Arsenic hour and toddler meltdowns

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Arsenic hour is that late afternoon time period where the short people in the household tend to have their meltdowns. Slightly hungry in the lead-up to dinner, tired from a day full of stimulation and unable to display the self-control necessary for “keeping it together” until dinner is served, young children (especially toddlers) tend to struggle during this time and easily tip over the edge. So how can we, as Mothers of young ones, structure our day to minimise the conflict and stress that is often experienced during arsenic hour?

Start by looking at your overall day. Who is in charge? You or your child? Who is making all the choices? Evaluate your overall day in light of this and see if some or much of the conflict is simply caused by you trying to get a reluctant toddler to do something they do not want to do after making their own decisions for the majority of the day. (See “choices” for a fuller explanation.)

Look at your routine. Do you have a flexible structure to the day with a good flow of events? It should include a mixture of time with Mum, time with siblings and time alone, physical activity, quiet time, structured play times etc. (See “routines” for ideas of what to include throughout your day.)

What time are you serving dinner? Are you expecting your young child to wait until Dad comes home in the late evening and trying to feed them when what they really need is to be getting into bed? Family meal times are a priority for us and very important, but if you husband is home later than is practical, consider feeding your toddler early and bringing them back to the table when Dad arrives for finger foods, a snack or a healthy dessert so that they can participate with the family. The bonus with this is that all your mealtime/manners training can be done on-on-one with the toddler, leaving the family table free from conflict.

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Bathtime can be difficult if left until after dinner. There has been seasons when I have bathed all the younger children at around 4.30pm when they are still coping relatively well and are unlikely to get into conflict situations. I can then pop them at the table, in the highchair or on their mat, with a suitable activity to keep them usefully occupied on a worthwhile task while I am free to finish dinner prep and serve them their meals.

Do not test your obedience levels during this time. What do I mean by this? Do not give directions to your toddler and expect them to obey. Rather than say, “Junior, go and get into your highchair please,” simply walk over to Junior, take his hand and cheerfully state “It’s time for highchair activities” as you walk hand in hand with him to the chair, pick him up and pop him in. When it is time for Suzie’s bath, rather than say “Suzie, go and get your PJ’s and go to the bathroom”, you grab the PJ’s and walk little Suzie to the bathroom, undressing her and plopping her in the bath. Don’t forget to give a 5 minute warning before making these announcements.IMG_7743

Having a good routine throughout the day, coupled with these practical suggestions will help make this time as enjoyable as any other period in the day.

Other posts you may find helpful:

Getting dinner on the table

Activities to make for babies and young toddlers

Playdough for toddlers – no biscuit cutters please!

Choices

Why do we need to teach our children to obey? The first reason for me to do so as a Christian is that God’s word tells me to:

Ephesians 6:1-3 Children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right. Honour your Father and your Mother, this is the first commandment with a promise.

Also, I believe that children who are taught to obey their parents are more likely to obey God as well. If a child cannot submit to the authority of their parent, how will they learn to submit to God’s authority in their lives as they grow?

If you are noticing many occasions during the day where you are having problems with a child who is reluctant to obey, whinges and whines while they obey or flat-out tantrums when they don’t get their own way, you may have a child who is becoming “wise in their own eyes.”

A child who is given too many choice begins to imagine that they are in charge and will question your authority in unpleasant ways during the day.

Have a think back over one of your typical days. Keep a look out for every single choice you are allowing your child. Who chose:

  • when to get up?
  • what to do when they did get up?
  • which clothes and shoes?
  • which cup and plate?
  • what food for breakfast?
  • what activity after breakfast?
  • which book for story time?
  • where to sit for story time?
  • when to go outside?
  • what to do outside?
  • when to come inside?
  • what to watch on TV?
  • which toys to have in the bath?
  • where to sit for dinner……
The list is endless and these are just a few examples. Are you making these seemingly small choices for your child or are they making them for you? Choices are closely linked with freedoms. The freedoms and choices a child is given should be in harmony with their age and moral and intellectual ability. A toddler is not able to handle the same freedoms as a preschooler, who is in turn not equipped to handle the freedoms and choice an older child can cope with.
Freedom and choices should be granted as the child ages and shows that they have the maturity and responsibility to make good choices and to use their freedom well. As moral responsibility is demonstrated,  more and more freedoms are granted until they reach young adulthood and are making almost all of their own choices and decisions.
As a rough guide, it is around the age of 3 that children are ready to make some choices (e.g. jam or peanut butter?) with freedoms gradually increasing from there. A 5 or 6 year old is ready to make more choices in their day and should be able to make appropriate choices because of the modelling you have been giving them over the previous years which shows them what good decision-making looks like.
This is not to say that a younger toddler can never have a choice, it just should not be a day-to-day, all day pattern of behaviour.
How do you know if your child is “addicted to choice?” Simply take away all choices for a day and observe what happens. If the child graciously accepts your decision-making then they are probably ready to handle those decisions themselves.
Be aware though, that a toddler who has had a lot of freedom with too many choices will initially have a very bad reaction to this loss of choice and behaviour will most likely be quite difficult for a couple of days. If you are calm and consistent and continue to make all the choices for your child they will actually be much happier and calmer in the long run too.
The concept of being “wise in your own eyes” comes from “On Becoming Childwise”  which is an excellent resources for parenting your 3 to 7 year old. It includes information on choices, freedoms, routines,  and many other parenting issues:
On Becoming Childwise: Parenting Your Child from 3 to 7 Years
Mel Hayde in her book “Terrific Toddlers” covers choices and gives extensive information on how to set up a toddler’s day. My favourite book for 18 month to 3 year olds.