Monday, October 10, 2011

putting a spell on 'the witching hour'

The reactions I get from people when they find out our children are tv-free range from utter horror to mild curiosity to slight embarrassment (for either party). Like so many of the choices I've made through my parenting journey, this is not exactly the norm. Regardless of the type of reactions I get, the number one question I get from all mothers is, "How on earth do you get dinner on?"

Although there are many Mums who don't like relying on the TV to soothe, distract or baby-sit it's hard not to turn it on at 5pm when children are hungry and tired, babies are clingy and the dinner needs to be made. And I hear you! As a general rule, between 5 and 630pm is not exactly the most calm and peaceful time around here. This is usually when Indigo hurts herself in some way or another; and (not coincidentally) the time that North becomes rowdy and unfocused; and the time everyone is hungry and thirsty and terribly whiney. It's the time when things get spilled, when my ankles are being clung to and when afternoon naps have officially worn off.

Here are a few things I do so that I feel prepared for when all hell breaks loose at the witching hour. They take the edge off and quite often bring us back to centre.

Pre-prep dinner. I just have to. When the children are down for their nap at midday I almost always pre-prep if not totally prep dinner. I slice veggies and put them into containers in the fridge, ready to throw into whatever dish we're having; I make pizza or bread dough, cook rice and put it aside, make sauces or dressings... I do whatever it is that needs to be done in order to make dinner really, really simple to make.

As long as you have dinner very well prepared- get outside. Go to the park, play in the backyard, go for a quick walk in the rain. Burn off their energy and when you arrive home throw the dinner on and serve immediately.

Time snacks well. I am not like my husband. Bread and jam at 4:45pm is not an option. Snacks are eaten at the very latest 3pm so that the children are truly hungry for their dinner. Avoid sugar as this definitely leads to emotional meltdowns in our home.

Rely on a good old-fashioned book. The more your children are used to picking up a book and perusing it at their leisure, the more they'll enjoy it... they'll learn to enjoy it and they'll soon learn that they don't always need you to be there either.

If you can't go outside set the children up with something active to do: can they jump on a designated bed? can you put the couch cushions all over the floors and let them romp around on them? can they race in the hallways? build blanket forts?

Let them help. There is always something children can help with in the kitchen- grating cheese or veggies, rolling bread, stirring sauces or dressings, picking herbs from the garden, setting the table, picking flowers for the table, making name-cards for the table... sometimes it's harder to come up with a task than others and quite often when they help it means there will be more mess. But my philosophy is the more mess the merrier. Or at least that's there philosophy and I just go with it.

 Stick the baby on your back. Many of us carry our babies around outside but don't take advantage of today's baby carriers when we're in our own homes. Older babies love watching you cook dinner from the safety of your back. Pass a few taste samples back there while you're at it.

Bathtime!! On particularly rotten days I've declared a 4pm bathtime! I mean who doesn't chill out after a nice, warm bath. Then it's dinner in our PJs, stories and bed.

Create kid-friendly cupboards in the kitchen. Cupboards or drawers designated to children's things. Ideally these shouldn't be toys, but kitchen items that they are allowed to explore and play with. They want to imitate you and do what you're doing. Small pots, wooden spoons, tupperware containers and measuring cups are all great even for a little baby.

Play music. Music is soothing and uplifting for you and them. Working together to the beat of the music  lightens the load and heaviness of the afternoon. Make a playlist you know you and your children will enjoy. Here's one of our favourites.

Listen to stories on tape, CD, mp3. We're huge fans of Sparkle Stories in this house.

Stop. Acknowledge. Listen. Engage. Return. So often our little ones aren't askin for much, they just want to be heard and understood for brief moments. Too many, "Mmmhmms" and "in a minutes" or "I'm busy"'s cause tension and frustration in our little ones. Episodes or meltdowns can often be avoided and prevented if we simply put down what we're doing, engage in our child's play for a few moments and then sneak away when they time is right. Try to resist the urge to rush, rush, rush and stay grounded in the moment.

Perhaps next time you feel the urge to turn the TV on in order to get a bit of peace and quiet you could try a few of these suggestions first. I promise, it's really not that hard. It just takes a little getting used to.


Brenda said...

Even though my children are older than yours, I think I'll try a few of your ideas.....thanks!

Mama Mash said...

such a wise mama!

loving the pic of the 2 bookworms <3

Jen said...

Wonderful ideas, thanks

motherwho said...

Great ideas and I am definitely going to try to do more prep during the day as I am that mama with the toddler round her ankle saying 'just a minute, mama's cooking, etc' which sends us both a bit nuts. Some outdoor play before dinner could work for us really well I think! We are tv free too and because I have done it from the beginning and don't know any different(Nella is 18 months now) I am not finding it that hard. The biggest 'thing' we did in our house not long after Nell was born was remove the tv from our kitchen/family room area which took away all temptation. Now we only have one tv out in our back room, and it's positioned as such (far away from the kitchen, etc) that you can really only go out there to relax after dinner, not have it on in the background, etc. Absolutely love this post and I'm sure I will be back to read it again and again!!! Lucy xo

emma @ frog, goose and bear said...

Great suggestions! I found the most effective thing for us was to have dinner at 5pm every night as it avoided trying to entertain cranky and tired toddlers. Full tummies meant happier kids during the 'witching hour'.

Emma Galloway said...

Awesome ideas! Nice to know I'm not the only one who chucks their kids in the bath at 4pm if all is turning to custard, amazing how much more chilled out kids are after a little water play eh. Something I also like to do is chop up a small bowl of vegetables to keep the kids going in that last 30mins before dinner is ready, they'll always get eaten because they are starving at that time but they don't fill them up too much and then you don't have to stress too much if they don't want to eat many veges at dinner time!

ashley said...

Love this post. That time of night we used to call cocktail hour (my little one was a mega cluster feeder) and now some nights arsenic hour. Often my ergo helps to get through it as my Bub perches over me and we all feel a bit more settled. On another note, we have that hush baby hush book in our home, do you not find the story a bit odd? Piper loves it but it seems a bit disjointed. Perfect for the most disjointed part of the day I suppose! X ashley

Obaitori Spiritual Mothering said...

Great post Meagan, can definitely relate. I also dinner prep, a must for our 'witching hours.' I find that when I am prepared, i.e. Routine strongly adhered to, it all goes 'relatively' much better. To add to all of your fabulous suggestions, I put sweet orange oil in the bath or oil burner. I find this refreshers and calms nerves. And I will usually play a little kirtan or some classical music during dinner to get everyone to sit still for longer than 5 minutes. I agree too on the 'read a book' suggestion and if full of energy 'go and see what is happening outside' suits children of most ages. Thanks Beautiful Meagan. Your children are fortunate with your high level of awareness. Love Katie x

Kirsty @ Bowerbird Blue said...

We had the music on at witching hour yesterday and it definitely works, plus I was only making toasties for dinner. Sushi done for dinner tonight so should all be smooth. I admire your TV free life, wish I wasn't such an addict! Some great tips there, thankyou!

Domestic Artisan said...

Your house sounds like ours; it's crazy noisy & busy at that time but no tv. Prep, park, books, music are all our keys too.

langsam leben said...

I will bookmark this post for when I have children. Thanks for this great piece of advice.

Jacinta said...

Hi! My kids don't watch tv either. It was never a decision we made, it was just never really a thought to put it on! My eldest does watch the occasional movie with us, we have 'movie night' we make pizza together, have a bath then make popcorn and watch a movie together. But that's the only exception. They just don't know any different so making dinner has never been an issue for me!

Bronwyn said...

How timely is this post for me! Why do the kids voices seem so loud at that time, as well as traffic noises, dogs barking, daddy arriving home! Fantastic advice, will definetly be using some of these tactics, thanks Meagan :)

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