Down The Drain
Over the past few months, my daughter Cagney has developed a fear of going down the drain. Classic right? If you’re a 90’s baby, like myself, you might even remember the Rugrats episode about it. The conniving Angelica convinces Tommy and Chuckie that they are going to get sucked down the drain so they do everything they possibly can to prevent bath-time and even clog the drain with play-doh. Di-Di (probably under the guidance of Dr. Lipschitz) even plays a song for them that goes something like;
“♪The water’s your friend, the tub is your pal, you can’t get sucked down the drain! ♪”
In the end, the ever brave Tommy Pickles decides he’s ready to face his fear and pulls the drain plug while he and Chuckie are in the tub. Lo and behold! What do you know?! You CAN’T get sucked down the drain. Problem solved.
But that’s a 10 minute cartoon with a shockingly brave protagonist toddler and this is real life. My daughter is an eccentric “almost” three year old that whether I like it or not already exhibits some of the same “anxiety” type traits I had as a child.
When the bath first fear started,
I was naturally frustrated. I couldn’t understand why she would willingly jump into a pool or a dirty lake but not into our tub. I couldn’t comprehend how 3 months prior, she absolutely loved the bath and most days we had to beg her to get OUT. I had trouble empathizing with her fear because I’m an adult and I was thinking “rationally”. I mean you can’t FIT down the drain. It’s irrational, right? Right! But so wrong. That was my first mistake. Kids don’t think in terms like that.
I asked her one day. Why don’t you want to take a bath? Through tears she answered, “I’m so afraid to go down”.
I finally realized that this fear was REAL to her and I owed it to her to take it seriously. Although irrational to me, it was beyond rational to her. I knew she couldn’t be the smelly kid in class that never bathed. I knew that I couldn’t enable her. But I also knew I couldn’t force her because I would lose her trust and maximize her fear. The fear had gotten so bad she wouldn’t even stand in the bathroom while the shower was running.
So I began my own type of “exposure therapy.” I started by bathing her in her big pool with the help of the garden hose. Classy right? Then under the suggestion of my MIL we bought a tiny plastic pool and started to bathe her outside in that. Eventually we were able to take the plastic pool into the house.
Then, I started asking her to sit in the bathroom with me while I showered. After I promised her I wouldn’t make her come in she agreed to that. We did that for a few days.
After a few days she started opening the shower door and putting her hand into the shower stream. I asked if she wanted to come in and she said no. I didn’t push.
Today, as usual I showered while she colored on the bathroom floor. She opened the door and ran her hands under the stream as usual and said, “it feels nice”. I put the plug in the drain and showed her how even water couldn’t get through. She laughed. I asked her if she wanted to come in…
She hesitated and then said yes.
I held her on my lap for the first 10 minutes and after that she was swimming like she had never feared the tub.
Through patience comes progress.
It’s so easy to lose your patience as a parent. Heck, I’m guilty of it! The “world’s best mom” is guilty of it. But we can learn a lot from having patience.
Ask your children questions.
And if they answer?
Listen to them, believe them, take them seriously.
Be patient with them. Be the guidance they need in conquering their fears.
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