Like many families with small children, we have a “witching hour.” Around 6 p.m., the toddler pulls out all her naughty tricks, the 5-year-old switches into turbo gear, my husband gets frustrated, and I am totally out of gas.
We’ve had no choice but to come up with tricks to handle meltdowns and make evenings calmer for the whole family. Below, you’ll find a buffet of tips from experts, my own household, and other frustrated parents.
You probably know exactly what time your kids are going to lose it. (In my house, we call it “naked o’clock” because my toddler sheds both her clothes and her composure.) Before that time, take a few minutes to calm yourself. What can you do for five minutes to prep for the the crankiest part of the day? Offspring editor Michelle Woo suggests these mini-breaks:
If you parent with a partner, divide your energy efficiently. That can mean splitting duties or knowing when you need to tag out. Agree on a look or a code phrase, that says, “I need to excuse myself for a few minutes.” If you see your partner cracking, say, “Hey, go take a break.” You will be grateful when the favor is reciprocated.
A major reason toddlers have tantrums is because we subvert their expectations. Emily Popek, mom of a 7-year-old in Oneonta, New York, shared her technique: “Our meltdowns always came around transitions, especially that last transition from evening activity to bed, so we would do a lot of narrating like, ‘We’re going to read one story. When the story is done we’re going to quietly get up from the couch and go downstairs,’ because otherwise it would be a flopping flailing shitshow.”
A shift in your routine might just help make the evening stretch more manageable. Some ideas:
When mom of 3 Andrea Danzi, Morton, PA, can’t quickly get a handle on a meltdown, she tells her children, “I want to help but I can’t talk or help when you act like this, and I need a time out. Come get me when you’re ready.” For Danzi, her own meltdown led to a revelation about communicating emotions to her children. She said:
After a breakdown and a look in the mirror I realized it had to stop. I wasn’t practicing what I was teaching. I apologized to all 3 individually and explained that I was going to try really hard to only yell for emergencies because even if we’re really upset and stressed it’s not okay to yell at people and make others feel sad. I also always say something to the effect of, “I know you’re really tired and that’s making you extra angry/frustrated, that happens to me too sometimes” because I think it’s important that they know that their big feelings are normal.
When my oldest was 4, the meditation app was a desperate attempt to interrupt her bedtime meltdowns, but now she insists we do it every night. Stop, Breathe & Think also has a kid’s meditation app. Your child chooses emojis to represent how she feels and the app recommends a corresponding short animated meditation video.
Listening to a song is part of our nightly routine. Sometimes my daughter has a particular request (The Muppets are a favorite), but sometimes we choose a song with the tempo they need, for dancing it out or calming down.
At 5 and 2, my kid have different bedtime needs, but we want to preserve our family rituals. We all go up for bath, stories, and hugs at 7, and it’s our fun secret that the oldest gets to sneak back downstairs if she “helps” us get her sister ready for bed. Call it extra time, grown up time, or special time, it can diffuse the frustration of older siblings who don’t feel like they are getting enough attention.
When everyone is on the verge of tears, maybe this isn’t the day for hard lines. Remember the days when they accepted your dictations without argument, and everything was in its place at bedtime? Pat yourself on the back for those successes and admit, THIS IS NOT THAT DAY.