Avoid the Witching Hour – Ideas for Families
We get to the end of the day and we’re all tired. We’re done and the day isn’t. The witching hours are here.
As one reader put it, “I have constant guilt about not doing enough with them after school. All I seem to do is make dinner. Balancing cooking good food for us all plus interacting with children in a meaningful way is a constant internal stress for me.”
Table of contents
How to Avoid the Witching Hour…or hours…
What can families do at the end of the day to make things go smoothly?
There is homework to be done, tomorrow to prepare for, and of course, everyone needs to be fed and that’s all before the bedtime routine.
Is there a way we can get things done and still feel like we’ve connected with the kids? Can we avoid the witching hour?
This post contains affiliate links to my favorite meal planning service and other helpful items.
Did I mention that the Bounceback Parenting community is AH-MAZING? Here are some ideas from me and readers like you.
Allow for Transitions
You can avoid many battles if you allow for transition time. Some kids need free play and time to do their own thing after spending all day following rules and doing what others ask at school. Giving them time to play freely outside can really help balance the nervous system.
After a short break to unwind they may be better able to handle things like unpacking school work and talking about their day.
Many readers have found success reconnecting by having one of these conversation starter questions ready – instead of hammering the kids with an overwhelming question, they ask something more specific and easier to answer.
A more positive experience through the witching hours at the end of the day also means taking your own needs into consideration.
Allow yourself time to transition at the end of the day to avoid stress in the witching hours.
Molly: Change clothes. When I get back from work in the evening the kids know I need 10 minutes to regroup: take a potty break, take a deep breath, look at the mail, and put on my play clothes. Parents need help with transitions too, and a costume change helps me!
Claire: My son needs transitions and likes it to be a physical outlet after being cooped up on good behavior at school all day so he shoots hoops after school in our driveway. I think having predictable transitions helps a LOT. Whether it’s a snack or ONE TV show or tea time or checking in “how was your day” or whatever. Of course adults need a transition too! If you could swing it, a family walk around the block (w or w/out dog) would be awesome.
Plan an Activity. Or Don’t…
Let go of the notion that you have to do *something* with the kids. If you manage a calm evening between cleaning up, making dinner, and getting to bed you will probably notice many more small opportunities for connection than if you’re rushing and trying to jam in too many things.
When you allow yourself to slow down you will likely find there are ways you can teach the kids something they can do to help in the evenings.
When you slow down you have more time to start a conversation and genuinely connect. That authentic connection at the end of the day is what will make things feel calmer and less chaotic.
Breanne: Go slow! Sometimes I find myself rushing and being dismissive to the kids in the evening- just trying to get them fed and in bed. By the time they are asleep and I can think again, I feel terrible for not respecting and enjoying them.
On the other hand, some families find having an activity ready is the only thing that keeps the late afternoons running smoothly.
We have these quick-to-set-up sensory activities that tend to be our go-to activities for taming chaos. Play Doh saves the day!
Jessica: Save quiet planned activities for [the afternoon], play calm instrumental music and keep them fed so there aren’t any blood sugar drops or spikes.
Sarah: I’ve started getting smarter about meal planning. Crockpot meals or put meals together earlier in the day so all you have to do is through it in the oven. Also “save” an activity for this time. If I want to paint with the kids today or build with them I will save the project for evening time. Keeps things exciting and reduces the meltdowns before bed.
Allow Yourself to Start Over
Some days so many things have gone awry that I feel like giving up by 2 pm. Instead, a friend suggested just giving yourself a “start over” time of the day.
Take a few minutes in the afternoon to reassess and think about what actually needs to get done and what you can let go.
Find more patience by allowing yourself to realign your priorities and start over.
One reader suggests being aware of when you need to change the routine to fit your kids-
Rebecca: Figure out if the kids need certain things. For example I can tell by how two of my girls are acting that they need to go to bed. It doesn’t matter if it is 1/2 hour before their normal bedtime. I have the luxury of working with their internal schedules so sometimes bedtime has been an hour earlier. We have songs we almost always sing and that is a comfort to them as well, especially if things start getting a bit out of control for a bit. And almost as important if not more – get enough sleep yourself. I’m still working on this one.
Many families report challenging behavior, increased tantrums, and sibling squabbles in the afternoon and evening. Taking a few days to observe that behavior and identifying what could be changed during the routine will have a big impact on helping everyone to stay calmer.
This is KEY to successfully winding down in the evening and transitioning to bedtime.
Starting earlier with clean-up and dinner allows us to go slower with our evening routines. I have got to stop whatever I’m doing, make dinner and get the kids eating before it gets too late. They tend to play quietly or start watching a movie around 4 pm, which is fine, but if I let it go on too long and get lulled into thinking I don’t have to move things along, suddenly everyone is hungry and cranky and I can hardly manage to make dinner because everyone has already crashed and the problems begin.
I used to put off dinner using the excuse that my husband doesn’t get home until later, but it just meant he came home to a house full of grouchy people. I had to let go of the idea that we have to eat together every night and realize that we are a happier family if the kids are fed around 5:30 or 6 pm.
Helen: Get organised earlier in the day, eg prep tea so that you are have less to get done…
Rebekah: Eating an early dinner helps a lot for us. That leaves more time for the bedtime routine and homework.
Have a Dinner Plan
I am usually the only adult home at dinnertime and this fall I was feeling so overwhelmed and never prepared. In desperation, I tried an online meal planning service so that someone else could do meal planning for me.
It was hard for me to let go of control, but it turns out that this has improved our evenings tenfold. I love to cook so I don’t have a problem tweaking and changing the plans as needed, grocery shopping takes less time and I go into the evenings now knowing what we’re going to eat, and knowing I have the ingredients for it. Even when I’m very tired I just have to look at the plan and follow directions. This means we’ve been eating fewer lunch meat roll-ups and carrots for dinner, thankfully (not that there’s anything wrong with that in a pinch ;))
Many readers mentioned being organized about dinner:
Sarah: Meal plan! I’d be lost without one, even if I stick to it loosely. I either let my three year old help with dinner (tossing veggies in a bowl, measuring, mixing) or I put it on the stove to cook and watch Sean the Sheep with him. Or color. Or play. We still do healthy, homemade dinner, but I no longer aim for perfection.
Stacy: I enjoy the early evening much more if I’ve already got dinner in the slow cooker.
Here are a couple of ideas on making routines for the last half of the day and transitioning to bedtime.
Having routines means everyone knows what to expect which has a huge impact on kids’ abilities to listen, follow directions, and regulate their emotions.
I especially love Clara’s guidance on how to slowly create this routine – as we talk about in tips for starting a new routine, it takes time to get things working.
Clara: Luck favors the prepared. Find a day out of the week where you can plan and even prep some things for dinner for the week and stick to it. Find a time during the day to grab something out of the freezer for the next day and pop it into the fridge. Give yourself a good “skeleton” for how you want the afternoon/ evening to go, and take the steps to prep for it, and then repeat, repeat, repeat, until it’s just what everyone does! And give everyone a lot of time and grace to actually learn it; just like you won’t belittle, shame or punish yourself for forgetting to grab something from the freezer the night before, you won’t be doing any of the above for the child who doesn’t automatically associate the end of craft time with cleaning up. And a protein snack at the witching hour (4 PM here) is worth its weight in gold!
Bella: 30 mi. warning for bed, 10 min warning for bed, teeth *&* potty, Jammies … Then Snuggled together in bed- Chapter Books (3 chapters), Lullabies…. *&* Lots of Luck Not Falling Into a Slumber Yourself Sacrificing Whatever it is You May Have Planned for Yourself After Bed*Time…. works most nights for our 6 year old anyways.
Windy: Dim the lights turn off the tv… Soothing music…. Works wonders!
Lighten Up, Let Go
The suggestion that came up most often among readers was to find ways to slow down and make the evenings relaxed.
This can seem impossible when you’ve got so much to cram into the evenings, but sometimes we’ve just got to stop.
When we make it a priority to slow down, our kids will learn how to STOP in this non-stop world. Seeing grown-ups who take the time to enjoy life will have huge positive ripple effects.
Abigail: Focus on enjoying your family, making this a happy time, and let go of the innumerable TASKS! At a certain time, the day is over and the best thing you can do is just stop and relax. I spent way too much time trying to be a supermom and worrying about details.
Lynda: Late afternoon dance party. Get the wiggles out with Laurie Berkner or some other light, good mood inducing family favorite. Helped me through many an afternoon.
Deb: Avoid nagging at all costs. It makes your own blood pressure rise, and it does nothing to motivate the troops. Whenever possible, make it fun and light.
Marcie: In the evening I let go of all of my tasks/chores (yes the unfinished ones) I hold my children and let them each know how much they are loved and how special they are. It brings them closer to the family and it calms my heart from all the drama the day has offered. Love those kids they are only small once.
How are your evenings? Do you think you can slow down or does that seem like an impossible suggestion?
For more help making this part of the day go better, I just found this wonderful list by Dr. Laura Markam about surviving the witching hour – really helpful, particularly for parents who work outside the home.
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Susan Malone Semadeni
Yes. Yes it is. I intentionally avoided my work this morning, waiting for his morning nap, and then he wouldn’t sleep. So I let him sit up and play with his sister and dad (home sick today) and tried to nap myself, but was already too awake. Aaaaghhhhh…
Creative With Kids
Ugh 2-5 is brutal Susan!
Susan Malone Semadeni
Here, it is from 2-5 IN THE MORNING. Mama is soooo exhausted.
No witching hour here. Post dinner chaos while I likely hold a toddler on my lap while “eating” is totally lovely. 😉
Some things that help us:
1. One-on-one time. I have 4 kids, ages 1 1/2, 4, 8, and 10, and when everyone is getting home from school it just turns into chaos. I feel like everyone is talking at once, everyone wants a snack, papers need to be signed, stories need to be told, etc. Before the kids get home, while the littlest is napping, I do 1-on-1 with my 4-year-old (we call it Mommy & Me Time). We play a game or read stories or cook together. Then when the older ones get home, she has a snack while I do 1-on-1 time with them. We talk about their day, I sign any papers, and we go over their homework. SO much easier to listen to one person at a time.
2. “Chore” charts. Each child has 1 chore to do when they get home, plus their homework, practice for their extracurriculars (archery & dance), 15-minute room pickup, and either set or clear the table. I have these things on a dry erase chart so that instead of nagging, they just look at the chart and check things off as they do them. They are pretty good about remembering, because they know their allowance depends on it.
3. Turn off the gadgets. I have found that when I am on my computer or my husband is on his iPad during the Witching Hour the stress levels get much higher, because everything our kids do or say feels like a distraction and an invasion of space. When we keep them off, we are more present and more calm and better able to handle the “exciting” things that pop up.
Thanks for this great post! Lots of good things I can do to help the peace in our home!
Great suggestions. I am a mom to 4 – ages 7, 10, 12 and 16 – and with every single one the witching hour was the same. My husband didn’t get it and it caused a lot of tension. He’d come home from work to fighting kids and shrewish wife and would want to walk right back out. He didn’t realize by the time he got home from work the kids had been up since 7 am, hadn’t had a meal since 11:30 though snacks were given after school and the pressure to get homework done before he got home (his edict) was too much. Add to that he wanted dinner on the table by 6pm and I was ready to run away! It has gotten better as my children have gotten older and it improved drastically when we decided to homeschool this year. Schoolwork is done before he gets home and no homework to fret over.
Love all of these suggestions! As a Mom of 4 little ones, evenings can be horrid at times. I want so hard for it to be fun, relaxing, and a time to bond as a family. My oldest (6) is the only one in school yet so she is usually ready for bed but the others aren’t yet. I love the protein snack idea (I like to do a fruit/veg platter..we call it a “monkey platter” for fun 🙂 ). I find if I have dinner figured out for the night before 10ish a.m. then the day goes smoother. I have more energy in the morning vs. late afternoon. Dance parties are great too. I would love to spend more time with each of my kids at bedtime (singing/reading books more, etc) but I’m just TOO tired I want them all to just go to bed!! Hubby helps but works long hours and is tired then too. It helps if I stop feeling guilty that I didn’t do the “supermommy” bedtime routine and just do the essentials and send them to bed with a kiss. I think when they are a bit older and can do more on their own and I’m not so tired from getting up with the toddler and baby I’ll have more energy. I get so worn down my voice is usually too hoarse to read books at night anyway! 🙁
It sounds too simple to work, but a snack that includes a decent amount of protein makes a HUGE difference to how the rest of the afternoon / evening goes e.g. apple + cheese sticks, carrots with peanut butter or humus, even PBJ on wholemeal. And drink more water than you think you need – and get the kids to do the same 🙂
Thanks for these great tips! I’m alone with my kiddo six days a week during this time of day so these ideas are really helpful. I have the luxury (for now) of a schedule that has my husband home earlier in the day (10am-12noon) before my son goes to preschool. So that’s his time for now, but next year we’ll start the all-day school schedule when he begins Kindergarten and I will be truly on my own six days a week all day due to my husband’s work schedule. I think NOW is a great time to start transitioning to some of these ideas so we’re ready this fall.
Rebekah @ The Golden Gleam
Wonderful advice! Yes, I hear from a lot of other mothers that the early dinner is impossible because of the husband’s schedule. For us, it works not to eat with daddy most nights and we find other ways to spend time as a whole family other than dinner.
I think another tip would be to minimize after school extra curriculars. I think its much harder to have a peaceful evening when your family is rushing back and forth between activities.
One of the things that really helped with me and I started it when my daughter was still a young toddler was doing bath before dinner. My husband gets home too late, if we did dinner first then bath, he wouldn’t get to spend any time with the kids. When they were less independent, I’d let them watch one tv show after bath while I got dinner ready. Now that they are older, we don’t really need the tv as much to keep them occupied.
I really appreciate this article. My kids have a slightly different routine depending on who is home in the evening, which is both trying and helpful in teaching them to cope with transitions. I am the working-outside-the-home parent and usually work evenings, not getting home until 9pm, after the kids are in bed. I feel spoiled that my partner has been forced to come up with his own late afternoon/evening routine for getting the kids. When I am home during the evening, I often have to be taught the routine by my children, who can respond negatively if I interrupt the flow too much, but also respond positively to the newness of mom being home during that time. I find that it’s super important to be respectful of the routines build by the parent dealing with the so-called witching hour…
Thanks for this because I just recently started trying to make the nights more fun and relaxing. I have an almost 4 year old and a 9 month old, both boys, so slowing down can he hard. We eat dinner around 530 and then the baby gets stripped to his diaper and sometimes the older one wants naked time too ( underwear only) and we all play. It’s normally pretty rowdy at that time for about a half hour but it gets out their energy and prepares them for quiet time. Then we watch my older ones show and I feed the baby, then bed for the baby and I get to spend about a half hour with my older one.
Our evenings are mostly absoloute chaos! It’s a nightmare and it doesn’t matter how good my intentions are, at some point I lose my temper and end up hollaring at every body and I feel awful every day about it. Sometimes I am super organised and the evening goes well and everyone is fed , bathed and in bed with time for stories and play as well. Usually this is on the day both my boys are out for the day (nursery/school!) but for the rest of the week I constantly feel like i’m chasing my tail and losing the plot frequently. I’m still breast feeding my toddler and i would like to get him off it really. He is only just getting the hang of sleeping in his own bed and at most only lasts 2 hours!! He’s then in bed with us for the rest of the night…. My eldest is insanely jealous over this and it causes constant tension between the kids and me and the kids. So yeah. The witching hour…it seems like it lasts at least 23 hours in my house!! 🙁 but i love my boys and i want to make it better for all of us and as the saying goes “Rome wasnt built in a day”, I’m not going to fix this scenario overnight! Slowly, slowly, gently, gently and hopefully one day i will wake up and harmony will reign….one day!! 🙂
Beverly, you sound a lot like me. I have been working on learning my trigger points. For example, if I pick my kids up or they come home from school when I am hungry, I tend to have a much shorter fuse. Also, I make sure I use the restroom before picking them up so that I am not trying to hurry them too fast. I try to plan ahead for their afternoon snack whenever I can, and there is less fighting and no yelling. Figuring all of this out has worked wonders!
Excellent points Adrienne!
I totally needed this!! Thank you for your input!