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Battles in the bathtub — Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

Do you have some suggestions for reducing the friction between my son and me when I give him his bath? We mostly struggle over shampooing. He is trying to keep the shampoo out of his eyes, but with all his wiggling it’s impossible. I’ve tried telling him that no one will want to be near him if his head smells dirty, but what 4-year-old cares about that? We end up screaming at each other and he’s not that much cleaner. I don’t remember having such battles with his older sister. Or maybe the memories have “washed away.”

Mom’s All Wet

Don’t miss last week’s column When toddlers use bad words — Good Parenting

Dear MAW,

Yes, clean is your goal, and not his. If he would just hold still, your job wouldn’t be so frustrating. His objective during your battles is to duck to protect his eyes from shampoo – which puts you at cross purposes, making you both cross.

Instead of talking about how dirty he is, or how clean he will be, ask him what he would like to bring to the tub tonight. Creative imagination and scientific discovery are wonderful enticements to get a young child in the tub. A cleaner child is just the byproduct of a good wet time. Try widening the category of what he can take with him, with some consideration of how the object will be affected by water. Here are some of the endless items on the list of possibilities: beach ball, Frisbee, empty yogurt tubs, drinking straws, turkey baster, contact lens cases (empty of course), and all the plastic toys he can carry. My children would bring marbles which are glass, plus doll clothes which are cloth. Paper and metal don’t work well, as your son may discover if you let him try. Bath tub soaps and markers are nice for the reluctant bather who may be an enthusiastic artist.

As for shampooing – the force the two of you are fighting is gravity. Your son is trying to avoid the forward runoff from the top of his head, unwittingly causing his own grief when he protectively tilts his head toward his chest. It feels unnatural for him to raise his head up since that is the direction the shampoo is coming from.

Help him focus his gaze toward the ceiling using imagination or actual visual targets. My 3-year-old grandson looks upward when I tell him the cow is jumping over the moon, or a helicopter is flying overhead, or Superman is soaring past. He knows it’s pretend, but he also knows that when he humors me, the shampoo is managed without getting into his eyes. For the child who is more of a realist, stick a picture on the ceiling above the tub. Change it now and then to keep up interest.

The trick to better behavior is to convince your child he can be successful. Success breeds success. So start off with just making bath time fun. You are not allowed to scream. Don’t worry about him getting clean. After a few nights of his seeing that nothing bad happens for him in the tub, introduce the awkward head tilt. “The water will run down your back instead of down your face.” Agree on how many squirts from the turkey baster you will test this gravitational theory with. After this success, a time or two, add a tiny bit of shampoo and rinse it off quickly while he stares upward. With patience, you can shape his behavior in the direction you need it to go, namely tilting his head backwards instead of forwards at shampoo time.

For more details on Behavior Modification, please consider attending my Effective Discipline for Preschoolers course. Details below.

Dr. Debbie

Effective Discipline for Preschoolers
Mondays, Aug. 11 – 25, 2014
6:30-8:30 pm. $25 per class or $60 for all 3 classes.
Class 1: Why Do Children Misbehave?
Class 2: Effective Guidance Techniques
Class 3: “I Had It First!” Conflict Negotiation
Childcare must be reserved at $10 per child per class.
Held at Chesapeake Children’s Museum, Annapolis.
Registration: 410-990-1993 or info@theccm.org

Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy@jecoannapolis.com

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