Does chaos reign in your home around the evening hours?

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Jamie Martin of Steady Mom.

Something bewitching often occurs in families around 5 pm–toddlers enter meltdown mode, older children scramble to finish homework before dinner, and Mom and Dad rush to get a decent meal on the table.

It’s difficult to contemplate meaningful traditions when you’re just trying to survive until bedtime. We’ve all been there–that’s why parents need quick, simple techniques to cultivate an atmosphere of family closeness in our homes.

Here are five easy ideas to get you started.

1. Create a story.

You may spend an hour preparing a meal for dinner, only to have the food and your family vanish from the table within 15 minutes. Creating a story keeps everyone together just a little longer–and lends itself to laughter and imagination in the process.

Here’s how it works. One family member begins telling a story. After a few sentences the person to the right continues–with each pass around the table the plot develops until everyone has had a turn and the story ends.

Our family of five uses this technique at home and restaurants, where it helps to pass time until the food arrives. Even children as young as three years old can participate.

2. Choose a clean up song.

If you’re trying to teach your kids to help with after dinner messes, a clean up song can get everyone motivated. Pick an upbeat tune and play it during clean up every night. Soon the family will really feel as though they “own” that song, and it will serve as the cue to get those dishes washed.

Our family’s songs are currently “America” by Neil Diamond and “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Complaints about helping with clean up usually dissolve into cheers as those first few bars of music are heard.

3. Count your blessings.

It only takes a few minutes after eating to have everyone share one or two things they are thankful for from their day. You can do this orally or one family member can write down the responses in a journal. (This free download from my blog may help as well.)

Get your family into the right frame of mind before bed–full of thanksgiving and anticipating a new day tomorrow.

4. Split up.

If you have multiple children, change the family dynamics around once in a while. Have your spouse take one child upstairs (or to a different room) while you stay downstairs with another. Giving that one-on-one attention allows for relationships to blossom and meaningful conversations to start.

When spending time together this way you can work on a special project, fold the laundry, or sit on the floor of a child’s bedroom. Make space just to be with each other–without distractions.

5. Snuggle and read.

You can’t go wrong with an evening read-aloud. When kids come home from a full day at school or parents return from work, a read-aloud bonds the family together with just one simple chapter a night.

Once you start a series, you’ll never have any trouble finding material to keep you going. Younger children will enjoy the Little House on the Prairie series and older children can’t help but get engrossed in the Chronicles of Narnia .

Often the most difficult aspect of starting a new ritual is choosing what to do. Don’t overthink it. Just pick one of these rituals and try it tonight. If it works, keep it up for a week or more. If not, try a different one.

Soon you may wonder how you ever washed the dishes without the sounds of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” in the background.

Jamie’s family of five is comprised of members from four countries. She blogs at Steady Mom and Simple Homeschool, and is the author of Steady Days: A Journey Toward Intentional, Professional Motherhood.

38 Responses to “Does chaos reign in your home around the evening hours?”

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  1. thanks for such an inspiring post, jamie!!

    we are currently on vacation so our routines are a little off but one thing we are really enjoying is after dinner “game time” — the card game UNO being the collective favorite!!!


  2. neel says:

    Hmmm so interesting topic that is covered here in this post. Thanks a lot for such nice post.

  3. What a great post, thank you for all the evening family time ideas!

  4. This is an awesome post! I had a good laugh picturing our family belting out some Neil Diamond after dinner. And I will definitely try the round-table storytelling tip next time impatience starts to take hold in a restaurant…those are always high-stress situations for us.

  5. Kara says:

    Singing “America” while you clean up – I LOVE it! :-)

    The idea of splitting up is a good one that I don’t think of very often. And I couldn’t agree more about slowing down the whole tone of an evening that might otherwise be sliding off the tracks by snuggling up and reading together. It saves the day around here often!

    Fantastic post! Jamie is such an inspiration!

  6. There are some great ideas here. The Witching Hour is definitely a tough one!

  7. Janine says:

    Great post…great ideas! My husband usually does the dishes with my 3 girls…it’s just always been a ritual. He says I cook, he and the girls clean. I’m not arguing! I love the song choices for clean up time…classics! My girls make up their own rap songs…I definitely agree that having some sort of after dinner fun is necessary! Great post!

  8. Visty says:

    Our older kids are 10 and 12, and they still love to be read to. We’ve read some of the Little House books, and right now their dad is reading the original Pinocchio, which is really something. I guess he kills his cricket in the first chapter or something. We’ve also read the original Peter Pan, which they loved for its equally dry humor. Nothing like the disney movies.
    Sometimes I read a chapter of something while we are eating dinner. I stop at appropriately suspenseful moments to take a few bites. :)

  9. Jackie says:

    It would be wonderful to not be struggling to make it to bed time… I think some of these ideas might help us create some balance in that time! I remember my mom used to read to me before bed even when I was older ~ she used to read me “Polyanna” I still love that book. :) The clean up song is a great idea too. We already sing the “Barney Clean Up” song for toys ~ a DIFFERENT song would be great. ;)

  10. steadymom says:

    I loved reading all these thoughts, everyone! Thanks for the great comments and for letting me guest post here.


  11. OK, do you live at my house, too?

    Evening time can indeed be chaotic. I love your suggestion to “count your blessings.” So true, our children grow up so quickly. Appreciating the moments, even the busy ones, is what its all about.


  12. I posted this on my Facebook Fan Page for truebluematch. GREAT ideas for the Witching Hour!

  13. Gypsy says:

    While I agree the Narnia stories are wonderful- I wouldn’t recommend them as easy read-aloud stories, especially not to start out. Start with Charlottes Web, anything by Roald Dahl or even Harry Potter.

  14. We love “Little House” as read alouds and with a 3 yo and a 1 1/2 yo, we often have chaos too! Storytime and family time with an early bedtime is what gets us through!

  15. Lori Lowe says:

    Great tips. I remember that terrible witching hour when my kids were toddlers. Now that they are 6 and 8 they really enjoy helping with meal planning and cooking. (They want soup every day.) For younger kids, even having them stir a bowl of whole potatoes gives them a fun activity and helps them feel involved.

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