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Bath Time Temper Tantrums

by Denise L Tesson
(Farmington, Mo.)

My son is 34 months old and his name is Matthew. The temper tantrums start at night time. About 8 o'clock I get his bath water ready and tell him that it's time for a bath and that's when it happens.

The temper tantrums are really really really bad! Telling me that he doesn't like me, go way and I don't want you to look at me.

He screams, throw things, and it actually takes him about 45 minutes to calm down. I get aggravated too and scream with him.

I don't know how to handle that. Please help me!!

I need advice in what to do!!

Make Bath Time Fun - Part One

Hi Denise,
My goodness, it sounds like you have got a very stressful night time routine going.

You will both be thinking bath time is going to be a battle, so are starting off each night with negative energy happening, which escalates into a battle. At the end of the day you will be running out of patience, and he will be tired.

That is actually fairly late for a little tike, I am not sure if he gets to sleep in, in the morning, but one of the things that sends kids into melt down, is being over tired and over stimulated at the end of the day.

Funny, because one of the things we often recommend for kids like that is a bath!!

Try moving his bedtime a bit earlier, he may well be over tired. Observe him from about 6pm onwards, and notice when he starts rubbing his eyes, or yawning. You may find his natural biorythym for sleep is quite a bit earlier.

A child his age probably needs around 12 hours per night, some kids still need around 14, specially if he is not having a nap in the day. So he may be chronically tired which will contribute to bathtime drama.

My first thought is you are leaving it too late in the day for him to cope with a major activity, and particularly when he now has a definite aversion to it. So I would forget about trying to get him in the bath at 8pm. Change the bedtime routine. Try bath time before dinner, and not at a time when you are trying to do a million things at once.

Bath time does not have to be before bed. In fact kids don't even need a bath every night, you can top and tail them and they will be fine for a day or two. If it is warm enough where you are, he could have a bucket bath outside! Or he can have a shower in the morning, or bath in the middle of the day.

One thing, has anything happened that could have contributed to his dislike of a bath? Some kids have been frightened by the plughole noises as the water sucks out. Sometimes they have ended up with shampoo in their eyes so associate bath time with fear, pain and drama. Maybe his head has gone under and he is frightened of getting his face under the water. Maybe he associates it with Mama getting mad at him! If he has built up some fear issues, then you getting mad will only make that worse.

Part Two Follows . . .

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Make Bath Time Fun - Part Two
by: Annie Desantis

At the end of the day when you are looking forward to some kid free time, and are tired yourself, then forget doing something that is setting up a drama. Pre-bed time needs to be relaxed, wind down time. Think about what is happening prior to his bath time - do you have TV on? Is he watching horrible news, or adult content, or high energy TV. Preferably have it off! Have lots of reading, quiet music, or quiet games like simple puzzles - don't choose the ones he struggles with.

Create a quiet bedtime routine that lasts about 20 mins, and make sure you have quietened things down a good 15 minutes before that. Have teeth brushing, putting on PJ's, reading a story, and a special bedtime song before he settles down. So make sure any baths have happened much earlier in the day!

Bath time needs to be fun. You need to totally change the dynamic around you both so you are not setting up a battle. There is lots of learning in water play, pouring, measuring, bigger, smaller, what floats, what doesn't.

Turn bath time into activity time, and have him help with gathering the things for tonight's bath.
Here's some ideas:

  • Put food coloring in the water - let him name the colors and choose which color for today. It won't hurt him at all to bathe in a dark blue bath!

  • Bubbles: Put bubble bath in the water, and get some bubble mixture and let him blow bubbles while he sits in the bath. You can do this in a paddling pool too, but just be careful, as it will be slippery when he stands up.

  • Give him some paint and lots of different size paint brushes and let him paint the bath - or up the wall. Just make sure it is washable paint, I got my Grand-daughter to paint the walls outside the Garage, thinking it would wash off in the rain, and it is still there 18 months later! (actually I secretly quite like it!)

  • Make a counting game out of finding Ten things to take in the bath tonight. Which will float and which will sink? Make funny sinking noises as they sink, and clap and cheer for the things that float. Try all sorts of things, like fruit, leaves, pasta - what happens to the pasta when it gets wet? - lots of learning there! He can catch all the pieces before you let the plug out!

  • Try plastic toys, metal items, lids. Some things float until you pour water in, then they sink. How much water can you pour in before it sinks?

  • Collect plastic bottles, with lids, make holes in some. Make holes in the sides of some of the bottles. Have some clean squirty bottles, and spray bottles. Sieves, plastic ice cream containers, measuring spoons and cups.

Part Three Follows . . .

Make Bath Time Fun - Part Three
by: Annie Desantis

  • Balloons, water bombs - always lots of fun. He can fill the water in them as you hold them open. Then he can throw them against the bathroom wall! Put down lots of towels so you don't slip if the water gets a bit out of control!

  • Do peas float? Maybe there is something he had for lunch that you can keep back and test if it floats. A thin slice of carrot will float, a big piece will sink. What happens to an ice cube in the bath? You can have him
    looking forward to testing out something later in the day at bath time

Give him some choices over what he has a bath with him tonight. So instead of it being a battle of you forcing him into the bath and him resisting, get him focused on finding something interesting to take with him. Make your tone of voice excited and interested rather than, OK, here we go, brace yourself for our night time
tantrum! If you decide it is going to be fun, then he will be much more likely to get interested and join in.

You can secretly run a bath, fill it with balloons or make it bright pink, then call out, "Oh my goodness, what happened to the bath?" If Daddy is around, call Daddy in to be surprised, and both make lots of "Wow, Oh my goodness, look at this, how did this happen?" type noises. He is sure to get curious and come for a peek. You can both climb in - even with your clothes on, roll your jeans up, or tuck up your skirt! He will think it is

Get him a special bathing baby that he can wash in the bath. Play body parts and help him to learn the more complex body part names rather than just arms and legs. Ear lobe, shin bone, knuckle, shoulder blade, rib. He may also show by his play the things he is scared of in the bath. Or he maybe cross with his bath baby when it doesn't do what he wants. That might give you some ideas about why he dislikes a bath so much. His bath baby might dunk it's head under or get soap in it's eyes.

Part Four Follows . . .

Make Bath Time Fun - Part Four
by: Annie Desantis

You can play games of him ducking his head under - starting with putting his face in the water.

Absolutely NO pushing his head in - the idea is for him to be in control. So make a big fuss out him doing it, and you can show him how you do it. Either in the bath with him, or dunk your face into a bowl of water. He can start with a bowl too. Cheer and clap, count and show him how to hold his breath. Show him how to blow bubbles in the water with his face under.

Make up a song about bath time being fun time. Kids love having songs with their names in it.

Marching Marching, off to the tub we go. Rub a Dub Dub, Mathew in the tub.

Where's Mathew's Muscles? Let me see, into the bath with a One Two Three!

Magic Mathew Loves to Swim - He's like a fish, just look at him! (way before he gets into the drama of don't look at me!!)

You can make up stories about Mathew the Minnow who swims round under toes, tickling knees and having adventures. What will Mathew the Minnow get up to tonight?

Lots of tantrums can be headed off with distraction. Parents often set the scene for a tantrum by suddenly getting bossy and rushing little kids. But our little ones also have their own agenda about what is interesting, and when we think our routine is more important, with a feisty little kid, you can often be setting up a battle.

The trick is to make what you want them to do WAY more exciting than playing with the truck or watching TV. It does take a bit of energy, but loosing your temper and coping with a 45 minute tantrum is exhausting anyway. So you may as well have fun instead!

Part Five Follows . . .

Make Bath Time Fun - Part Five
by: Annie Desantis

Some kids need more transition time. So give a bit of warning, in a cheery excited voice, "nearly time to pack up", or "The bath is nearly ready, what shall we play in the bath tonight?" So he has a bit of time to adjust or finish his game. If he has been having a wonderful time playing excited games with Daddy, is he really going to be all that excited about having to stop and have a bath?

Maybe Dad can take over the bath time routine if he is home in time. That takes the drama away from you, but make sure Dad is also going to make it fun, not reinforce the bath time drama. I would actually recommend you try to unhook the drama with you too, as that is an issue that needs to be cleared between you both. You don't want him thinking Daddy has fun baths, and Mommy has mean baths!

You can say to him you are changing bath time, that you you don't like the way you both get cross and you have decided baths are going to be fun. Talk about it during the day, way before time for a bath. So set the scene for fun baths.

When it gets to bath time, if he looks like he is starting to wind up to his usual routine, jump in quick, act like a clown, be dramatic, "Oh No, Magic Mommy wants to have fun in the bath tonight, stomp stomp stomp. I'm going to chuck my bath grumpies out the door." Then stomp over to the door and chuck them out. (the neighbors will think you are crazy but who cares, worth it for some peace!)

Invite him to chuck his bath grumpies out the door too. Then take him by the hand and gently walk together towards the bathroom. If he starts resisting, "Quick Quick, more bath grumpies, Quick chuck them out - run to the door, quick! Out you go Bath Grumpies, we don't want you at our house any more. We have Fun baths at our house!"

Get the idea? The more you have fun and totally change what has been happening, the more he will giggle and you will break the pattern. He will start looking forward to bath time as a fun activity.

What will happen tonight in the bath tonight? It might end up being the highlight of his day!

Good luck Denise, have fun!

Feel free to comment back!

Annie D :)

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