Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Unhappy Hour

An article in the October 2010 issue of Parents magazine offered help for a daily dilemma most parents face: the "witching" hour, as the writer referred to it. You know the one--that hour before dinner when "the day's stresses catch up with the whole family, turning well-manned children into kidzillas."

Let's take a look inside a typical home during that, shall we say, special...hour of the day? The kids are kicking it up a notch when it comes to whining, fighting over toys, and pulling at Mom's legs while she's trying frantically to hurry up dinner prep so she can solve everyone's attitude problems simply by serving them food. But one can only chop vegetables so quickly, and meat actually has to be cooked, and raw potatoes or rice aren't really edible, so Mom--and the kids--have to endure until it's ready.

But how can that period of time (I'll call it the unhappy hour) become a bit more happy?

A few helpful tips (some ideas from the article in Parents')  :
  • Cut up an apple or a pear, or another fruit, and put it on the table, perhaps along with some cheese cubes and whole-grain crackers, so everyone can have something healthy to snack on while waiting for dinner. (I think sometimes, a big part of the problem is that little people have little tummies. Especially if they didn't eat much of their lunch, they may be starving. We know that doesn't feel good. We know how to deal with it if we're starving; they don't. So they fight and whine and tug on you--all in an effort to say, "Mom, please help me now!" (even though it never translates that clearly!).
  • If you have time, help overstimulated kids relax by taking a short walk outside before the evening routine begins. The article says this helps melt away the day's "leftover stress."
  • Put on some relaxing music, to help the kids mark the time as a transition from a busy day into wind-down period of dinner and a leisurely evening (unless it's a busy evening ahead). Regardless, a period from 4-5pm, or 4:30-5:30pm, or whenever you need it now!, of having the kids get comfy on the couch, or lay on the floor with pillows and look at books, or kids' magazines, and listen to music may curb many of the problems that otherwise occur. (This week we tried it with a Bible Songs for Kids CD, my son's High Five magazine, other books for my little ones, and it worked well to occupy them--peacefully--while I started dinner).
  • I thought this was a neat idea from the article: When Dad gets home from work and changes clothes (or Mom too), perhaps have the kids change into more comfy clothes too. This, again, will signal to them that there is a switch happening in the day--going from busy to relaxing. (The drawback of this is it creates more laundry, but if they keep their lounge clothes clean (good luck!), they could rewear them for several days in a row.)
  • Keep dinner fairly simple until children can help execute more involved recipes and meals. I am learning this is my time to really work the tried-and-true family favorites that take a half hour or less (or close to that). My love for fun new recipes that are more gourmetish can wait until we're out of "unhappy" hour territory.
  • Simplifying dinner prep also means you can eat at an earlier hour, which is something the article also suggests. If you feed your kids at 4:30pm, they can still come and sit back at the table when you and your husband eat.
  • I really like this idea: Remember that "small children aren't able to tell time yet. So it's helpful to have a signal that one part of the day is done and another is just beginning." The article suggests having the child go on a hide-and-seek mission through the house, which will keep him or her occupied while you can start dinner.
I hope you can find at least one idea that will work for your family and help transform that hard hour into one that is a bit more enjoyable.

Please share if you've found any tips that help manage that time period!


  1. Before I came across the Parents magazine, I read this:

    and thought that many other families face the same daily difficulty I do. I do allow healthy snacks in the afternoon and sometimes before dinner, as you suggest.

    Now to implement the other strategies!

  2. I used to use my one "allowed" hour of TV during the witching hour :)

  3. I have been trying to get some veggies ready for my little guy while I am working on dinner/finishing up. He really likes peas and green beans, which heat quickly. Then he can sit or graze (out of the kitchen) and snack away. God bless!