to be receptive to the fact that children have feelings and need space to express them. And this doesn’t necessarily have to be communicated in a sit-down conversation. She recommends allowing them to write a story or share a song that they feel adequately expresses how they may be currently feeling.

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Don’t Be Afraid To Look For Outside Help

Black students, in particular, they may not have a large variety of school staff and faculty that look like them or can relate to them culturally. If the parent is having a hard time getting their child to open up, or worries that they aren’t being themselves, Blied recommends local organizations like The Boys and Girls Club to find individuals their child can relate to. She says although it may not necessarily solve all of their issues, it can provide a healthy distraction rather than talking or focusing on school constantly.

Additionally, many mental health apps can make finding a therapist that fits an individual’s cultural and racial needs easier.

Above all else, both therapists recommend that parents look out for stark changes in their child’s behavior and mood and not be afraid to give them the space, care or help that they may need.

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