The time between my kids finishing their tea and falling asleep is often fraught in our house. With the needs of three children to meet all at once it can get very hairy indeed, and this week has been a shocker. When friends ask me how I hold it together, I tell them truthfully that some evenings I barely escape with my sanity in tact. Other evenings though I’m high fiving myself for managing to get both girls in bed, and baby feeding, by 6:15pm.
I’ve definitely noticed certain patterns in the midst of three years worth of bedtime-maggedon, so thought I’d share my top tips for dealing with sensitive or challenging children during the witching hour.
No Choice / No Surprises
I’m all for giving my kids plenty of choice, but once tea time rolls around I do the deciding. My eldest gets overwhelmed at the end of the day and if I bombard her with choice she can’t cope. We discuss what we’re having for dinner in the morning, and I make sure that I stick to the plan. A slight deviation from it can send her into a complete spin.
When you have challenging children on your hands, it’s paramount that you devise a bedtime routine that works for your family, and stick to it like glue. I keep weekday evenings after school very low key with the girls eating tea by 4:30pm, by which time the baby is either finished or almost finished his. They have some telly while I give him a bath, then we all head upstairs between 5:30-5:45pm. I’ve stopped letting 5yo have an evening bath, because it was hyping her up too much, but 3yo still has one because it calms her down. While little lady relaxes in the water, I help her sister get ready for bed.
Put Them Down Early
For whatever reasons, 5yo is a terrible sleeper. I honestly can’t remember when she last went the entire night without waking up, and just last week she was up eight times during a three hour period. According to the experts, children her age should be getting 10-12 hours solid shut eye every single night, and she sometimes only gets seven or eight broken hours. She is usually so tired upon finishing her dinner that she says she can’t walk up the stairs and needs to be carried.
Our only defense against the wake-ups and sleep deprivation is for her to go to bed between 6-6:30pm. So many people (that have kids who go to bed and stay there until the morning) have said to me over the years that I should try putting her to bed later. Believe me this method does not work for poor sleepers, they get over tired and either act hyper-actively or go into meltdown mode. Then it takes even longer to get them into bed because you have to calm them down and wait for them to snap out of it. When she’s asleep by 6:30 she sleeps best, when it creeps towards 7pm and later hubby and I brace ourselves, because we know what’s coming!
This is so much easier said than done when the little-uns are running rings around us, but it’s so important. As soon as I lose my temper my task of getting them into bed becomes ten times harder. I wrote a post recently about eradicating negative parenting behaviour, which explains in more detail why shouting is so bad for the kids.
Especially at bedtime they need us to be super calm. Getting upset stimulates production of the fight or flight hormone cortisol, which can sometimes be the root cause of the wake ups. It is certainly a factor in our little family, and when our daughter has a meldown before bed she always wakes up in the night. I’m not perfect at all, and I have lost my cool over the years more times than I care to admit. Since being mindful and trying my hardest to remain calm though, I have definitely noticed improvements.
What are your top tips for surviving the witching hour? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below 🙂