Do you dread the time between when your kids get home from school and dinnertime? Are fights, yelling and crying more inevitable than death and taxes? Then you, my friend, have fallen victim to the deep, dark and mysterious black magic of the witching hour. Before you call your tax adviser, I’ve got some concrete advice to help break the nasty spell. No longer will you be the Wicked Witch of the West. Just keep these tips in mind, tap your glitteriest red shoes together and say it with me: “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home …”
- Break it up (the monotony and the time that is, not your marriage or household). Every preschool has a scheduled routine for the day; these little guys need it, and you need it. Break two-hour increments into four half-hour segments. Definitely include a downtime and give young children two to three choices for what to do during each time period. Give them something to look forward to.
- Make a list. Involve kids in making a list of activities they enjoy; help them refer to it when they need ideas or re-directing. Art and books are no-brainers. (I would say that limited amounts of time on an electronic device or watching a mellow TV show are acceptable, but I live in the East Bay, and I don’t need hate mail.) Every so often, add new activities to the list. Your child will have new interests every few weeks; get books on those subjects from the library.
- Articulate great expectations. Confidently tell your children what kind of behavior you expect. If you’ve got work to do and need them to play quietly for a bit, tell them how long it will be and what you’ll do after. Remember to be supportive and convey that you believe in them. (If you do it in a negative, threatening way, you’re setting everyone up for failure.) The more you establish the fact that there is a plan and some structure, the less chaotic things will be. Try not to get too frustrated when they inevitably slip up. If you feed their drama with your own, you’ll only get lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
- Nip it in the bud. When you start to hear the tone of the play getting sassy or too rambunctious— before it’s clear you’re not in Kansas anymore—remind them of your expectations. Review their choices and give them the opportunity and responsibility of making good decisions (if they only had a brain?). Instead of focusing on punishment and blame, convey that you believe they can work things out through honest communication and respect.
- Try to engage. Have a heart. You’re no Tin Man and don’t be a Cowardly Lion. No matter how busy you are, you have enough time to play with your children. Even if you can only spare 20 minutes, tell them clearly you have time to spend with them. Get hands-free and dive into their world. Relax and enjoy them and watch them magically become relaxing and enjoyable. For you are Glinda, the Good Witch of the North.
- Applaud their efforts. It’s so easy to only say something when you need to discipline or re-direct. Attention energizes. Make a conscious effort to thank them and applaud them when you see they are helping you out and behaving respectfully. Help them see that when they make good choices, everyone benefits and feels better. Because, because, because, because, because—because of the wonderful things he does.
We all long for a place where there isn’t trouble, somewhere over the rainbow. By now you know parenting isn’t always a romantic love story. No doubt it will be an action/adventure, but you can help it be less of a suburban drama. Anytime things start spinning out of control, take charge. Huddle up and make a plan. Be the director in your own family classic. Like Dorothy, you may awake to find that you needn’t look any farther than your own backyard to find your heart’s desire. Because if it isn’t there, you never really lost it to begin with.