Create an After-School Connection Ritual


When my five-year-old started kindergarten this August, I realized that I needed to create an after-school connection ritual with my children in elementary school. Before this year, when I’d had one kid in all-day school, staying close felt doable, although definitely more difficult than when he’d been home with me all day; however, I quickly realized that with two of my three kids spending the majority of their hours at school, I was going to need to figure out a plan.

Historically, the after-school hours are madness in our house. My oldest came home disgruntled and exhausted from being on his best behavior all day, my younger two were verging on meltdowns, and I was trying to juggle making dinner, teaching piano students,After School helping with homework, and settling kids. I felt like I was growling at my oldest when he came in the door to our chaotic home, which didn’t help his own frazzled nerves. As summer waned and we approached another school year, I wondered what I could do differently.

The idea snuck up on me. I’d received a cute lemon serving tray in a subscription box, and I decided I needed to create a use for it. On the first day of school, I made cookies for my kids and arranged them on the tray, with bright mugs of milk lined up next to them. As my kids dashed off the bus, throwing their backpacks and masks on the floor, they halted at the table. Instead of disappearing into their rooms or tearing around the kitchen complaining that they didn’t have enough to eat, they sat down with me, and through mouthfuls of chocolate chip cookies, told me the highlights and low points of their day. It wasn’t all joy––my oldest teared up as he cried that the school day was too long, and my kindergartener looked at me with huge eyes and said he’d missed me, but at least we’d had that after-school moment of connection. I wasn’t wondering how they felt, because we’d taken the time together.

As the school year has continued on, I’ve set different things on my tray. Sometimes, it’s a box of store-bought madeleines and a mug of chocolate milk. Sometimes, it’s homemade sourdough bread. Sometimes, it’s plastic bowls of goldfish crackers. I try to vary the snack from day to day, but I’ve quickly realized the crucial part is our meeting together before the afternoon busyness sets in.

I’ve read many a social media post that posits the most important minutes of a child’s day are right when they wake up, right when the come home, and right before they go to bed. I don’t know if this concept has been studied in depth or if it’s simply a nice idea someone came up with while they pondered the ways they wanted to parent their own children, but I will say this–practicing after-school connection has made our own transition into the school year so much easier this year, despite the rockiness of pandemic education and the typical ups and downs of parenting.

Want to create your own after-school connection ritual? 

You don’t have to set treats on a tray and sit at the table. Maybe your family connects best on the go, and you need to institute an after-school walk or bike ride. Maybe the first three minutes after your kid gets home are absolutely not the best time for them to connect, and they need to spend a few minutes alone decompressing before they’re ready to connect with you.

The only ingredients you need are consistency and a desire to connect with your kid after school. It may take some trial and error. Maybe some days you will have twenty minutes to be with your kid, and some days, you’ll need to trim that special after-school connection time down to five minutes. The point of a ritual isn’t to do it perfectly every time; it’s to do it often enough so it becomes a rhythm, something to anchor you in your day and bring you and your children peace and steadiness.

So take a few minutes and think about how you and your children connect after school. No matter what works best for your family, you can find a ritual to connect you with your kids as they walk through the door after school and back into your home.