Kids should learn to bath themselves from a young age.
What’s the first thought that comes to mind when you think about this? For me it would have been - what’s the rush?
Time is precious and I often find myself saying things like “they grow up so fast.” anyway. So, what’s the rush to get them doing things for themselves, especially at a special moment like bath time. Aren’t we in danger of limiting those special bonding moments with our kids by making them take on too much responsibility?
Well, I’ve learned that teaching your kids how to do things for themselves isn’t really about getting them to figure the world out for themselves quickly and grow up fast. It’s actually about teaching kids to try, and learning when they need to ask for help. And it’s about making space for meaningful conversations about the “why’s” and “how’s” of things in the world.
And the underlying secret in it all: it’s actually better for your relationship. It will create more memorable moments with your children, not less.
When we designed the Pebbl bathtime brush to help kids take care of bathtime, washing their own skin and hair, the aim was not to eliminate your role as a parent. It was just to change the emphasis. Pebbl is a conversation starter. Moving from “come here” and “sit still” to encouragement and support while kids work things out for themselves. In fact, unless you’re well-rehearsed at talking through what you’re doing while you’re doing things for your kids, you probably don’t say much at all.
I’ve found that when I’m so caught up trying to do everything to serve my kids, it’s a worse experience for them and me. I’m more impatient, I feel pulled from pillar to post and quickly lose my patience. I stop talking, or at least I only have frustrations to share with them. Bath time, a time I imagine (and brands tell me) should be relaxing and special, easily becomes a chore.
Of course, kids learn more from our actions than just what we say, so it’s not wrong to serve them this way, but something powerful happens when you co-labour with your kids to work things out and teach them how to do things themselves. Getting them to help lay the table; teaching them to use the toilet themselves; helping them work out how to use pocket money to save, give and spend; are all moments that create conversations and memories that are so much more valuable. Bath time is no exception. These moments all come about when you give your kids the space and freedom to have a go at life themselves. You’re still there helping them, it just changes the type of help. The expectation is not that they do things for themselves straight away of course, there’s plenty of time to keep them young and innocent, but it pushes you as the parent to provide help that removes you from just “getting it done!”
The result, when you’re teaching them and are forced to explain more of the “how’s” and “why’s”, is that you talk more. You’re coaching from the side-line rather than taking the ball to do it for them and that requires you to be more patient, more encouraging and to really work at your communication.
Imagine your kid is getting dressed and they need help doing up a popper on their trousers (this is a real-life, daily example in our household). Up till this moment they’ve got themselves totally dressed apart from this tricky part which requires strong motor skills. They’re not there yet and that’s totally fine (this isn’t about unlocking some development goal early for kudos with other parents).
Imagine your kid comes and asks for help. But now imagine you can’t just do it for them. Or at least that you only have one hand free to do it. You need their help to get it done. Think about what you would do. No, really pause now and think about it. Think about the words you would use, how you would explain it. Think about the conversation that would need to take place, the encouragement required, the modelling of asking for help and helping others. It’s powerful isn’t it. Now compare that to just doing it for them. No conversation, no encouragement, and a poor example of how to help others that you’re passing on to them.
I’m frequently reminded of an example that Jessica Lahey gave in her interview with Tim Ferris. (The whole interview is worth a listen here). Talking about the danger of operating in “getting it done mode” She says:
"…And at that exact same moment, that same week, it might’ve even been the same day, I found out that my nine-year-old couldn’t tie his own shoes because I’d been doing it for him.
... And not only could he not tie his shoes, he was so humiliated by the fact that he couldn’t tie his shoes that he hadn’t told me. I hadn’t figured it out. He was having to sit out PE class, not play with his friends because he was wearing his brother’s boots to school because he didn’t have shoes without laces, and he was so humiliated and that was 100 percent my fault. I did that to him. Because every single time it came time to tie the shoes, it was just easier for me to do it. I was faster, tying shoes is hard. Thank you very much, manual dexterity. Tying shoes is one of the more challenging tasks for a young kid, and yet we sort of use it as this benchmark of like, “Yo, you’re getting big.” And so I just kept doing it and then Velcro, slip-on shoes, that kind of thing.
And essentially, what I was saying to him every time I said, “Oh, I’ll just do that for you. It’ll be faster if I do it for you,” was “I don’t think you’re competent enough to do this yourself.” And so that, my lack of faith in his ability to do it became our norm. And at that point, I then had — it was like a big bucket of cold water over my head, and I was like, “Oh, man, I can’t come at this from ‘You parents of my students suck because you’re ruining this whole learning thing.'” I was essentially doing the exact same thing to my own kids."
Jessica is obviously focused more on the negative impact of not letting your kids try. I think it’s super valid and a big motivator to me in giving our kids room to try, fail and then ask for help.
But my realisation is that teaching your kids to bath themselves, for example, is actually a way to build closer bonds with your kids in the moment. There’s actually a really positive case for using time with your kids to let them figure stuff out. That time where they try, what we often trip over as ‘wasted’ time, can really count for something. It doesn’t have to be wasted time at all, it can be quality time spent talking, explaining, and laughing as we watch them work life out in front of us.
Because that’s what all this is, helping kids work stuff out about the world and giving them direction along the way. What you have to pass down as a parent really isn’t as myopic as how to wash themselves well, or how to tie their shoelaces. After all, anyone could do that.
What you’re passing down is your wisdom about the world, enriched by the deepest possible love for them and desire for their lives to turn out well. And I think that’s why at GRASP we want to create opportunities for kids to develop independence. Not to make them grow up fast. Not to learn to look after their own health and hygiene because we don’t want to as parents. But because in creating the space for kids to build these personal care skills, we create space for all sorts of learning, all sorts of character-shaping conversations about life that they can carry with them into adulthood.