At our house, the evening grumpies are very real. Even the most mellow of evenings can bring a full-blown, all-hands-on-deck tantrum at the simple mention of two words: "bath time." Don't get me wrong, my kiddos love bath time: the toys! The bubbles! It's a wonderfully warm and splashy way to end any day. It's the act of getting into the bath that seems to be the struggle. No matter how much I remind them that they love playing in the tub, no matter how many bath bombs I offer, they still do not want to stop their evening playtime and head to the soapy wonderland of cleanliness.
I get it, I do. After a long and busy day, our kiddos reconnect by laying on the carpet with Dad and while playing blocks and singing, and it's a wonderful moment that's hard to end. So every night, evening playtime came to an end, almost always with tears, as we cajoled (read: yelled at) our little one to get into the tub. Our whole family finished every day frustrated and irritated with each other, which I loathed. Admittedly, evening time is not when I do my best parenting, and after months and months of our evening devolving into screaming and crying, I finally decided to try something new. It was something so simple, so easy, that the professional therapist in me was left wondering how the heck it took me so long to figure it out: include getting into the bath in the evening play session! Make the trip into the tub a game! I realize that this sounds like the too-good-to-be-true stuff of Julie Andrews nanny movies, but it actually works. Every time.
We start with a five-minute warning, but instead of telling them that we will be "cleaning up," we simply let them know that in five minutes we will be "changing channels and doing something different." After a quick clean up, we shout out something like: "I'm the kangaroo and you're the bunny! Who can get into the bathroom fastest?" For our youngest, who is now 5, this has worked like a charm since she was about 2 years old; she immediately hops her way into the tub. Our oldest kiddo is turning 8 this year and requires a bit more finesse. So we changed the game up to reflect his more sophisticated play: "The floor is lava and you have only one lava-proof boot! You must hop the whole way without falling into the lava pit!" We've been turning bath time into an extended playtime since our eldest kiddo was 2 years old, and it still works nearly every night.
The reason it works is a simple one. Ending connected family time is hard for kids, especially after a long and busy day. During the pandemic, when kids are feeling more disconnected than ever, moments of play with a loved one are not only helpful, they are also therapeutic. Engaging in a silly "The Floor Is Lava" race or acting like you are a rocket on the way to the bathroom helps kiddos relax and promotes positive interaction with their daily routine; both of which can be empowering for them. As a bonus, it helps thwart the evening tantrums and encourages family closeness. Even better, I'm left with out the guilt of ending our day yelling: "Or else!" Now, if anyone knows a trick help keep all the water inside the tub, I'm all ears!