First, I have to say how thrilled I am to have found your site. I’m an advocate of RIE principles, and I organize a community of parents trying to parent mindfully and healthfully. I’m excited to read through your back posts!
My second reason for writing is an issue we’re having with my daughter. Marlowe is 22 months old, and about a month ago she had a terrible diaper rash. Without realizing that it would cause her any pain, we put her in the tub for a bath. She let us know right away that something was wrong and we took her out. We did sponge baths while the rash cleared. Now she’s terrified of the bath—she downright refuses it. We’ve tried all sorts of things to coax her back in (new playthings, less water, putting her potty in the tub so she wouldn’t be submerged). Nothing’s working, and bath time is awful for all of us as we try to wash her while she screams and tries to climb out.
Of course, we don’t want to put her in situations she’s so clearly upset by, but I’m at a loss for how to get her back in the bath. Any advice would be welcomed and appreciated!
All the best,
I can never emphasize enough how bright, aware, sensitive, receptive and capable our babies are – simply brilliant. And in toddlerhood, they surprise us by becoming a little more complex. Gaining the new independence they instinctively need requires them to test us, pull our strings, push our buttons and, in Marlowe’s case, pull back the reins, which is not to say that I don’t believe her terror of the bath (or at least believe that she believes it).
Who knew a bath would irritate diaper rash? (I sure didn’t!) It was an understandable blunder, but what’s done is done. Now, how to stop Marlowe from associating the bath with pain, and help her overcome the emotional hurdle to get back in the bathwater…
Whenever I am having difficulties understanding my children (or anyone), I try to see from their point of view. This might be Marlowe’s take on the situation…
It was a nasty surprise for Marlowe when it hurt her to be in the bath, a place she’s enjoyed and found comfortable. Naturally, she’s wary of ‘getting back on the horse’ and bathing again. Meanwhile, she senses her parents’ dismay, and is fully aware of their growing concern as they coax her, try to placate and please her, to no avail. Like most toddlers, she sees right through those efforts, doesn’t miss a trick. All the while, she feels something strangely thrilling: she has power — the power to make her parents worry, puzzle, and fret, feel a bit of guilt, even a tad desperate. Jumping in and enjoying a bath again would mean giving all of that up…hmmm.
I don’t have a magic solution, but here’s what I would do:
Encourage and acknowledge her feelings.
When the children we’re caring for are hurt or cry for any reason, we have a tendency to talk them out of their feelings by saying things like, “Oh, it’s alright, you’ll be okay. All better now!” Our intention is to give comfort and reassurance. I learned through infant expert Magda Gerber that what children really need is a response that feels counterintuitive for most of us…acknowledgement and validation of all their feelings, directly, honestly, completely. Pre-verbal toddlers especially need encouragement to release feelings, many of which are confusing to them. They need our acknowledgement and acceptance, so that they can process the feelings and move on. Maybe you’ve done some of this with Marlowe already. She may need more.
I would sit down with Marlowe during a peaceful, pleasant time of day and talk to her about what happened in the bath. Tell her you realize that must have hurt terribly and been really upsetting, and you totally understand why she wouldn’t want to take a bath again. Ask her about it with no agenda, just an open, accepting attitude. Encourage her to go over it, even relive it, and complain, cry, whatever. Be her therapist.
Trust her and let her know it.
Then I would actually apologize for coaxing her to take a bath. It’s good for children to know that adults make mistakes — we’re human. I would project confidence, and say something like, “I’m sorry we tried to get you to take a bath when you didn’t want to. I know you got very upset and said NO. We made a mistake. We won’t do that again. We’ll wait for you to show us when you’re ready for a bath. For now, we’ll have sponge baths to help you stay clean.”
I know you’re probably thinking my suggestions give Marlowe too much power. But right now, unless you’re going to force her into a bath (and you don’t sound like you want to do that), she has the power in the situation. Toddlers need to be forced to do things sometimes, but for me, bathing isn’t one of those times (unless of course, she works on a construction site, or plays in an oil spill or dangerous chemical substance). It sounds like you want her baths to be relaxing and fun. So, if I were you I would let go, pull back, wave the white flag and resign yourself to giving sponge baths for awhile. It won’t be long.
Give her choices for when she’s ready.
At the end of the “therapy session” you might add, “When you are ready for a bath again, I want you to choose 5 toys for the bath and pick either the green or blue washcloth.” Then, when it’s time for her bath, ask her once, “Do you want a tub bath or a sponge bath?” Accept her answer readily. If she does go for the bath, don’t forget to give her the choices, continue to allow her to lead the way or change her mind, respect and acknowledge any fears or tears, i.e., “You’re looking worried. Are you remembering how much your bottom hurt that time? It won’t hurt now. You can either give it a try or get out.” If she decides to stay in the bath, ask her to wash herself, help turn off the water, etc., always inviting her to participate as much as possible.
With a little patience, I have a feeling she’ll be splish-splashing happily again soon…
With Warm Regards, Janet
P.S. Thanks for your kind words about the site. I’m glad to know you, too!
If anyone reading has dealt with bath time dramas, please share what worked or didn’t!