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How to Handle Your Toddler's After-Daycare, Five O'Clock Meltdown

I'm a single foster parent with an adopted two-year-old. I work full-time as an office manager and part-time as a freelance writer.

What to do when your toddler has a meltdown after daycare.

What to do when your toddler has a meltdown after daycare.

The Witching Hour

No one warned me what to expect on a daily basis when I picked up my two-year-old daughter from daycare. Of all the advice I'd gotten, somehow they forgot to mention the repeated meltdowns, horrific drives home, and unpleasant events that invariably followed picking my kid up from school. The scenario plays out like this:

  • I pick up a happy, energetic child who is glad to see me and ready to go home.
  • Within minutes after getting in the car, she turns into a crying, unhappy child that I don't recognize.
  • Once we get home, she's clingy and whiny and isn't happy unless I hold her. This continues for at least half an hour.

After asking around and doing my research, I was relieved to discover that what my daughter was doing was normal behavior for a toddler.

While that doesn't make it any less frustrating, it might make you feel better.

Why Is My Toddler Fussy, Cranky, and Melting Down After Daycare?

Toddlers are bundles of emotions. They are constantly learning and experiencing so many new things each day. All of that activity is exhausting and they don't have the words to express their emotions. What results is a tantrum, the only way they know how to explain how they feel.

The tantrums come from being overstimulated or tired from their busy day. It is a big change to switch from being one place all day to being somewhere else, even if it is home.

How to Prevent a Behavior Change After Daycare

While you may not be able to prevent every tantrum that your toddler has, by being prepared and planning ahead, you can reduce the number of tantrums and the length of time they last.

  1. Have a snack in the car for the drive home. Toddlers are often hungry at the end of the day and a snack can take the edge off their hunger. It can also distract them from getting upset. You can choose healthy, portable foods to take with you, like cheese and crackers or small bites of fruit.
  2. Spend some together time when you get home. Instead of changing clothes or starting dinner, sit down with your toddler and hold them, read a book, or just talk to them. They have been away from you all day and missed you. This has been the biggest help for my daughter. She loves to snuggle with me for a few minutes when we get home and I look forward to these precious times at the end of a long day.
  3. Don't run lots of errands. Don't try to stop off at the grocery store or somewhere else on the way home. Your toddler doesn't need more stimulation; they need some time to rewind at home.
  4. Feed them dinner on time. Don't make them wait too long for dinner, or give them a snack until it's time to eat.
  5. Maintain a routine. They need to know what to expect. Knowing the routine will help them feel as if they have some control over their day, and this will make transitions go more smoothly. So go home first if you have to run an errand at the end of the day. Your toddler will be much more likely to cooperate if they've had a chance to relax.

Enjoy the Tantrum While You Can

Keep in mind that your toddler is constantly growing and changing and in a few months, you'll look back and wonder where the time has gone. Toddlerhood is all about changing and adapting, as much for you as for them. Take time to enjoy the stage and it will be easier on both of you.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


BD Jones from Kansas on November 04, 2015:

Awesome advice! Food can be the root cause of so many meltdowns. Heck, even I get the case of the hangries every now and then (read: daily). I look forward to reading more of your hubs!

AC on February 21, 2013:

Thanks, this is exactly what has been happening the past month with my 18th month old daughter after we get home from daycare at 5:30. I figured out she must be hungry, but I'll also try to take a few minutes to sit with her (with a snack) before going right to preparing dinner.

Healing Herbalist from The Hamlet of Effingham on March 10, 2012:

Wonderful hub. A toddler is only a toddler for a very short time. While they can be difficult, you will soon look back and wish they were young again. You're right, it is so important to spend time with them, and make them feel special. When old enough, you can even have them help you make dinner. That is one trick I use to do. It helps in preventing melt downs, because they are part of the action. Voted UP