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How To Win: Understanding The Witching Hour

witchingCall it what you want, the witching hour, arsenic hour, or just plain hell, but the tumultuous time that happens late afternoon when you leave work and pick up the kids from school/daycare or come home from work to relieve the baby sitter actually happens for a reason and understanding why is the key to success.

Every day I come home to three happy smiling kids.  Sawyer yells “Mommy, I missed you” as he runs and gives me a hug, meanwhile the twins are bolting towards me at the door, Sansa yelling “HI. HI. HI. HI”.  It’s a good feeling.  Yet, on the three days a week when my parents help out everything quickly goes pear-shaped.    I kiss them goodbye and within two minutes everyone breaks out crying and screaming.  Sometime it starts before my parents even get their shoes on!  The girls are screaming and crying and Sawyer is yelling that he wants something whether it’s chocolate milk, a sandwich or to do an art project.

It can be really upsetting.  I mean, I know the kids love my parents, but what am I?  Chopped liver?  MOMMY is here!  Then there is the fact that I have already been up almost 12 hours, hungry and tired from a long day at work and the sounds of everyone screaming and crying is enough to want to send you over the edge sometimes.

After three months of this, I have gotten used to it in a way.  I just remember to keep my cool knowing that in 20 minutes it will have passed and we will be okay.  It’s tough though because I may have up to an hour of “work” before I can get the kids settled and actually relax for a second (and by relax I mean, change out of my work clothes and possible get something to eat or a cup of tea).  It doesn’t last long either because as soon as dinners are done we have to bundle and pack up to go walk the dogs.

Recently I read an amazing article that helped me understand why this happens.  Turns out, it has nothing to do with my kids love of my parents, or their disappointment to be left with me.  In fact, it’s just the opposite.  You see, for my kids being with my parents is just like me being at work.  You have a work persona that you have to maintain to a certain degree so even if you are angry or upset or sleep deprived (you mean there’s another way?) you have to act civilly to your colleagues and be productive.  The kids are the same.  They may have feelings going on like they are tired, or hungry, or upset because someone took their favourite toy away from them, but they hold it in because it is not the appropriate place and time to express those feelings (partially because they have not learned how to express them).

Then just like how once you get home and start to unwind in the comfort and safety of your home, your kids do the same thing.  Once Mommy is home they feel safe that they can now let their guard down and express those feelings they have been bottling up all day.  Since they are just kids, and learning how to process their feelings this usually results in what I would call as a melt down.

Understanding this is huge for me.  Now instead of feeling frustrated with them, or disappointed in myself, I know not to take it personally and that all they are looking for from me is some comfort and reassurance.  While I used to negatively joke that they would “save it all up for me” when I got home, I now know that is actually true, and I can empathize with them.  Even as an adult there is a huge release that comes with getting to let go and vent to a loved one (you can ask Daddy about that one).

So here are a few tips I have found helpful if you have to deal with a witching hour of your own, whether it’s when you pick up your child from daycare, when they come home from school. or when you get home from work.

1.  Plan ahead.  If you can, take care of yourself before the situation so you can be more present.  If you are tired grab a coffee on the way, or if you are hungry eat a granola bar from your purse.  One article I read even suggested bringing your jeans with you to work so you could change at the end of the day and be comfortable and ready to take on the chaos.

2. Stay calm.  Getting frustrated doesn’t help anyone.  Just keep reminding yourself that it won’t last, but it could potentially last even longer if you make your already upset and frustrated children more frustrated and upset.

3. Try food.  Everyone is cranky when they are hungry and kids are no exception.  Have healthy snacks ready you can offer for them to munch on while you get dinner started.  Worried that will ruin their dinner?  Try to make it a part of dinner.  For example, some cut up veggies or a couple of slices of cheese.  Nothing big, just something to tie them over, and to focus their attention away from the meltdown.

4.  Get your kids involved.  Distraction works wonders.  Sawyer could be very upset about something but when I ask him if he wants to help me cook dinner or feed the animals it can change his mind and his mood in an instant.  While chores and cooking take longer with little ones underfoot it is still better for you than running around trying to get things done in between freak out sessions, and it’s better for your kids because they get to be involved, learning and feeling important.

5. Give lots of hugs.  You may be feeling disconnected from you since you have been apart all day and you need to re-establish the connection.  Giving them lots of hugs will help do that.  Plus, since hugging releases endorphins you will feel better after too.  When I come home, just seeing my kids again, and how cute and amazing they are, even when I am tired all I want to do is hug them for days!

6.  Be pre-emptive.  There are rare times when make it through the transition meltdown free.  Those are the times when, seeing everything is under control, I want to collapse on the couch for a moment and check my phone.  Not a good idea.  While you are tired, even though they may not show it your kids are so happy to see you, they haven’t seen you all day, and they don’t understand that you may be stressed, busy, or just plain exhausted.  So (depending on the age of your kids) get down on the floor with them and shower them with attention.  Once they feel loved and confident in the fact that mommy is here for them and everything is okay they can return to being themselves again.  If you ignore them (actually or just seemingly) and I can assure you they will find a (probably negative) way to get your attention.

What are your tips for surviving the witching hour with your kids?  Share your tips in the comments section.


About Shannon

I am a university educated full-time working mother of four children. Proudly Canadian, I freeze my butt off along with my loving partner, two dogs and a cat. I hope you enjoy reading my posts as much as I love writing them, but if you have nothing nice to say, don't say anything at all.


14 thoughts on “How To Win: Understanding The Witching Hour

  1. Hmmm, this gets me thinking. Our situation is different as I am home all day with them but yet the witching hour still occurs. There has to be some kind of connection but I’m not sure what. It’s normally like right at 5 pm here.

    Posted by Heather C | April 11, 2014, 7:47 am
    • That is true as well. I have read about it occurring in this situation as well, but I didn’t write about it. The reasons are similar due to them needing a “break” from the day, low blood sugar etc.

      Posted by Shannon | April 11, 2014, 10:43 am
  2. I have a similar situation as Heather. I will pull out (washable) paint or send them to their closed in play area. On days when I spend most of the witching hour in the floor with them, I’ll pull out one of my freezer meals for dinner. The times that I have turned on tv generally backfires into fights and whining. I love the idea of including some of their dinner as snacks. On really bad days, everyone benefits to me sipping some guinness and dance music.

    Posted by crumbsoffthetable | April 11, 2014, 8:10 am
  3. When we pick Jacqueline up from daycare she always asks for her pacifier right away. After she’s been quiet and had a few minutes of me time, she’ll “talk” non stop on the car ride home. Right when we get home from work/picking her up from daycare she gets a small snack. Then she “helps” us get dinner ready. If she doesn’t get that snack she will have a total melt down and yell “nummies, mommy, nummies…hungry!” I never knew why, I just did what worked, but what you said totally makes sense!

    Posted by Katie Mere | April 11, 2014, 8:11 am
  4. This is amazing! I have noticed that with my kids if they stay over at a friends house overnight, the next day at home, for a time, is horrendous! I always suspected that this was the reason, but wasn’t sure. Thanks so much! Great Blog post!
    I would add, use an interesting distraction sometimes to help them get their minds in order and occupied again. It helps to get their minds off of whatever it is, and they can adjust a little better.

    Posted by vrein11 | April 11, 2014, 9:42 am
  5. There is SO MUCH wisdom and truth in this post! When my girls were two years old, I’d pick them up at daycare and they would run to me. One with smiles, the other would see me coming, that little lip would pucker and she’d burst into tears while trying to become ONE with my skin. The teacher would say, “I’ve never seen that before” which scared me a bit, she was a veritible Toddler Whisperer and I went to her for years for snipits of advise. I knew though that she was finally letting out all the feelings she kept cooped up while being good at daycare. With me, she could do the ugly cry and let her hair done.
    Thanks for sharing this post.

    Posted by whyistherebreadinmykoolaid | April 11, 2014, 10:09 am
    • I am glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for sharing your experience. I dont know what that teacher was talking about but I have read about that type of situation time and time again, they are completely normal. Have a great weekend.

      Posted by Shannon | April 11, 2014, 10:48 am
  6. I did know that. I am so glad you shared. Thanks a ton.

    Posted by nirupamaprv | April 11, 2014, 11:05 am
  7. Great tips. I feel with witching hour every day and it’s exhausting. I’m going to have to try some new tactics and see if we can get a better handle on it!

    Posted by MommaNeedsCoffee | April 11, 2014, 6:20 pm

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