All three of my kids love water play. There doesn’t seem to be a perfect age, though the way it looks is different for each. When the kids start melting down, one of my last lines of defense is to stick one or more of them in the tub, where we don’t need any special equipment. Taking a bath, playing with the water, almost instantly calms them down. The toddler is currently mastering pouring, the preschooler is learning to control his splashes and submerge his head, and the grade-schooler? She plays mermaid. Until the water is frigid and her skin wrinkled like a prune.
Their love of the bath at times other than bath time took me by surprise. I never thought of it as a time to play, to enjoy a sensory activity, or to reign in a tantrum-prone child. It shouldn’t have surprised me. As a child, I’d have sleep-overs at my grandma’s house and the biggest attraction, besides too much candy, was the tub. We didn’t have one in our home, so going there was like heaven. Some tips I’ve learned for bath time for the purpose of play, rather than getting clean, are:
- For us, bath time is separate from the bedtime routine, which means my kids can have a bath at any time that it seems helpful. If you do have a strong routine of bath, story, bed, then find a way to differentiate non-bedtime baths with the pre-bedtime baths. You could have different lighting, different toys, even a differently scented bodywash or different color towels. Anything to say “this is different than bedtime.”
- Have a few items to play with, but not a vast array of brightly colored things. Empty tupperware and shampoo bottles, graduated cups, and an old bottle brush will do you fine. A few foam shapes, rubber duckies, or boats can be nice additions. Keep focused on the water, not the toys.
- Teach kids guidelines for water safety if you haven’t already done so. In our home, the kids may walk in the bath but must hold on to the side. The water stays inside the bath. When there are multiple kids, no rough play and everyone gets to have enough space. Even the 18 month old is picking up on this.
- Depending on age, remember to have your child(ren) within eyesight. I use this time to read a book, clean the bathroom, or put clothes away in their dressers.
- I try to let me kids be when they’re in the tub. I might show a new way to pour water, serve “tea,” or build a foam castle on the rare days we use bubbles, but then I butt out. Being nearby and engaged in my own activity helps the child relax into their own zone, into deep play. I’m there if they want me or need me, but mostly they just play and experiment on their own.
- Be prepared with a rock solid transition plan (or make one up while your kid is happy in the tub). The reason they’re in there is because it was a rough afternoon in the first place. I tend to forget that my child might still be feeling a little fragile after such times, so a cheerful “ok, time to get out!” just doesn’t cut it. They’re want to fall apart again. Instead, I do the whole “ok sweetie, 5 more minutes and then we’re going to dry off with this nice soft towel. What are we going to do in five minutes?” “Ok hon, it’s almost time to dry off and get into your comfy PJs. Would you like to switch the drain or me?” Gradually, with lots of hugs and snuggles along the way, we leave the tub, then the bathroom, and get a favored pair of jammies on. “This is an important question now, would you like to do playdough while I finish dinner or would you like to sit on the stool and help me?” Finally, we’ve made it back downstairs and we’re all feeling good. Phew!
What do your kids love doing in the tub?