Ever since I was little, I have loved water. When I was a kid, I used to spend hours in the bathtub and at the swimming pool. As an adult, whenever things get tough, I still like to take a bath or wash dishes or (when I lived near some) go and sit by the water. There is a simple reason for this: water is soothing. It provides a simple transition from the everyday world into an altered, slower, lighter reality.
I have found that water is also a great parenting tool. Both my oldest and my youngest child can be easily overstimulated. They get overwhelmed when the world throws too much noise, change or business at them. I have found that one of the best ways for them to unwind is by taking a bath.
The last time my five year old had a giant meltdown, I finally gave up trying to put him in his room or yell at him (counterproductive, I know) or try to coax him out of it. Instead, I picked him up, carried him to the bathroom and started the tub water. I insisted that he take get himself in the bath, otherwise I would plunk him in it fully dressed. He dutifully got into the tub, still raging at the world. I found some sort of soak in the cupboard and told him, "This is magic powder. It will help you calm down and feel better." I sprinkled some of the soak into the bath, tossed some toys in for good measure, and left him (keeping an ear open, of course). Twenty minutes later, a new child emerged.
The same thing happened the other week with my 6 months old baby. We had gone to visit friends for a couple of days, without my husband. She was in a new environment, with two very attentive young girls that wanted to play with her all day long, and no daddy. She was getting increasingly fussy and clingy. So I put a little water in the bath, sat her down and poured water over her back while she played with the water. I didn't add any toys, since she was already too stimulated. 10 minutes later, I had a refocused child.
My middle son does not get so easily overstimulated. In fact, he tends to be a sensory seeker. In plain English that means that he loves to be in the middle of the mess and action and noise. If there is no mess, action and noise, he will gladly make all three for you. As a preschooler, one of the key ways to mellow him out, and keep my house intact, is to give him a few baths a day. He loves pouring the water and splashing in the bath. If its nice enough out, I turn on the hose in the back yard and let him get muddy. Yes, my back yard is a bit of a disaster. Yes, my white carpet has not thanked me for this (but then, if I could, I would rip up the carpet). But it does mean we are more likely to go all the way through a meal without milk and food being creatively mixed together with hair, clothes, the table and the floor. It also give us a small chance that the blankets might stay on the beds rather than having a little boy dragging them around the house and wrapping himself up in them, and that his little sister will spend the whole day without being covered in every pillow in the house.
I also use water to calm myself down. I have always enjoyed a hot bath when times were chaotic, but I often find that I no longer have time for an hour long bath. Instead, I have come up with a little shower meditation that I do (no, its not a freaky as it sounds, trust me). Its quite simple, and only takes a few minutes. Get in the shower and turn on the water (it is suggested that you remove your clothes first). As you wash your body and hair with soap, be mindful of the sensations around you and try to be in the moment. Try to feel the soap on your skin and imagine it is drawing out all the tension in your muscles. As the soap is washed down the drain, imagine your physical tension is disappearing with it. Take a few deep breaths now, and let the water run over your head (it is suggested that you don't lift your head, so as to prevent water in the nose -- this might break the mood). Focus on the sensation of the water washing over your body. Think of all the stress you have been through in the last few days. Now let the water wash the stress down the drain as well. If you are a visual / arsty type of person, imagine your stress is a colour, and let the colour drain away. Now turn the water a little bit cooler, just to the point where the water is refreshing. Imagine it is something restorative, and let the cool, restoring water soak into you. Again try to focus just on the physical sensation of the water for a moment. Now take one more deep breath, and you are done. Pray that no one is waiting outside the bathroom door with a cry of "He punched me!" or "I'm thirsty!" If they are, know that you are ready to take them on again. If only you can find a towel . . .