When my kids were newborns and toddlers and I would complain to my mom about the crankiness and tantrums that always seemed to occur in the late afternoon, she would say, “yep, that’s called the Witching Hour.” I didn’t care what it was called, it was awful. The so-called Witching Hour has continued into Elementary School as well. My third grader and kindergartener will come home, drop their backpacks and shoes in the doorway, and immediately start bickering, complaining, and whining. I don’t even have a chance to empty their backpacks before I’m yelling at them.
I know why they’re cranky in the late afternoon – they’re tired, they’ve been behaving (mostly) in school all day, and now, they are in their safe place – they can release the stress of the day. But I’m still not ok with how they do this. That is not how I want to start off my night with them.
So, I decided to make a change.
The thing is, what kids really want – more than anything – is your time. They want to be seen, to be heard, to be the sole focus of your attention. When my kids would get home from school, I would be running around, picking up after them, doing my own thing, not really paying attention to them – at least not in a way that they needed. So I decided to change that. My boys get home around 4:00. This leaves an hour before I start getting ready for dinner. So I told them for this one hour, I’ll do whatever you want with you. We can go outside, play basketball, jump on the trampoline, play inside, even play on your tablet. But whatever you choose, I’ll do it with you.
And that changed everything.
Now, when they get home, they’re excited they get to play with me for an entire hour. Sometimes it’s hard because there are two of them and only one of me, so sometimes I have to split my time, but when I’m playing with them – together or separately – they have my full attention.
Usually my third grader and I will play soccer outside. During our soccer game we talk about our day and it’s in that time I learn more about his day then I ever would by asking the blanket “how was your day?” question as he walks in the door. When he’s active, and slightly distracted, he will open up the most.
My kindergartener likes me to watch him play games on his tablet. So I sit next to him, and listen to him explain the game he’s playing, as I rub his back, or physically touch him in some way. I want him to know I’m there; I’m listening; I’m watching.
When the hour is over, I tell them it’s time for me to cook dinner and they can continue to play what they’re playing until it’s dinnertime, just not with me. And by then, after they had an hour of my undivided attention, they are usually calm and happy.
I even created a chart that I keep on the fridge with our “School Night Schedule” so they can see exactly when it’s time to play, time for dinner, time for homework, etc. That way, they aren’t taken by surprise when I say “ok! Time for homework!” Don’t get me wrong, they’ll still complain, but it won’t be as dramatic as if they didn’t know it was coming.
This obviously doesn’t solve all of our problems. My kids still whine, they still bicker, and I still yell. But the mood of our house has improved significantly since I implemented this change. So if your household experiences the Witching Hour, give this a try. It’s one hour of your day, and I have a feeling your kids will appreciate it more than you may expect. To them, the simple things are the important things.