family around the dinner table eating spaghetti

Evening rush hour: how does your family cope?

It’s that time of the day, between about four and about seven in the evening, when the kids are tired, they’re hungry, and you've got a lot to do. There may be older children that need help with their homework, your partner may be due to arrive home from work too…sometimes there’s an after-school or early evening sports practice or activity.

You've got a whole lot of things coming together at a peak period of family activity. It's a very busy time and it can be a stressful time.

Maybe you’re the parent who picks up the kids from school, after-school care or childcare, or you might be the parent who arrives home after a full day (or night) at work.

Either way, without a conscious effort to try to create a calm and positive atmosphere at home, you may interact with the children or your partner in a way that comes across impatient or angry. And when irritable, cranky adults start interacting with irritable, cranky kids, it can be an unpleasant mix.

FOR THE PARTNER WHO ARRIVES HOME FIRST (OFTEN WITH THE CHILDREN):  Try to make a little time for everyone to relax and unwind when you first get home. Before you start on housework, homework, and all the rest, take a little time to sit down together – ideally around a table. Enjoy a snack and share some conversation about your day and theirs, and give your full attention and interest to what your child is saying.

When your partner arrives home, especially if it’s been a difficult afternoon, resist the temptation to either immediately hand the children over to their care or offload about the latest catastrophe or misbehavior.

FOR THE PARTNER WHO IS HOME LATER:  If you’re the second person arriving home, think about the importance of making that transition from being in “work mode” to being at home. To avoid conflict and a possible negative cycle of interactions, it’s important to be mindful of your mood and avoid bringing the stresses of the day into the home. During your drive or commute, try not to stew over the day’s events, or allow your mood to be influenced or even made more intense by loud music or traffic rage. Make a conscious effort to relax and refocus. And it’s also important that you’re prepared to roll up your sleeves and pitch in to help with whatever needs doing at home. Avoiding the issue by going to the gym every day or disappearing into your room or study may feel good in the short term, but only makes the long-term problems bigger.

When you arrive home, take a few minutes to unwind and have a chat and a cuddle. The more you and your partner can view parenting as a collaborative team effort, the happier and more successful you’ll be at finding solutions to challenges.

FOR BOTH PARENTS: Whatever the time of day, kids still need plenty of encouragement, as you actively “notice” them doing the right thing. And so do adults!

Give it a try and you might be surprised at how it helps get afternoons and evenings off to a better start.