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Tub Wars

Sometimes a tot can't wait to take the plunge into the tub, and has so much fun she refuses to budge  -- even when the water becomes cool and murky, and her fingers and toes shrivel. Just as often, getting plunked into the bath floats to the top of a toddler's "I don't want to!" list.

In both cases, the tub trouble usually arises from a young child's quest for control, says Jane Nelsen, of Fair Oaks, CA, author of Positive Discipline. When parents command, "Climb into the tub," "Lather up the washcloth," "It's time to get out now," they're all just inviting a stubborn "No!" To coax your toddler into cleaning up her act:

Give Some Say-So

Ask your child questions that allow her to steer some of the bathing process, such as, "Would you like to take your bath in five minutes or ten?" If you use a timer, ask the child, "How much time do you think you need?" During the bath, encourage cooperation by asking, "Which toy would you like to play with after you soap up?" or "What song will you sing while I rinse you off?" To ease into the idea of getting out, you might ask, "Which pajamas do you want to wear tonight?" and "What story would you like to hear after you're dressed?"

Attract and Distract

The mother of 4 1/2-year-old Mariah Adams, of Picayune, MI, has found that one of the best ways to counter a child's resistance is to turn her attention to something else. For Mariah, bath time is a routine that's full of distractions and attractions, such as baking water pies, playing with her favorite water bucket, and swimming with her dolls. If Mariah objects to getting out of the beloved tub, her mother offers a favorite snack to make the idea of returning to dry land more palatable.

Don't feel you have to buy a ton of pricey tub toys, though. Chances are the perfect playthings are in the closet, kitchen drawers, and cupboards, or your child's toy chest. Anything that floats, splashes, or squirts (as long as it isn't metal) makes a fine bath toy. Some possibilities: plastic play food, plates, cups, basters, ladles, squirt or spray bottles, funnels, action figures, dolls, plastic animals, kid-size swim goggles, and various sponges. Rotating the selection helps head off bathroom boredom.

Make It a Family Affair

Children should not be left unattended in the tub until they're at least 8 years old. Even then, parents should be nearby  -- which will make bath time more appealing to kids anyway. One of the nicest things about this safety rule is that it encourages built-in playtime for parents and toddlers.