Everyone’s mum has that one, special embarrassing story about their children that they like to whip out at the most inappropriate moment. Or – now that I’m a mother myself – should that be most appropriate?
Anyway, my mum likes to tell the story about the extended period in which I refused to bathe.
So the story goes, I was around six or seven, and would plead with her each night (even invoking the Lord, the good Catholic school girl that I was) not to force me into a bath. I don’t know why. I still don’t know why.
When she’d tell it, I would laugh and then shrug: “That doesn’t sound so bad”.
Fast-forward 20 years and now I’m reaping what I sowed. My darling, perfect little dirty-angel is now refusing to bathe.
It all happened very suddenly, as quick as a lightning strike. You see, my daughter loved baths. In fact, the only problem we used to have was trying to get her out of them. Then, the day after turning two, something happened.
One minute she was splish-splashing in there, and the next she was screaming and wailing and reaching out to us for dear life to get her out of there.
The first night it happened my husband and I looked at each other and thought maybe she was just tired. But then it happened again, and again. After the third night, it finally dawned on us that this had become a ‘thing’.
We searched online and found that yes, this can indeed become a 'thing' for toddlers, but there were ways to coax them back into the bath. They included lowering the water level, getting into the bath with them and making bath time 'more fun'.
We tried all of those. None of them worked.
I have a good friend, let's call her Alice. Now Alice is terrified of balloons. I'm talking petrified. Stay on the opposite side of the room kind of petrified.
Here's the thing though - as an adult it's not really a big deal. It's not a 'thing', it's just a funny little annex that floats (pun intended) in the background of your conscious. It's there but not really there. It's also kind of endearing.
No one forces her to confront her fear. No one tells her she's "stupid" for being scared of balloons or that her fear is "silly". The fear is considered legitimate and we respect it.
Now back to my daughter. After having tried everything to get her back in the bath we were left with two options:
One, force her in there while reciting the rhetoric that she's just "being silly" or two, treat the fear with respect and help her through it.
We decided on two. We decided to give her the space and time to work through whatever it was that was freaking her out so much. It might not be real to us, but it is real to her.
Our nightly routines now take a little longer and are a little more involved. Usually we'll place a towel on the floor in front of the TV. Then, we'll grab a bowl of soapy water and a few cloths. As my daughter sits playing with her toys and giggling at the TV we start undressing her - first her legs then her arms - and start wiping her down, gently, gently, until we've cleaned every inch of her tiny body.
The first night we did it, we still met with some resistance, a few wails here and there, but nothing as hysterical as our bath routine. Then, slowly, it stopped. She eased into the new routine. We kept her calm and we followed her lead.
Look, I get there will be times in her life when we'll need to administer a little tough love, but now is not one of them.
And here's why: I'd like to think that while she's still young and while her confidence and character are still forming, I can play a part in letting her develop wholly and holistically. I want her to know that there is a validity to her emotions and to her experiences. For her to know that she can let me know anything and everything - her fears and her triumphs - without me ever turning around and telling her how silly she sounded.
She might only be two, but building that foundation starts now.
Has your child ever been scared of the bath? How did you deal with it? Tell us in the comment section below.