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I’ve been unable to find any evidence regarding the sensory benefits of showering, but anecdotally, it has become one of my favorite self-regulation tools.

Parents, who may be struggling with bed time care or morning care,  are in the position of adjusting their child’s sensory diet to fit the  routine that will work best for them. That can be tough.

The Bed Time Bath: A Hard Rule?

When I became a parent, I understood that while there was no “rulebook”, there were, in fact, certain unspoken rules. Most of them have gone out the window by now, but one I never questioned until recently was the nighttime bath. Kids take baths at night as a rule. They play hard; they get messy, they need cleaning before climbing into bed.

I believed that a nighttime bath was supposed to be calming. The shelves of the local drugstores stock lavender-containing bath products that are labeled as “Calming” and “Relaxing.” These actually cost more than their non-lavender counterparts. I bought them. I didn’t, however, notice them to have any calming effect on my child.

As We Age, We Move To the Morning Shower

Fast-forward to adulthood, and somehow now the majority of us tend to shower in the morning – the nighttime calming bath having gone by the wayside. (Of course some of us do shower at night, and some shower twice or more a day, and some do continue to bathe instead, and combinations of all of the above – clearly a matter of personal preference.)

Go ahead – ask around. No matter what preferences people have, they are strongly committed to them and report feeling “not quite right” if they have to change their ways. I interpret that as, for every single one of us, at every age, the way that we clean our bodies seems to be of primary importance to our self-regulation.

Are you stuck in a habit of bathing your child at night? Start looking at that practice more critically to see if it really is the best choice for your child. Adjusting your child’s cleaning method, or schedule, could turn out to be one of the most powerful self-regulation tools in your toolkit, and one of the easiest to adjust in your family’s routine.  It’s simply an easy sensory tool: the shower.

Examine Your Child’s Bathing Schedule

Keep a Sleep Log

You’ll need to know where you’re starting from to know how it has changed.  Start by measuring a week or two on the same old routine.  Then start to make transitions to a new method, the morning bath or morning shower.  After a month, evaluate the sleep log for effectiveness.

Try a Morning Bath

Observe any therapeutic changes from keeping the same method, but changing the time of day.

Try Out a Shower

Some children have quite startling results with showering, often discovered “by accident.” Language, attention, and listening behaviors may be noticeably different with the full body organizing/alerting input of a shower.

Work Up To It

If your child is averse initially, start with a hand-held shower head, or “wand” attachment which your child has some control over. As a next step, consider showering together (if it is age-appropriate). Like any new task, begin with play before expecting quality.

Talk with your child’s Occupational Therapist 

Particularly for kids with “low arousal” types of sensory-seeking behaviors, starting the day with an alerting activity like showering could have some beneficial effects with some durability into the school day.

Perhaps it would be beneficial to have a formal study to measure the impact of showering as a sensory tool – until then, be flexible with your routine, discover what works best for your child and you and achieve optimal sensory-regulation.

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Teresa Fair-Field, OTR/L
Teresa graduated from Pacific University (1993) in Forest Grove, Oregon, earning the Outstanding Graduate in Occupational Therapy award. She spent the majority of her career in neuro-rehabilitation, and enjoys understanding sensation and behavior from a nervous system perspective. She is certified in Ayres Sensory Integration® and is qualified to deliver the SIPT assessment. Teresa is currently working on a doctorate in occupational therapy (2016) with Chatham University in Pennsylvania. Her doctoral focus is to increase parent’s sense of efficacy in managing their child’s routines through a model of coaching and support.