4 Yo DD Is a Hot Mess Coming Home from Day Care

Updated on March 29, 2012
K.B. asks from Detroit, MI
11 answers

My daughter is 4, she goes to preschool 4 mornings a week (9:30 to 12:30) and sometimes, 2 or 3 times a week, she goes to child care (same building, different room) after class if I happen to have to work that day. She does not really nap regularly any more (sometimes will at home if she is tired enough but not often) but when I pick her up and get her home, she starts having one melt-down after another about EVERYTHING. I know a lot of it is her being overtired, and often she is hungry too - I pack her a good-sized lunch but some days she eats a good amount and other days it is hardly touched. So I get her home, let her relax on the couch with the TV on, and get her a snack, but she will still just carry on and on about everything imaginable.

She will start crying because she doesn't want what we are having for dinner. Because I won't give her more snacks before dinner. Because I'm taking her home instead of to the swimming pool or someone's house for a play date (we always go straight home after school/day care so it's not like "someplace else" has ever happened). Because I need to get dinner ready and I am not letting her dig out art supplies instead. Because I am not letting her have ice cream before dinner. Because tonight is bath night. It could be anything. Anything I have to say no to, or can't let her have her way is fodder for her losing her mind. The other night she was upset because she wanted to be able to turn into a mermaid at will and she can't (OMG, really?). And I don't know if I can really discipline her for this behavior when I know she can't help being tired or hungry and her coping skills are thrown out the window. All I can do try remaining calm and consistent, tell her a thousand times that we are still having spaghetti for dinner and she is still taking a bath after dinner, and keep reminding her that she needs to use her "big girl voice" instead of constantly whining.

I get that a lot of it is her being tired, and being hungry too. I myself turn into a crabby-pants if I am overtired or really hungry. I get that she's also been good all day long for everyone and now it is safe for her to "let it all hang out" and be less than perfect. I get all of that, but it's been going on since the beginning of the school year and I can't help but feel frustrated by it. She loves going to school and she loves when she gets to go to child care after with her friends but the period of time after coming home is a nightmare. This fall she will be starting kindergarten and be in school from 8 to 3 every day, Mon - Fri, and while I know she will love it while she is there, I don't know how she is going to handle how tired she will probably be by the end of the day. Any ideas or advice on how to make this easier on the both of us? TIA!

ETA: She generally gets around 11 hours a sleep a night - typically she is in bed by 8, and then up at 7. And that does not change, regardless of whether she ends up napping or not. If she does nap, it's usually 2 hours in the afternoon.

What can I do next?

  • Add yourAnswer own comment
  • Ask your own question Add Question
  • Join the Mamapedia community Mamapedia
  • as inappropriate
  • this with your friends

So What Happened?

Thank you for all the advice so far. They are not required to have any nap or rest period at her child care if they don't want to and DD has never been able to nap there, even though we've tried (some kids take it, some don't). If we don't get home until 5 or 6, I don't really want her napping at all then, and then being up extra late past her bedtime. It's hard to think about sending her to her room alone when I have not seen her all day and therefore she probably just needs my attention even more but I do realize that I am going to have to start holding her more accountable for her behavior, especially after tonight - she was just AWFUL. Arguing and talking back non-stop! She was still whining for more snacks after she had one when we got home but I told her no, she was going to have wait until dinner. She was happier when we started playing with play-doh together, but then when dinner was ready, she barely ate 2 bites of it and starting saying she was full, but wanted dessert. Then in the bath she started whining and crying about dessert again, so her bath ended early (no chance to play!) and she was put to bed early - she sacked right out, so obviously, she was wiped. I am planning to have a talk with her tomorrow and let her know that her behavior tonight WAS unacceptable and if she is going to act that way coming home, she will miss out on any TV, and she will be getting an early bedtime. Thank you again!

@Mamazita - YES! OMG, that's EXACTLY what it's like! And then I feel like, why can't you ask something I can say yes to? LOL!

@Meg C. - I've tried the whole "Say no without actually saying no" bit several times - it doesn't work with her! She doesn't care if I say. "Sure, you can have ice cream - if you do a good job on dinner." or "We can go swimming another day." She just gets upset that I'm not just letting her have or do exactly what she wants at that moment, no matter how I phrase it.

Yeah, I think I might have to make sure I have a ready-to-go snack for when I pick her up - sometimes I've just taken whatever she has not eaten from her lunch (apple slices, grapes, carrots, etc.) and let her munch on that. Our home is only (literally) 2 seconds from her school so it's not like she has to endure a 15 or 20 minute drive to get home.

Featured Answers



answers from Houston on

Mine is almost two and has days where she does the same thing. I do find that giving her some time by herself in her room makes her much more pleasant to be around once she's back with me.

I don't view it as punishment (though, she might) - I really view it as an opportunity to let out all her frustration and spend some time, I guess, really feeling her emotions so she can be more centered when she's out of her room after. It's not perfect - it doesn't always work, but it always helps some.

1 mom found this helpful

More Answers



answers from Portland on

I'd give her a healthy snack even if it's close to dinner time. Perhaps take some fruit or a pb sandwich with you when you pick her up.

And I'd sit down with her for 15 minutes or so once you get home. Read with her or just talk in quiet tones. I actually sat with my granddaughter in my car for 15 or so minutes before driving because she would have a meltdown before getting in the car. Some kids just don't handle transitions very well.

Perhaps some quiet time in a cozy place would help her. Maybe the TV is too much stimulation. It was recommended by a counselor to send my grandchildren to their room, allowing them to read or play, when they were upset. We didn't try this until they were 6 and 8 but it helped them.

The words to use when doing this were, I know you're tired/upset. That's OK and you need to find a way to calm down. Quiet time in your room will help.

You might go in the room with her the first couple of times and show her how to play quietly. Perhaps put on some soothing music.

I suggest it isn't helpful to continually repeat yourself. Saying over and over, we're still having spaghetti doesn't stop the meltdown and only increases your frustration. If she doesn't use her big girl voice then it's fair to say in a kind voice, go to your room until you find your big girl voice. I don't want to listen to your whining. It's a natural consequence that also enables her to regain control of herself.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

How much sleep is she getting each night? If she's no longer napping, an earlier bedtime may be in order. At 4, she needs 11-12 hours per day.

Added: Sounds like she is getting enough sleep, then. Although you could try bumping it up to 12 hours a night. My daughter was coming home from school famished, as well. No matter how much I put in her lunch box! So I started having healthy snacks on hand immediately when I picked her up in the car. I'd have a banana, apple, trail mix, etc. A wipey for the hands, and then she'd devour the snack post haste. Maybe see if that helps?

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

Seems like she needs some M. and me down time. Things seem rushed and having too much stimulation. No swimming, no tv. Just you and her, sitting down together and talking. Calm time. Not, this activity today and THAT activity tomorrow, just secure, relaxed home time. Maybe read a book and cuddle or just talk about her day. Talk about what you might want to do tomorrow, and for the activities that you do end up doing that she looks forward to...

Have a reward system for it. "You have been so well behaved! Tomorrow we can go swimming!"

As for bath time, have her have some control over it. Have her choose what she wants to play with at bath time. and play with her. Also, you can be very creative with bath toys... It can be a funnel or ice cube tray from the kitchen.

Try to make things more calm, predictable and try a reward system.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

Sounds like she still needs that nap.
Where my son went to preschool and kindergarten, they had nap/quiet time after lunch.
Some kids would just be quiet (they couldn't sleep) but my son was out like a light every single time.
His teachers were surprised what a deep sleeper he was at nap time, but he got plenty of sleep at home, too.
They had no more naps for 1st grade, but he still took one on weekends.
He was about 7 when he was mostly done with naps.
He 13 now and still needs them sometimes when he's having a growth spurt.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

I have had this phase too for quite a while, I know when she is tired & tread lightly at bedtime since I know what the triggers are.
My best advice that has worked wonders for all my kids is I don't every say no. I want a snack or whatever, I say sure after dinner. I want it now, I say did you eat dinner yet? You can have it after dinner.
Whatever it is I always say sure after you clean up, after you put on pjs, after whatever needs to get done, but I don't say no just keep repeating after blah blah, has worked wonders for us!

The mermaid thing I could totally see happening at our house, I'd just say yeah I wish you could to that would be so cool.
A lot is just redirecting at this age &some love & logic not getting dragged into things with them, just saying yeah that is to bad.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

Have her lie down in her room with the door closed for "quiet time." No TV, which is actually the opposite of relaxing, (it amps up our brainwaves) just some stuffed animals, maybe books if they won't add to her agitation, and tell her she needs to lie down quietly while you do what you have to do. She may actually fall asleep a bit. I used to tell my daughter when she was 3 and 4 and had long preschool/day care days 3 times a weeks, "Oh, it sounds as if it's cranky time, you need to lie down for awhile." Even in Montessori kindergarten she was required to lie down an hour, the whole school did it, so they recognized the need for rest. Up her bedtime, say 30 minutes to start, I did this as well and it helped. Sounds as if your daughter is physically and mentally tired, but doesn't know how to express it, hopefully these steps will help her get the rest she needs.

And while you don't want to discipline the meltdowns, do address them on the way home or other times when she isn't having them. Let her know that behavior is unacceptable, and that she's not to do it. Sorry, losing her mind and taking it out on you isn't right, yet having done it since the beginning of the school year has shown her it's OK. She needs to learn it's not. Maybe going to bed earlier on meltdown days can be her consequence?

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

you don't mention if the daycare has her nap when she is there all day - i'd be surprised if they didn't. i would get with them, and first off, try to get her on the same routine that they keep when she is there. it's possible that she's a little discombobulated because of the unpredictability of her routine. kids are junkies for a good routine :) but imo 4 is too young to be without a nap. just because she doesn't want to, or she fights it, or it's not for 3 hours anymore, doesn't mean she's ready to do without it. i feel like a solid predictable nap each day will straighten her out....even if you have to call it 'quiet time' at first. if you do it each day at the same time i bet that will help.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

I can't really offer any advice, just my condolences :(
My youngest ALWAYS had the hardest time transitioning from school to home, she is now in 7th grade and she STILL does!
It's SO frustrating. My daughter also loves school and does great there but she will get in the car and immediately start asking for things that OF COURSE we can't do at that moment: go out for ice cream, have a friend over, go to buy pencils or go out to dinner or whatever, argh! We have talked over and over about planning things, Mondays we do ice cream, she gets to have friends over on the weekend, we get to eat out every other Friday, so it's not like she never gets to do these things.
She does have ADHD, sometimes I wonder if that's part of it (?) but her DR doesn't think so.
Good luck, hopefully yours grows out of it, unlike mine :(

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Detroit on

Sounds like my daughter! I was at my wits end with her about this time last year. I finally got some advice that worked (most of the time) for us. Even if it was close to dinner time, it became part of our routine to have a snack (a HEALTHY snack) when we got home. And, I gave her a choice, usually between 2-3 items.

I don't know why it took me so long to realize this, but my daughter always has, and still does, thrive on routine. So, I decided to print out a piece of paper listing her morning routine, and when we get home routine. I put the words/time next to a piece of clip art so that she would know what it was. Oh my goodness, it was like MAGIC. Morning battles were no more. She did what was on her Morning List, as long as she could make choices along the way. (like picking out her clothes, or picking which fruit to have with her breakfast)

Kids want to be in control. We know that they cannot, but by giving them choices, at times when its okay to give them choices, you share control with them.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

It is imperative she eat a large snack when she comes home from school. Even on the way home she could eat some cheese crackers or PB on crackers. Yes, the car will suffer the consequences but she must have some good nutritious food in her tummy right away.


1. check with the school. Write down her eating schedule with them, regardless of how much she eats you need to know the schedule of when she is being offered food.

2. check with the child care teachers. Write down when they offer the kids food. She may not be getting a snack on some days due to the time she arrives and or leaves.

The reason I say this is because sometimes in child care and in schools it is not thought about. Some kids come in and haven't had a good lunch and then they might have orange halves with water for snack in child care. Of course that meets standards for a snack but it is not enough to tide a child over until 6 or 7 pm when they finally get dinner.

The government food pyramid takes all foods by the servings so if they have a fruit at snack they don't have fruit for part of their other meals for instance.

This is what a typical schedule for kids is supposed to look like. (according to state child care guidelines, they include this in them so that child care workers can understand the full day for the kids and incorporate their menus to reflect what they think kids are getting at home and school).

Grains (Oatmeal, pancakes, toast, biscuit, cereal), fruit (1/4-1/2 cup 100% juice or 1/4-1/2 cup fruit like a banana), 6-8oz. 2% milk, protein (does not need to be a meat).

Morning snack:

Juice or milk and then something yummy and fun. Counts in the food pyramid and should not totally be in the tiny part...lol.


Main dish, something like spaghetti O's is good since it has 1/4-1/2 cup of veggies in it. My granddaughter was reading the can the other day and noticed the new big print...she said "I've been eating vegetables?". I reminded her that tomatoes were vegetables so she was satisfied. But kids will eat stuff like this and other pasta dishes without realizing they are eating veggies too.

A sweet fruit like strawberries or grapes is a good choice. They don't make horrible messes and are easy to bite and toss stems and leaves away.

Jello, bread, carrot sticks with ranch dip if you have a little container, all kinds of foods can go here, only you know what she likes or dislikes.

Afternoon snack:
This usually happens after kids wake up from their naps and big kids come in from school. They use more energy sleeping than when they are awake. They need almost an instant feeding.

This snack time is important for a couple of reasons. They kids ate lunch at school before noon, it has been 3-4 hours since they ate, if they ate, and they are not going to get food for several more hours. They need the afternoon snack to be almost a small meal.

Then dinner should round out the rest of the food pyramid but be sure to count in the bedtime snack. Kids sleep better and deeper if they have something about 1/2 hour before they lay down. Our kids often do PB sandwiches or half of a banana with milk. Sometimes it might even be a bowl of cereal.

She sounds tired, that cannot be fixed. She is hungry, you have the option to fix that.

I would have something in the car for her to nibble on while you travel to your house. Then I would have something with lots of protein and some complex carbohydrates for her to sit down and eat. Once she gets her tummy full she is going to be happier....hopefully????

Letting her play in the tub is a cool alternative to swimming. I let the kids all get in and play, with swimsuits on so they are modest. I think if you think about different options she may be happier too. She is used to being mentally occupied during the days when she is in school and child care and she is mentally bored without that direct scheduling. I think maybe letting her go after school every day might be a good idea.

For Updates and Special Promotions
Follow Us

Related Questions