Witching Hour

How to Survive the After-School Witching Hour


He’s tired, grouchy, and hungry. His meds are wearing off and school just ended, so he’s headed your way! Quick, here’s how to stop your child’s meltdowns before they begin.

We parents know that it’s a roller-coaster ride from the time our kids with ADHD get home from school or camp until they go to bed. That shouldn’t be surprising. Kids walk through the door mentally exhausted, physically edgy, and starving. What’s more, their medication has usually worn off, causing their ADHD symptoms to return with a vengeance. Here, an expert offers her six best strategies for surviving the afternoon angst.

Don’t over-schedule your child with afternoon activities. Kids with attention deficit work at least twice as hard as their peers without ADHD and need about twice as much downtime. Try setting up a space for your child to calm down in when she gets overly stressed. Outfit the room with activities and games she can quietly play with on her own — such as jigsaw puzzles, video games, and books to read.

Since moodiness, irritability, anger, and defiance are common in kids with ADHD who are tired and hungry, don’t force your child to accompany you on errands right when he gets home. Running errands will only tire your child out more. If you have to go out, spending the money to hire an ADHD-friendly babysitter is a better option than dragging your child along with you.

Set aside time for physical activity. Not only does getting outdoors and moving around release tension and hyperactivity, it also increases neurotransmitters in the brain, allowing your child with ADHD to sustain mental focus for longer periods of time. Suggest that your child rake the leaves, ride a bike, go swimming, or take a walk in the park when she gets home in the afternoon.

Talk with your child’s doctor about giving him an afternoon dose of ADHD medication. Many children benefit from a second dose, which helps them focus and stay calm during the second half of the day. Remember, no child likes to feel out of control.

Watch what your child snacks on in the afternoon. Foods rich in protein will help balance a child’s mood better than foods high in simple carbohydrates. Sticking with complex carbohydrates will also help to avoid blood sugar spikes and crashes. Consider an early dinner if your child with ADHD just can’t wait for the family meal.

During the school year, consider hiring a tutor or a high school student to help your child with homework. A non-family member is usually a better homework helper than parents, who may quickly butt heads with their child.

Be realistic about your expectations and don’t compare your child with his siblings who don’t have ADHD. Remember that children with ADHD need positive reinforcement, even on tough days. Acknowledge the accomplishments he made that day, large and small.