Becoming a parent is many things—exciting, scary, joyful, messy, wonder-filled, smelly—but mostly it’s a bit overwhelming. Even if you are thrilled with having a baby, there’s a lot you have to learn and figure out as you go. To help you through that learning process, there are about a thousand parenting books filled with “expert” advice, at least half of which simply won’t work for you or your kid.
Genuinely universally helpful parenting advice is a unicorn; it simply doesn’t exist. But occasionally, a golden piece of age-old child-rearing wisdom manages to break through the noise—something that works most of the time for most kids and parents. Something your grandma or auntie passed along that sounds too simple to be effective, yet works like a charm. Something that few if any people could possibly find controversial or problematic.
Something like: “Put them in water or take them outside.”
This advice was highlighted by The Motherhood Project in 2021 and has been shared on Facebook more than 123,000 times.
The “water or outside” advice is generally used for babies or toddlers who are inconsolable, as wee ones are known for screaming like banshees for no apparent reason and throwing conniption fits with no apparent prompting.
“Apparent” is the key here, of course—logically, there must be some reason for wailing as if being tortured—but most babies and most toddlers aren’t able to verbally articulate their issue, and sometimes that issue might be as simple as “I don’t want to be where I am or doing what I’m doing.”
Once you’ve determined the kiddo is not injured in some way, “Put them in water or take the outside” is solid advice that often works when all else fails. And thankfully, it’s effective for tiny people as well as older kids (and honestly, sometimes even teenagers). A bath, pool or shower is often just the distraction or soothing sensory experience needed to snap them out of whatever mood they’re in. And fresh air and sunlight are simple human needs that many of us neglect too often—a reality that becomes all too clear when you take kids outside and the drama all melts away within minutes.
Of course, there are caveats here. Some babies absolutely hate the bath. Some kids have sensory issues that are triggered by certain outdoor environments. So it’s not universally foolproof, but it’s definitely worth trying.
Countless commenters testified to the efficacy of the “put them in water or take them outside” advice.
“I didn’t hear this until after I had my 2nd baby,” wrote one mom. “I used it with my 3rd often, and it truly does work. So mad I heard a lot of terrible advice before learning this one!”
“Yes!! And I even give my daughter a bath during dinner time and feed her in the bath sometimes cause she gets so hangry she can’t calm down enough to eat. But in the bath, she naturally calms down enough to eat while she’s playing. She’s almost 5 and we’ve been doing this most of her life. Even did it tonight again,” shared another mother.
One mom shared that it works with her older autistic son: “When my 12 year old autistic son gets overly fractious he either goes in the bath or goes outside……. always works .”
Another expanded the idea to “just add water,” including things like watercolor, playing in the sink, etc.: “I have heard the phrase ‘just add water’ as well. When things are crazy just think of ways to add water to it. Waterpaints, playing with the hose outside, taking a bath, filling the sink up and adding toys, fill small Tupperware bowls with water and let their imagination go wild, taking a drink, giving them a wet paper towel for ouchies, etc. It’s one of my favorite pieces of advice I’ve gotten.”
Some parents shared that holding their colicky newborn in the shower was the only thing that helped calm them down. Others said that baths were a sanity saver for their kids’ entire early childhoods. Some said that simply stepping outside with a cranky baby was enough to get them to stop fussing most of the time.
It’s good advice for us adults, too, when we’re feeling frazzled. Soaking in a tub or going for a walk seem like such simple things, but they really can make a huge difference in how we feel and how we view things.
Add water or go outside: A solid tip for new parents and a great life hack for all ages.