A little backstory - we are on severe water restrictions. Partly due to this, we have chosen to bathe Elijah in a baby bath inside the big bathtub. This has worked very well from a conservation point of view, but not so well from a psychological development point of view. The problem is that any time Elijah must be bathed in something other than his baby bath, he loses the plot to the point of being traumatised. Several of our friends have witnessed this and nobody has had any idea why he was so irrationally fearful.
As Elijah is fast growing too large to sit in the baby bath, I've been looking for ways and means of getting him into the big bath comfortably and happily. Some of the ideas we've used so far have been modelling fun baths in the big bath for him and letting him play with his bath toys whilst they are in the bath and he is standing next to it. We've also got a toy shower head that won't go in the baby bath - it has suction cups and won't really stick to the plastic - and have told Elijah that the shower head toy is only for the big bath. When you press the button, it draws water up from the bath and sprays it out of the shower head. Elijah loves it so much that he gets really upset when it was time to stop playing.
One day last week, Elijah actually asked to have a bath in the big bath, presumably so he could play with the shower head. So I filled the bath, put the shower head on the side of the bath and let him play for a minute, to ensure he knew what he was getting into. He didn't want to go back to his room to get his clothes off, so I took them off him in the bathroom. He was fine until we got down to the singlet, then he realised that he was actually going to be IN the bath and the problems started!
He started to whimper. I put him in the bath anyway - I wasn't going to let all that water go to waste! He stood there, crying. He wouldn't sit down. I got him to play with the shower head and that seemed to calm him down, but any time I tried getting him to sit, he'd cry again. I washed him standing up and tried to get him to tell me what the problem was.
Eventually, I saw how cold he was getting and so I told him that when all his animal bath toys were on the side of the bath (the usual spot) then he could get out of the bath. One of the toys was near his feet, so I coaxed him into picking it up, squeezing the water out and putting it on the side of the bath. With a little more coaxing, he was able to take a couple of steps to get the next two toys.
Unfortunately though, the last three animals were down towards the other end of the bath - the plug end. He would NOT walk down the other end. I managed to get him to hold onto the side of the bath so he could lean and reach one of the toys, but in doing so, the other two were washed right to the end. Try as I might, I couldn't get him to take even one step closer.
I kept talking to him, trying to get some kind of reason for his fear. I had a brainwave. "Elijah, are you scared of the plug hole?" "Scared of the dwain. Scared of the pwug." That was our answer.
Now the plug and the drain are almost impossible to see with the bath full, because of the bath oil we put in that clouds the water. Nevertheless, Elijah knew it was there, as he had watched the water from his little bath emptied into the big bath and seen the water swirl and disappear down the drain.
I explained to him that only water (and fluff) could go down the drain, that he couldn't go down the drain and neither could his toys. He still couldn't be convinced to fetch the last two toys.
I was fed up. This had taken far too long - it was at least 45 minutes since I filled the bath - but I couldn't go back on my word. I had said that all toys had to be put back in order for him to get out of the bath and our consistency is what keeps this family working.
I picked him up and placed him back in the bath, about two Elijah-sized steps closer to the toys. I got him to pick them up, squeeze them out and put them on the side of the bath. I took him out of the bath and dried him off (though he was mostly dry anyway, since he'd been standing the entire time) and gave him lots of cuddles and praise for being in the big bath and putting the toys away.
Later, after story time, I let him debrief about the experience. I again reassured him about the drain and the plug. The last thing he said before I left the room to let him fall asleep was, "Don't be scared of dwain. Don't be scared of pwug. Won't hurt you."
Since then, I've let him hold the plug any time he's in the bathroom, to try and demystify it a little. He hasn't had a bath in the big bath since, though, because we don't want to push it too soon. We will continue to ask him if he would like to have a bath in the big bath and I suppose that when he is ready he will let us know.