Remedies for the Witching Hour

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Put your kids to work.

Get older children involved with food prep, whether they're playing sous-chef (helping with pouring and chopping) or waiter (helping set the table and serving up food). "Even if it doesn't reduce your workload much, it can reduce your resentment of having to do all the chores," says Dr. Baicker-McKee. "Plus, kids like to feel they are contributing to the household."

Feed young kids early.

"If they're starving and tired, why not feed them at 5:30 or even 4:30?" Dr. Markham says. That's a particularly good strategy when one partner gets home late or there's a babysitter on deck who can do it. Later, everyone can sit down for "family hour" -- parents eat dinner while children feast on fruit for dessert. "Kids get experience with family meals and can connect with both parents," says Dr. Markham, "but they are fed at a developmentally appropriate hour." (If the kids are always in bed by the time you and your spouse arrive home, don't sweat it; just be sure to share another meal, like breakfast.)

Change your expectations.

Knowing that witching-hour meltdowns are common -- and normal -- can make them easier to tolerate. "Put your kids' feelings into words and let them know you understand," says Dr. Baicker-McKee. "Empathy goes a long way." Cut yourself a little slack too; it just may not be the best time to teach your kids about the colors in the bean salad you're making, adds Jen Singer, author of Stop Second-Guessing Yourself: The Toddler Years. "Abandon your Mother-of-the-Year aspirations," she says, "and, if it comes to it, let the kids pull all the tissues out of the box and then stuff them back in later, anything to keep the peace and your sanity." Including the occasional glass of wine.

Ignore your phone

Avoid the temptation to return calls, dive into e-mail, or sort mail after dinner. Just get everyone fed, says Dr. Markham. "Then you'll have all the more energy to tend to other tasks, including kids' chores."

Help kids decompress.

Little ones need to chill too, so engage them in a low-key activity, says Laura Dessauer, Ed.D., an art therapist in Sarasota, Florida. One idea: Let your kid do an art project at the table, like making a place mat, while you prepare dinner.

Originally published in the October 2010 issue of Parents magazine.

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