Transforming the ‘Witching’ Hour to the ‘Working’ Hour

Does your family struggle with the ‘witching hour’–the time of day when your son or daughter with ADHD transitions off their medication? Several things combine to make this a challenging situation for everyone. Your child or teen, like many kids with ADHD, works hard all day to hold it together in an academic and social environment they may or may not like. Perhaps they eat lunch but maybe not. After arriving home, it’s almost as if a switch flips and they let it all go. Without the medication’s positive effect on their brains, they simply can’t handle emotions or behavior as effectively.

The good news is that most kids feel some kind of remorse when their outbursts are over.Nobody feels good after they ‘lose it.’ If they could do something else when they’re upset, they would. How they handle this remorse—often with self-deprecation or isolation–can be problematic. We want to work with their desire to behave differently in those moments, even though they can’t imagine any alternatives in the rush of emotions. Underneath the anger they’re showing you, they likely feel guilty and ashamed.  I’m sure you both agree that behavior like being mean or throwing chairs are not acceptable family behaviors. Any awareness your son or daughter offers about their behavior gives you a golden opportunity to collaborate on figuring out a predictable plan that empowers everyone.

Collaboration, meaningful incentives and making amends are the most effective ways to create lasting change with ADHD kids. Collaboration increases their buy-in to any problem-solving process; incentives provide the motivational push they often need; making amends gives them a chance to do something nice for someone they’ve hurt. In this situation, collaboration means discussing neutrally what occurs before, during and after their eruptions and brainstorming alternatives together. Incentives for things they like to do will assist them in sticking with the plan. You teach them necessary coping skills and accountability while they work towards something desirable.Making amends happens after they’ve cooled down from an incident. Everyone wins.

Try these tips for dealing with the ‘witching hour:’

  1. Start by discussing the physiology of what’s happening in his body so he can stop putting himself down for a biological process. Explain that when the medication wears off, his brain lacks the support it needs to control his behavior as effectively. It’s not his fault but he has to make different choices when this occurs. As a family, you’re going to work together and find better solutions.
  2. Next, look at the hunger factor. Is he eating when he gets home from school? I’ve found that if teen has a protein-rich snack when they get home, the transition off medication goes more smoothly. Whether it’s a bagel with cream cheese or a peanut butter sandwich getting him some healthy calories will really help.
  3. Figure out what signals his body sends when his medication is wearing off. Most kids sense when this happening but may not have identified the signs specifically. Ask him what behaviors are okay and what are unacceptable during this transition and then share your opinions. Write these ideas down.
  4. Reflect on a time when he handled this transition well and what made that successful. Offer some suggestions based on your observations. Discuss what might be helpful during those initial moments when he notices changes. Maybe create a codeword like ‘volcano’ or ‘T-Rex’ for him to use when it’s happening. Write all of this down.
  5. Make a list of activities that matter to him to use as incentives for following the plan. Make a list of things he can do for others when he’s not able to.
  6. Now, create your plan. When he comes home from school, what does he do and in what order? Perhaps he snacks immediately and then does homework, earning extra screen time when it’s finished. Perhaps he does his homework followed by an early dinner, a game or tv show with you. Maybe he goes to his room to decompress for a limited amount of time before homework and earns computer minutes if there’s no arguing. If he can’t follow through, then he makes amends. While there’s mutual input, you, as the parent, have the final say. The key is making sure he feels like he is part of the solution, not just the problem. Post your agreement in the kitchen where everyone can refer to it.

When kids with ADHD understand that their biology fundamentally affects their behavior and when they perceive that you want to work with them to make different choices, they will try alternative solutions. Notice their efforts and encourage them along the way.