Age-by-age guide to surviving witching hour

The term "witching hour" is usually applied to babies, but kids of all ages can be extra sensitive and difficult to manage for the hour (or two) before bedtime. Here's how to cope.

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Witching hour: It just might be the most challenging time of the day. That that window between dinner and bedtime where kids are wound up, parents want to wind down, and it feels like the longest hour or two ever. And although the term witching hour is most commonly applied to newborns and babies, kids of all ages seem to be extra sensitive at this time.

Here are some ideas for getting through witching hour for kids of all ages.

How to get through newborn and baby witching hour

Don’t bother checking the clock—you’ll know it’s witching hour when your baby is inconsolably fussy.

How to get through it? First, rule out the usual suspects, making sure she isn’t hungry, wet, bored or overstimulated.

Keep your baby close (frankly, they probably won’t let you put them down during witching hour anyway), and hold them forward-facing so they can see what’s happening in the home or out a window. You can also try comfort nursing in a dim room or wearing baby in a carrier while wandering around the house. If the temperature is favourable, go for a little stroll to get some fresh air. A change in temperature or environment is sometimes all baby needs to calm down. Babies also sometimes respond to a change in smell, so try passing your little one off to another caregiver. Some parents say turning on the range hood fan calms their baby, which makes sense, as white noise can be soothing, especially to newborns.

baby with colic crying How I survived my baby’s colic Other quiet activities you could try include reading a book or a singing a song. “Most important is the exchange between parent and child and creating awareness of the world around them…. seeing a variety of things and putting names to them,” says Sharyn Timerman, a Montreal-based early childhood educator and child behaviour specialist.

Even from just a month or two old, it’s important to establish a bedtime routine, and this can be your witching hour activity, says Tracy Braunstein, a certified pediatric sleep consultant and owner of SleepTight Solutions in Montreal. “A long bath, a nice calming baby massage with cream, getting into PJs, reading a story or singing a lullaby, having a feed—a consistent bedtime routine in their room with dim lighting is best at this age for the hour leading up to bed,” she says.

How to handle your toddler during witching hour

Many toddlers seem to get a burst of energy after sitting for suppertime, and they can be particularly hyper-sensitive to the “little” things (being reprimanded, taking a spill, etc.). Try to change the scenery a bit before bedtime. “Take a short walk—it can be down the street and back,” Timerman says. “A child who is new to walking will be happy to take a walk, and it can break up that fussy period. Even sitting outside on a front step and seeing what is going on in the neighbourhood can be fun.” Wintertime can make outdoor play a bit more involved, and your cranky toddler may not have the patience for putting on snow gear, so opt for something indoors that can help expend some energy: an impromptu dance party, an obstacle course made of pillows or a physically active game like hide and seek.

At this age, children are also into their independence, and this can be used to your advantage during witching hour. “Allow a child into your Tupperware drawer, or create a special ‘busy box’ with special items that can be changed up every few weeks,” Timerman says. “This will appeal to their sense of curiosity and exploration. The idea that it is a ‘special’ box is appealing.” Giving your littles access to new items will capture their attention and help move them out of their surly state.

Something that works those mental muscles, like a sorting activity, is a good witching hour pastime too, says Zoe Klein, a Toronto family therapist. It will give them something specific to focus on, and the challenge of the game will exercise the brain (and tucker them out a bit in the process).

If possible, avoid screen time. “It may appear they’re being calm, sitting quietly and watching,” says Braunstein, “but it’s actually having the opposite effect on their brain: it’s stimulating them back into ‘wake-up mode’ rather than winding them down and preparing them for sleep.”

What to do with your preschooler during witching hour

After dinner is a great time for parents to get the kitchen tidied, prep lunches and prepare for the next day. But that can be hard with an irritable preschooler underfoot. Many are especially argumentative and whiny during witching hour. One solution: Give them a grown-up task. “Think about how you can make them feel useful,” says Klein. Give them a lesson in team work and get everyone pitching in. They’ll use their mental muscles and be able to focus on something, and when they can contribute, it makes them feel good, changing their state of mind. “Pull up a stool and have them wash a few dishes, even if it means using plastic ones for awhile—it is so worth it,” says Timerman. Feeling like they’re contributing is satisfying and can help curb that before-bed grouchiness.

This is also a great age for some hands-on crafts, like shaping Play-doh, stringing beads, making a collage out of old magazines and a glue stick, making paper bag puppets (and putting on a little show), or anything that gets those creative juices flowing. As a bonus, crafting can help fine-tune motor skills and spark creativity. And when kids feel proud of their creation, their self-confidence boosts. When preschoolers are struggling with their end-of-day emotions, doing art can really help them redirect their energy.

Does witching hour affect school-aged kids?

Witching hour looks a bit different to this age group—they’re not usually having full-on meltdowns (those are more common right after school). However they may be moodier and more withdrawn. While this may seem like an optimal time to get your kids to do their homework, some experts warn against it, especially if it means they’ll lose much-needed sleep. “A lot of kids are being kept up late to do homework and it’s to no one’s benefit to do that,” says Braunstein.

Older children may start to exhibit anxiety at this age, and this can be especially heightened during witching hour, as the day’s stresses weigh heavily on our kids at the end of a day. Braunstein suggests meditation or a family yoga session before bed to calm nerves. Casual solo reading can be relaxing as well and can help to improve cognitive growth at the same time. “Tracing shapes, or copying letters and numbers for pleasure, can be good de-stressors,” Timerman says.

Kids who spend their days socializing in school and adhering to other people’s schedules need to have predictable time that’s theirs, says Klein, and witching hour is a great time to practice some independence. “Our kids are overstimulated, and oftentimes they get frustrated and want time to chill like adults,” she says. Suggest some time alone in their room, or give them exclusive access to a common space for a period of time, so they can unwind on their own terms. “It gives parents a break too, and rightfully so. In the end, it serves a purpose for the child—but also for the family.”

Read more:
9 reasons why your baby is crying
7 things not to say to the parents of a colicky baby

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