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Dear Katherine: My Son Shuts Down After School

Dear Katherine,

When I pick my son up from school, he seems to shut down completely. I ask him about his day, and he gives me one-word answers or responds, “I don’t know,” to my questions. 

He’s definitely prone to anxiety, but I’m worried about how down he seems when he gets home. 

How can I get him to open up? 


Feeling Bummed

Feeling Bummed,

I’m sorry to hear that your son seems so down when he gets home from school. I think I can help. 

Generally speaking, there are three options for confronting undesirable behavior in children:

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Option #1: Change your child’s behavior. Most parents start here. Attempting to change a kid’s behavior may seem like the most direct response, but it isn’t easy, and the changes won’t happen overnight. 

Option #2: Change your own behavior. Adjusting your own behavior is easier because you have full control of your actions. Who among us doesn’t have things they could change to elicit different reactions from people? 

Option #3: Change the environment. Believe it or not, this third option is the simplest and most effective course of action. Ask yourself how you might adjust the environment to impact your child’s behavior.

I recommend starting with Option #3. Here’s my parenting tip for you, Feeling Bummed: 

Bring a nutritious snack along when you pick up your child from school and try to make sure he eats it as soon as you get in the car. This small action could yield significant results. Let’s unpack why. 

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Children burn glucose much faster than adults. The brain needs glucose to process information and carry out tasks. You mentioned that your son has anxiety, so it stands to reason that he’s probably burning more glucose than a non-anxious child because of all the mental work he puts in to make it through the day

Most kids are hungry by the end of the school day, which can deplete their mental bandwidth. Providing carrots, apple slices, or cheese and crackers at pickup can make a world of difference in your parent-child communication.

Once you give him his snack, hold off on asking any questions for a solid 10 minutes to let his brain absorb those nutrients. In the meantime, prime him for a positive interaction by telling him that you missed him during the day, you’re happy to be spending time with him now, and you love him. 

If bringing him a snack doesn’t work, try out other environmental adjustments until you crack the code. Maybe your son doesn’t like to talk when he’s in the car. Perhaps he needs a good 30 minutes to decompress before he’s ready to engage with you. 

Keep in mind that children are outer-directed all day long and have no opportunities to exercise their autonomy needs at school. Getting in that car or finally landing at home is their first chance to choose space, quiet, and self direction.

The sooner you start experimenting, the faster you can expect your parenting win. I’m rooting for you! 

Love and Blessings,


P.S. Have you heard my latest podcast with Women Road Warriors? I loved speaking about How to Communicate with Your Kids & Teens Without Losing Your Mind with Shelley Johnson and Kathy Tuccaro! Listen here!