Are you bothered and bewildered at the bewitching hour between the “day” job, and the “night job,” aka dinner time and bedtime for the kids? If so, there is hope. By incorporating five simple strategies, and a few tips, into the hours before the kids are tucked away, and as they are going to bed, can build connections rather than create conflicts. The following tips and strategies can be adapted to fit the ages of your children.
Strategy One: Develop a late day routine and stick to it as much as possible. When not possible, and when you have time, let the kids know that there will be a change.
Strategy Two: During the busy dinner hour, create a general structure such as activities for the kids to do, while you do the various required tasks. These activities do not have to be the same each day. It is the time module that is key. You might rotate a repertoire of activities that the kids enjoy at their age level. The kids will get used to this structure and are likely to enjoy the variety. Activities might vary depending on the needs of school, weather, or the children’s ages. The hour or so before dinner might be for homework, or in the summer, playing in the yard might be appropriate. During the school week late afternoon activities are probably best to be quiet and calming. During the summer they might be more active and continue a little later.
Strategy Three: Kids like your attention, but can also respond to “parallel” activities. If you need to sit and look at the mail, try first reading a book to your child if he is little. You might sit at the table while the older child does homework. Your closeness can be a calming factor and you can also get your paper read or your mail opened. You might also try giving a little undivided attention before you go on to dinner prep or resting. This might be a time to do something quiet with the children like reading a story or listening to music. If the children are older, you might try giving them 15 minutes of undivided attention to discuss their day and then offer an activity close to where you will be cooking or resting.
Strategy Four: Sometimes kids want a sugar snack toward the end of the afternoon when it is too early for dinner and too late for a treat. A small nutritious snack an hour or so before dinner preparation begins might help reduce hunger meltdowns while dinner prep is underway. Try this: Make popsicles in the blender out of healthy yogurt and fruit. Freeze in inexpensive pop makers available in the grocery stores and offer as a before dinner treat. These are low in processed sugar and will satisfy enough to prevent hunger tantrums. The kids will be more likely to be able to comfortably occupy themselves before dinner if tummies are not uncomfortably empty.
Strategy Four: Make bedtime a special time with parent(s.). When possible keep a bedtime routine that includes a snack, hygiene and a special book or story. Kids also like to review their day. Older kids benefit from discussing issues that have arisen and engaging in problem solving. However, upsetting events might be best dealt with before time to shut off the light. Little kids will love a book. Making up a story about a character who is their alter ego can teach pro-social lessons and calm them for sleep.
Strategy Five: For a little one who has bedtime fears, leaving a night light on, a door ajar, and a promise that you will check in, may help to calm for sleep. A special stuffed animal or a tape in the CD player may also help with the transition to sleep. The key is to build in what is going to be predictable for your child.
Tips for parenting during the bewitching hours.
Keep discussions of problems out of range of the kids as much as possible.
If there is an adult problem that needs immediate attention, be reassuring to the kids and find an activity to distract them.
Avoid engaging in conflicts in front of the kids. This will exacerbate chaos and make transitions difficult.
Refrain from allowing children to engage in adult conflicts and problems, or let them play you against the other parent.
Keep a unified front about how you will handle the bedtime transition. If you disagree with the other parent, discuss it when the kids are not within earshot.
Do not displace work frustrations onto the kids. Deal with your anxiety about work at work or after the kids are in bed. Kids will pick up on this and you will get back what you put out.
Keep your own attitude as calm as possible. Kids are magnets. If they feel your stress, you will feel it coming back at you.
Let me know how it goes.