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“Tub Tantrums: Working Through My Daughter’s SPD During Bath Time”

How to give kids with ADHD and sensory integration control, or the illusion of control, to avoid blow-ups.

My daughter Jasmine has always hated bath time—hated it. If the water’s too hot, too cold, too low, too high—it doesn’t matter—she screams her head off. The tub fills with tears, sweat, saliva, and snot as she goes on and on, and can’t be comforted.

“Use your words and tell Daddy, too hot or too cold,” I say. But she’s too worked up and can’t talk. What’s especially tricky is that she doesn’t pitch holy heck every time. Sometimes she has a great time. She laughs when I make jokes or give little tickles when I scrub her feet, so she catches me off guard when she flips out. Occasionally, I can calm her down, and we’re able to finish the bath without incident. Other times, I get stressed and it snowballs from there.

Once when I was using the shower hose to rinse the shampoo out of her hair, and she was mid-fit, she reached out her hand and asked, “Can I do it?” I thought, I’ll try anything. I said sure and handed her the nozzle. She put the water stream up to her head, and instantly stopped sobbing. “Look, Daddy! I doing it!” The next bath time, she immediately asked if she could hold the shower nozzle. “It so fun,” she said. So I handed her the nozzle and bath time was a breeze.

Jasmine’s older brothers have been diagnosed with sensory integration and ADHD. They never hated bath time, but when Jasmine started to show other signs of these two issues, Laurie and I realized her issue could be sensory integration. We noticed she wasn’t pitching fits out of defiance. The sensation of water that was either too hot or too cold, or the force of the water stream, was causing neurological overstimulation. This led to the “hyper” in her ADHD kicking in, raising everyone’s blood to the point of no return. It explains why she never fusses when we use the soapy sponge, dry her off, or rub lotion on her after the bath. In fact, she looks forward to these. She asks me to squeeze her tight in the towel, and brings me the bottle of lotion and reminds me, “Daddy, you have to do lotion now.”

Through other trials and errors, we found additional tricks to make bath time easier:

  • Fill the bathtub with water first. The sound of water coming out of the faucet was too much stimulation for her. So we fill the tub with water, turn off the faucet, and bring her into the bathroom.
  • Make sure the bathroom is odor-free. She is overstimulated by some smells. If someone has used the bathroom and there’s a lingering odor, I make sure there’s air freshener on hand. Jasmine is particular about air fresheners as well, so we allow her to pick the scent when we go grocery shopping.
  • Clean the tub. Jasmine gets really worked up by messes in the tub. Even if it’s clearly her own hair, we have to remove all debris for her. Sometimes I wonder how she notices, but telling her to get over it only starts a fit.
  • Tag team. Laurie and I sometimes have to trade off on bath time. She does most of the hair prep for both girls, so I try to handle as many baths as possible. But sometimes I need a break and Laurie steps in.
  • Prepare for the post-bath period. If Jasmine gets cold or isn’t dried thoroughly, all heck can break loose. So I have a towel ready to go before draining the water. Then I lead her to her room and help get her clothes or bathrobe on. She hates the sensation of wet clothes, so it’s important that her hair is thoroughly dry and doesn’t drip onto her clean clothes.

As Jasmine has grown older, we’ve been able to give her more responsibility and her fits are less frequent. We’re working with her on doing her own shampoo and conditioner. She now looks forward to baths. So if we can just make it until she’s old enough to fix her own hair every day, we’ll be living the dream!

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