This can be a time of family cohesion and harmony, where you gently usher your youngsters through the necessary activity while doing some bonding with them and getting some entertainment. Or it can be a sore travail involving several hours of raised voices, threats, tears and compacted molars.
The time that small children have supper, get bathed and go to bed has been dubbed Crazy Hour. It’s when beleaguered, frazzled parents begin to ponder the merits of prescription drugs.
It needn’t be. Here are a few ways to ease the pain:
A night of heaven, a night of hell. Discuss nights off with your partner. You might decide that on one or two nights each week she disappears entirely, leaving you to do everything. The next week it’s her turn. That way you each have a complete break from your routine. This might not work for families where both parents are needed to keep each other sane.
Get home early. Children have their own unique ways of expressing their displeasure about the fact that you worked late every night last week. On “your” nights, a few minutes outside in the garden,in a nearby park or even romping around the house can settle them down, burn off some calories and get them some fresh air. Some greenie types maintain that walking barefoot on damp grass stabilises the body’s polarity, which is thrown out of kilter by being near things that generate static, like TV sets, computer monitors, motor vehicles and home appliances.
Got a picky eater? There can be few things as frustrating for a parent as preparing the food the little goblin gobbled down last night, only to find that she refuses it tonight. Every dad has his own way of dealing with this. Some fetch fast foods, others drink some scotch and try again. Both are short-term solutions that bring long-term problems. “Depriving” the child of a healthy food may work:“Ooh no, this is Dad’s food. It’s far too special for kiddies to have every night”. Cutting the food into funky shapes might also help. So might the art of “Bob the Builder eats this at his parties. It’s his special treat”. Sooner or later it may be time to say: “Right, if you don’t eat this, you can have it for breakfast”. This is effective if applied consistently, but use your discretion. If a child is teething or has an ear infection, your best bet might be a dose of vitamin syrup and an early night.
Go easy on the sugar. Foods with a high glycaemic index and colourants will have your kids bouncing off the walls like a balloons that have been blown up and let go. Try to go for nourishing foods that don’t send their blood-sugar levels soaring.
Feeding in the bath. There are parents who’ll say you’re establishing a negative pattern here, but some kids are comfortable in the warm, wet environment much like the one they were in not long ago. If it works and you’re in a companionable environment without the omnipresent TV set, why not?
Themes.They can seem like a last resort, or they can become a ritual that you and the kids will cherish. Finger foods, silly paper hats and dinner in the tree house or on a blanket on the lawn. Or you could make a tent in the lounge with sheets and chairs.
Allow the kids to choose. This needn’t mean they’re going toget McDonald's and a heart attack at the age of 35. You can offer a choice of three healthy foods.
Vary what's on offer. Nurture a love of variety and an appreciation of colours, smells and tastes in food, especially fresh, raw ones.
Videotape them eating. They’ll love watching themselves tucking to a meal and will probably eat steadily while they watch. The trick is to catch them eating.