The Witching Hour

What is it about the hours surrounding dinnertime that turns ordinarily well-behaved children into little monsters? I don’t have an answer to that question, but I can help a dad who needs guidance on making that time more pleasant for everyone.

There are things you can do that will bring down the crankiness and turn what I call “the witching hour” into a more pleasant experience for all.

Q: What can my wife and I do to help the children to be obedient and pleasing to be around during the hours of 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.? The children are ages 3 to 11. We find that at the end of the day, the children are wound up and tired, usually leading to lots of fussing, rough play and disobedience. My wife and I are also tired at the end of the day and it would help if at that time everyone in the house was on their best behavior. 

A: I hate to break it to you but I highly doubt that you’re going to get “best behavior” from anyone in your household between the hours of 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.—including the parents! As you noted, you and your wife are tired, your kids are cranky, and things rapidly go from bad to worse in the blink of an eye.

However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t hope for a smoother evening! There are things you can do that will bring down the crankiness and turn what I call “the witching hour” into a more pleasant experience for all.

Before I give you an easy plan that you can start implementing tonight, let’s talk about some general things you and your wife should do to help with the evening hustle and bustle:

Plan the menu for the week ahead of time. Yes, I know this can be time consuming and boring—it’s my least favorite thing to do!—but it DOES help make dinner time go much smoother when you’re following a planned menu, instead of throwing together a meal.

Use oven timers and slow cookers to your advantage. Even if one of you stays home with the kids, having the bulk of the evening meal already prepped and cooking in a slow cooker or ready to pop into the oven can ease the stress of making a meal with squabbling children. The less you have to do in the evening, the better. As your household calms down, start teaching the older kids to cook, but for now, it’s probably best that a parent tackle this chore.

Consider eliminating after-school activities. If your kids do sports or take lessons after school, that could be contributing to the chaos around suppertime. Think about cutting back or stopping those activities for a while until you get this time of day under control.

Now, here’s what you can do to restore a semblance of peace for dinner/bedtime:

Send the kids to their rooms for the twenty minutes or so after you get home from work. Rather than have everyone vying for the attention of mom and dad, greet your children, hug them, spend about five minutes focused solely on them, then send them to their rooms while you talk to your spouse and put the finishing touches on dinner. This won’t hurt them, and it will keep them from getting underfoot while your attention is divided.

Make sure your kids have chores. Your oldest can certainly do the dishes, while your younger kids set and clear the table, etc. Having specific duties during this time will give kids something to do other than fight with each other or bother you.

Establish bedtime routines. When kids know what to expect, things go much smoother. Stagger their bedtimes (such as 7 p.m. for the 3 year old, up to 8:45 p.m. for the 11 year old). That way, you’ll be able to spend a few minutes with each one before they are tucked into bed. Have them write down all the things they need to do before bed (help the preschooler with pictures of what he has to do) and then tell them by when they have to be ready. For example, the 3 year old must be ready for stories by 6:45 p.m. each night. That will help teach them time management and also take you out of the equation of micromanager.

These simple things should help turn the chaos into calm!

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