Witching hour with toddlers: 10 tips for a calmer happier evening
What a great mum you’ve been today. You’ve managed your little ones with finesse. Perhaps you’ve gone to work and masterfully achieved dropoff and pickup on time.
Now you’re home and you’re going to calmly potter about the kitchen making a nutritious delicious dinner. Maybe the darlings will even help out, like they do in those Pinterest pics.
Your toddler won’t let go of your legs. The older ones are losing it, fighting over anything at all. The baby is inconsolable.
And dinner’s still not done.
It’s witching hour. Or, more like witching hours – that period of time from 4pm until seemingly forever when young children lose it.
Fortunately, there are strategies you can use to diffuse the drama and make this time of day flow more smoothly.
Here are 10 natural and gentle ways to survive toddler witching hours
1. Acknowledge you're not alone
It’s easy to imagine that everyone else’s child is well behaved this time of day. You visualise these perfect families laughing and dancing to music as the mum whips up a nutritious feast.
The truth is, all young children are tetchy this time of day. Some kids worse than others, some days worse than others. Some days that make you question whether you’re cut out for this parenting gig.
Conversely, also take time to acknowledge that it is difficult to do this alone. Remember, for hundreds of thousands of years, we’ve done this parenting thing with a tribe. We literally had a tribe of sisters and aunties around us, plus assorted grandmothers to soothe cranky babies. It’s in our cells to need our village around us this time of day; yet in most nuclear families, you’re doing this solo.
It mightn’t be practical to call a friend or your sister right on dinner time, so instead, take the time to connect with someone earlier in the day. Or line up a phone call after the kids are in bed. Give yourself the feeling of being surrounded by fellow mothers.
2. Understand why
Empathy for your kids will help you meet their needs more easily. And it might help you adjust your expectations of domestic bliss. There are scientific reasons why children are irritable this time of day, and this spreads from newborns up to teenagers.
Our body clocks
We are naturally low in energy at this time. It’s traditionally a time of rest and recuperation, as we settle down for the night. Our body clocks have yet to evolve to the fact we work all day and now need to sort out dinner, laundry, baths and homework.
Young children might seem to have extra physical energy, as they recover from their busy day, but their emotional energy is low.
This is a busy time of day. There’s lots going on, you’re rushing around like a mad thing, and older siblings/ other parents are all home at the same time, and it’s prime time for younger babies to cry.
If your toddler has been home with you most of the day with plenty of time to linger, this switch to busy-ness can be confusing for toddlers.
If your little one has been at daycare or preschool, there’s two things going on. They need more reassurance and attention from you as they haven’t had it all day. Plus, they’ve been holding it together for much of the day, behaving and following rules, and now they need to let it all out.
3. Take time to connect
This is particularly true if you’ve just come home from work or after-school activities but also applies on quieter days. Before you start rushing around getting dinner ready or tidying the house (again!), take a few minutes to truly connect with your child. Make eye-to-eye contact, and actively listen. Show them you’re there for them.
4. Set expectations: Yours and Theirs
Keep things as simple as possible this time of day, and as routine as possible. Don’t “just pop into the shop to get some milk” if you can possibly avoid it.
Tell yourself it’s going to be a tricky time. Don’t judge your entire parenting ability on this short space in the day.
Plus, as you switch from daytime activities to evening mode, remind your child what’s about to happen. We often expect our little ones to know what’s going on, and forget to explain routine events. Tell them, “I’m going to be in the kitchen getting dinner ready while you play with your playdough right here where you can see me. Then we’ll eat dinner together, and then I’ll give you a bath.”
5. Prepare ahead
Witching hour with toddlers is never a good time to make dinner, even if it’s supposedly simple. Cook ahead as much as possible – in the morning, the night before, or even batch-cook on weekends.
Alternatively, put together a little play box, for them to use while you’re in the kitchen. Sensory yet easy activities are best (see point 7).
Take time throughout the day or the night before to prepare for witching hour. For example make sure their pyjamas are ready next to the bath, or the dishwasher is unloaded ready for dinner dishes.
6. Meet your needs
A frazzled mother can’t soothe a frazzled toddler. Make sure your own primary needs are met. We’re not talking a holiday and a cocktail, but you can make sure you’re hydrated, not too hungry, and have had at least a short burst of exercise that day.
7. Distract with play
Provide soothing yet engaging activities for your little one to do. The TV or iPad might seem easy, but these can overstimulate this time of day, and often only postpone the meltdown.
What does your child need? Some love to do somersaults, or roll around on the floor. Others love music and dancing.
Or if they’re physically tired, sensory activities such as kinetic sand, playdough or colouring can help calm. Try to find activities that don’t require your input.
8. Take a bath
Not you, them! When everyone’s completely tetchy, a warm soothing bath with essential oils can really calm things down. It’s like a reset button. The sensory and soothing nature of the water does amazing things to little ones’ nervous systems, while the essential oils in a baby bath product like Lovekins baby hair and body wash are proven to calm and relax.
9. Add a toddler massage
I know what you’re thinking: who’s got time for a massage right before dinner?! Yet it might be exactly what your little one needs to calm down for the evening.
Taking 15 minutes to do a soothing massage can achieve multiple things at once:
- it boosts the bond and connection with your toddler, especially effective if you’ve been apart during the day
- it calms their brain and bodies
- and it’s even proven to reduce stress hormones.
10. Mix it up
Yes, a routine is vital to survive witching hour. But don’t be afraid to try a different strategy. Run the bath at 4pm rather than after dinner. Or try offering two little dinners in late afternoon and early evening, rather than trying to push through to a proper sit-down meal later.