Development Physical & Emotional

Toddler Witching Hour: 9 Survival Tips For Parents

You can see it coming but feel like there’s nothing you can do.

Your toddler it teetering on the edge and you know a meltdown is coming any second; three, two one, BANG – the tantrum to end all tantrums has begun.

If this sounds familiar then what you’re probably dealing with is the infamous toddler witching hour, the time when your little one turns from a sweet little angel to the devil himself in a matter of seconds.

Fussiness, meltdowns, fits and tantrums all ensue, and you know you’re in for a long and difficult evening ahead.

Yes, the witching hour in toddlers most certainly is real, and it’s perhaps the most challenging part of raising a two or three year old.

Let’s take a look at why toddlers have a witching hour, and what you can do to deal with it.

Can Toddlers Have A Witching Hour?

Traditionally the witching hour refers to when a newborn baby goes through a period of fussiness, usually peaking at 6 weeks and fizzling out at around the 3 month mark.

If we assume that a witching hour refers to a period where a child is fussier than usual, extra sensitive and acting irrationally in the late afternoon or evening, then yes, it’s fair to say that a toddler can definitely have one.

The exact time when the witching hour strikes will vary from child to child, but typically we’re talking anywhere between mid afternoon (perhaps after daycare) to dinner, or that period between dinner and bedtime.

Toddler Looking Angry

Why Do Toddlers Have A Witching Hour?

We have mentioned before that experts cannot be sure on the exact cause of fussy periods in babies.

Toddlers are a little different however, and the good news is that it’s typically a little easier to pinpoint the reason why your two or three year old may be experiencing a witching hour.

Three common reasons are:

  1. Overtiredness. You don’t need me to tell you that in many ways toddlers are so much more grown compared to what they were like only a year ago. But remember they are still small and developing, and the days can be extremely long at this age of their life (especially if they’ve dropped their nap).
  2. Overstimulation. Things like too much noise, new people, watching cartoons or Disney movies and other things that lead to a sensory overload can all result in your child becoming easily overwhelmed.
  3. Hunger. If your toddler is hungry in the afternoon, particularly after a full day’s school or nursery, then it may cause their blood sugar to drop. This can lead to crankiness, fussiness and other less than optimal behaviour characteristics.

How To Survive Your Toddler’s Witching Hour

OK, you now have a better idea as to why your toddler is melting down and is extra sensitive in the late afternoon or evening.

But what you are probable even more interested in is knowing what can be done to make the witching hour less severe, or better yet how to eliminate it completely.

Here are 9 tips for dealing with the dreaded toddler witching hour:

1. Leave The House

I saw this tip come up multiple times when researching this article, and I can personally testify that it worked wonders when dealing with my daughter’s witching hour.

As soon as you think the notorious witching hour is approaching, pack up your things and head outside, perhaps for a walk in the stroller around the block, to the playground or to your local park for a run around.

With any luck, there’s a good chance that the change of scenery and fresh air will help get you to dinner time unscathed.

2. Pick Your Battles

This tip may be a little controversial, but it’s worth sharing as I know some of you will find it helpful.

When your child is about to lose it or when their tantrums have kicked in, it’s probably not the best time to seek perfection from either yourself nor your toddler.

If there’s ever a time to let little things slide it’s now.

Maybe they are refusing to say please or thank you?

Perhaps they are making a bigger mess than usual on purpose, or won’t tidy up their toys?

It’s a fine line and will depend on your preferences, but I personally found that lowering expectations slightly during that one or two hour window around dinner time was a fair compromise and a very helpful way to get through these tougher than usual times.

3. Plan Ahead

When your child is on the edge or has entered meltdown mode, you don’t want to be rushing around preparing dinner or doing household errands.

This is where things like pre-cooked meals, preparing their bedroom, laying out their pajamas and toothbrush, or giving them an early bath (see below) can all make your life a lot easier.

4. Try An Early Bath

Routines are important for kids, and if you’re like most families your current one probably involves something along the lines of: dinner, bath, stories, milk, lights off.

But don’t be afraid to switch things up if it helps, specifically when it comes to the timing of their bath.

Toddler Sitting In The Bath

I’ve found that a long, soothing and relaxing bath (for your toddler that is) can sometimes be just what the doctor ordered when you’re striving to minimize the chances of that early evening meltdown.

5. Give Them A Snack

I mentioned hunger as one of the causes of the witching hour in toddlers, because kids can get pretty hungry after a long day at daycare.

So try giving them a healthy snack to tie them over until dinner, especially if it’s going to be some time between when they are showing signs of losing it, and when dinner will be ready and on the table.

You might find that something like a piece of apple works well, because it will boost their blood sugar while keeping hunger at bay, all without spoiling their appetite for dinner.

6. Seek Out Distractions

There’s nothing like a favorite toy or activity to distract your toddler from whatever is currently going on.

Perhaps for your child it’s a sing-along, playing with Lego or Play-Doh, or doing some coloring?

Whatever the “special” activity is, it’s good to think about having some tricks up your sleeve that you can roll out to take their mind off this challenging hour or two until it’s time for dinner or bed.

7. Watch Your Energy

Did you know that children can pick up on your energy from as young as 4 months of age?

Pretty scary right?

Knowing this, it’s no surprize to learn that a toddler will readily feed off the energy that you give out.

So if you are stressed or anxious, your little one will pick up on that and in their own way mirror it, which is the last thing you want around the time the witching hour kicks in!

Without sounding patronizing, now is the time to take that deep breath and to try your best to remain calm and composed, because this will not only help you get over this challenging time, but it should also help your little one.

8. Review Their Schedule

As we alluded to above, tiredness is typically the number one reason why a toddler begins to lose it towards the end of the day.

If this is happening consistently, you might want to look at your child’s schedule to see if their days are potentially too long, intense or tiring.

Maybe they need some enforced quiet-time in the afternoon, or perhaps those play dates with friends after nursery are taking too much out of them?

Every child and every schedule is different, and only you know what your toddler’s limit is, but it’s certainly something worth thinking about.

A great tip here is to use a diary or journal to help keep track of their activities and behaviour each day, so you can identify any patterns that might start to emerge.

9. Remember It’s Just A Phase

Lastly and to conclude, as with many other developmental challenges it’s wise to remember that this too shall pass.

I know from experience that it’s easy to get sucked into thinking that your child’s current behaviour or the challenges you are experiencing right now will go on forever.

But your toddler won’t be a toddler forever, let alone a cranky and fussy one, so while there’s no denying this witching phase is hard, it will most definitely pass.

And in the meantime, make sure you look after yourself by scheduling in some time for self-care now and again, as that will go a long way to helping you get through the worst of what parenting throws at you!

Related: The Ultimate Guide To Navigating Your Child’s Early Development

Nick is a passionate dad who co-founded Rockinbaby to share his parenting journey with other new parents. He has a BSc and MBA, and works as a senior marketing professional. In his spare time Nick loves watching sports, staying fit and traveling. Learn more about Nick here.

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