Late afternoons are always the hardest part of my day, as I struggle to get dinner on the table and deal with the needs, whines, and tantrums of my three kids. Any advice for how to cope with these so-called "witching hours"?
Those few hours before dinnertime can be anything but fun. Kids are often overtired, hyper, and cranky. You're exhausted. And everybody's hungry. It's natural for tempers to flare and parents to lose their patience.
It often helps to establish a late-afternoon routine. Whether your kids are just home from school or childcare, or have spent the day with you, offer them a healthy snack if dinnertime is far off. Then, give them time for active play to help channel some of that extra energy. Suggest playing outside or put on some music and let them jump and dance and move around.
If you've spent most of the day away from your kids, they're probably craving some quality "mommy" time. In that case, set aside some time to spend with your kids. Doing prep work for dinner earlier in the day (or the night before) might make this easier to do. Ask your child to choose an activity that you can do together, whether it's reading aloud, playing a game, or just talking. Giving kids your full attention now will make it easier on you in the long run. They'll be less demanding of your time when you have to devote your energy to cooking a meal.
After the kids have released some of that energy, try to have them wind down before dinner. Active play can be followed by quiet time, which may include reading, doing homework, or playing nicely with siblings or alone.
You might also suggest they help out with dinner. Kids who are included in mealtime preparation are more likely to eat (and enjoy!) their meals. Enlist younger kids to help set the table and fold napkins, while older kids can measure ingredients, pour beverages, or wash produce.
If you've tried these options and your kids are still leaving you frazzled before dinnertime, consider hiring a mother's helper for an hour or two. Maybe you can ask your neighbors if they'd like to alternate afternoons on a regular basis.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: January 2015