Bath time is supposed to be relaxing and fun time for toddlers, with bubbles, toys, and aromatherapy that hopefully helps your toddler associate bathing as a happy activity.
So it can come as a complete surprise to many parents when a toddler starts fussing and screaming and outright fighting to stay out of the bathtub, even when bath time was fun to start with.
Where Does the Fear Come From?
Bath time fear quite commonly happens along with other fears around the age of 12-18 months. At about this time your baby has just started walking and discovered that her body can do new things, but there are still many things your child doesn’t know how to process yet.
There are likely many factors feeding bath time fear that your toddler can’t tell you yet, but here are a few possibilities:
• The bath tub is slippery
• Getting soap in her eyes
• Scrapes or cuts sting in the bathtub
• Water going down the drain makes her wonder if she too will go down the drain
• Her body gets cold when she gets out
Of course, these seem like irrational fears to us even with tear-free shampoos, but your toddler doesn’t know or understand that yet.
For children with sensory processing disorders or disorders with an impaired sensory processing element, bath time presents a whole different set of issues because it’s not just what he’s thinking about the bathtub that’s fueling the fear, but also how everything feels.
He's dealing with scratchy facecloths or sponges, strongly scented shampoos and soaps, and the non-slip stick-ums on the tub floor. The sprinkling of water from the shower head or tap can feel like pounding or a finger tapping them on the head.
Tips for Conquering Bath Tub Fears
Bath time tip #1:
Take a deep breath — perhaps several — and remind yourself that this is only a phase.
Bath time tip #2:
Try the kitchen sink, hose or kiddie pool occasionally. This may be an easier solution and will allow her to play while you wipe her down.
Bath time tip #3:
Don’t make a big deal out of it, and don’t belittle your child for his fear. In fact, empathize with your child and explain that it’s okay to be afraid and assure him that you will help. For some children, that’s enough to get them in the bath.
Bath time tip #4:
Use a plastic or rubber visor to keep the water out of her eyes.
Bath time tip #5:
Count down from 20 or 15 or 10 for rinses or shampooing time. This focuses your child on the counting rather than what’s actually happening, and can make what’s happening more tolerable.
Bath time tip #6:
Use baby washcloths or no-rinse shampoos and soaps. Baby washcloths are very soft on skin, and there’s no water necessary for no-rinse shampoos or soaps.
Bath time tip #7:
Don't let the water drain until after you take your child out.
Bath time tip #8:
Squeeze or pat your child dry, don’t rub or scrub.
Bath time tip #9:
Give your toddler a massage before and after the bath to make her more relaxed at the outset and to help make the experience a positive, encouraging one.
1) Parenting Tips: Help! My Toddler Suddenly Hates the Bath! Dr. Heather Wittenberg. Babyshrink.com. Web. Accessed: July 27, 2014.
2) Splish, Splash, I Was Taking a Bath” How to Make Bath Time Fun For the Fussiest of Kids! SensoryProcessingDisorder.com. Web. Accessed: July 27, 2014.
3) 15 Strategies to Conquer Your Next Toddler Hair Wash. WhattoExpect.com. Web. Accessed: July 27, 2014.
Reviewed July 28, 2014
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith