How can I help my young child who is afraid of bath time?

Dr. Heather Wittenberg, PhD
Psychology Specialist

Pediatricians say that we Americans bathe our babies way too much anyway; it’s not necessarily good for young skin. So you can back off the nightly baths. Don’t feel temped to force the issue; I promise, it will only make things worse. But of course, smashed banana needs to be cleaned out of hair, and dirt needs to be dislodged from various nooks and crannies. And I wouldn’t suggest giving in to the bathing fears, simply being a little more flexible about it than usual. Here are a few other suggestions:

• Know that this is a phase. It’s not permanent. This is a temporary blip in your bathing routine. Eventually, your toddler will regain confidence and enjoyment in the bath.

• For now, rely on the kitchen sink. At this age, they need to be wiped down after every meal and snack anyway, right? So keep a bottle of her bath soap in the kitchen and strip her down at the sink after meals. Clear the sink area of unsafe stuff. Then let her splash away—with you holding her firmly, of course—and wipe her down as you play with her there. And most kids still love to play with the hose or the kiddie pool, despite bath fears. So sneak in a little cleaning while she’s splashing around in the yard.

• Keep trying, but don’t force it, if you can avoid it. Every few days, make a big deal out of preparing a really fun bath. Use bubbles, add new toys, and be silly. Allow your toddler to play in the water from the outside of the tub, but don’t make her get in. Talk about what fun she will have, when she decides to get back in. You want her to have a good experience—at her pace—with the bath. Let her “help” you with bathing a sibling—sitting with you, outside the tub. Let her get in—and get out again—if she’s even slightly interested. Or let her walk away—it’s her choice, at this point. Make a big deal out of letting her decide about the bath.

The main thing is to convey your empathy about the situation. “I know you’re afraid of the bath, and I’m willing to do whatever I can to help you through this time. I know that one day you’ll like it again, but for now, we’ll take it at your pace.”

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.