Words by: Kat Peterson
Over the course of our study, we have been lucky to work with such amazing families. Through audio recordings created by families, we have been granted a glimpse into a diverse set bath time routines filled with music, toys, and familial connection. We wanted to find out—in the eyes of participating families—what bath time means to them and what makes bath time a unique experience for children and their caregivers. To do this, we reached out to families who participated in the study to ask them a few questions: How would you describe your family’s bath time routine? What is your favorite part of your child’s bath time? Can bath time be stressful for you or your child? What tips can you share with other caregivers to make bath time less stressful? What does bath time mean to you as a caregiver? Is this time with your child important to you?
Here is what they said:
Word Cloud of words caregivers used most in their responses to the question: What does bath time mean to you? The bigger the word, the more it came up across families' answers.
For some families, bath time was an opportunity to relax with their children. Several families had multiple children who bathed together, which made it even more of a relaxing family activity. As one participant said, “It's fun, silly, time spent rejuvenating and refreshing the kids, and a nice way to wind down after a long day.” Bath times often included fun activities like singing, playing make-believe, and telling stories. Many families found this aspect of bath time to be their favorite, since imagination and play were at the core of the activity. One participant said their favorite part of bath time was talking to their child: “Chatting! She'll tell me about lingering parts of her day, ask random questions, and tell me about make believe creatures that are in her head. I'm also currently pregnant, so she loves laying her head on my belly and "washing" baby sister.”
Bath time was also seen as an essential part of the routine established for children. It was an activity that was expected for the child, and often had a set time such as after school, after dinner, or before bed. Families said this helped to manage expectations and avoid complaining. An example of a bath time routine is explained by one participant as, “Dadda goes upstairs to bathroom with toddler while mamma cooks downstairs. Dadda partially fills the tub, toddler resists but eventually gets in tub. She plays with toys and with water while talking to Dadda. Dadda makes the beds while still talking to toddler. Toddler takes care of washing herself. At the end Dadda asks toddler if she’s done (about 5 times) and finally she asks to leave the tub. Dadda takes her off with a towel and mamma comes upstairs to rub coconut oil on toddler.”
Others admitted that while bath time could be a struggle, it was a necessary endeavor. This is best described in one of the participant responses we received: “Chaotic but 😊”. In fact, some families shared that sometimes the best part about bath time was when it ended! “This is currently a pretty stressful activity for us, so I would say my favorite part is when it's over.” With kids, cooperation can go a long way. Many families found that bath times were most stressful when their children resisted or had high emotional levels. However, many offered tips on how they make their bath time routines less stressful; for example:
“Given that the activity is a prelude to bedtime, if there's too much resistance, we forgo it as we're not looking to amp up anyone's energy before sleep.”
“There are also some nights when she tells me she's too tired to take a bath and I usually honor that request (unless she's super dirty). It's more about being a bookend to the day than it is about getting clean.”
Being mindful of expectations.
“When we were taking baths, it helped to have as little expectations as possible. I wanted him to have fun in the water and if he got clean, too - great!”
Using a timer or other time management techniques.
“I need to start using a timer for my son and perhaps start earlier.”
Explaining the purpose of bath time and rewarding using preferred items.
“We do explain to her why it’s important and lure her with a different toy in and with lemonade out.”
Focusing on washing, then moving on to play.
“Just get the washing done first and play after.”
In the end, all families considered bath time an important and valuable opportunity to spend quality time with their children without distractions. This is encapsulated in the response, “This is exactly how we see bath time - a time to connect with our children. It is a very important time of day for us because we truly get to focus on our child and just BE with them.” Although bath time could be seen as a chore or not the only way to spend quality time with their children, families overwhelmingly appreciated the time they were able to spend with their children during bath activities. In fact, some saw this time as an opportunity to achieve something greater than just getting clean—it could be a chance to encourage body positivity and rebuild bonds between caregivers.
“It's a really special time when it's just the two of us relaxing in warm water. With a new sibling coming in November, I'm realizing that these relaxing and intimate moments are going to be harder to come by in the future.”
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