Along with being picky about eating and whiny about bedtimes, bathtime is probably one of the biggest daily hurdles for most parents of small children. Kids like being filthy, and getting clean isn’t really at the top of their priority list. Thankfully, Baby and Monster don’t have too much trouble with bathtime, although they sometimes groan and drag their feet when it’s time to put away toys and get bathed. If bathtime is a constant battle in your house, I’ve got some tips to help.
Why Kids Don’t Like Bathtime
There are several reasons kids might not like bathtime. Don’t just assume they’re throwing a fit or being naughty “just because.” Figure out why your child is struggling with being bathed so you can find ways to make it easier for them. Here are a few possible reasons:
They don’t want to leave their toys / TV.
They’re afraid of getting water in their face.
They’re afraid of getting soap in their eyes or mouth.
They’re afraid of slipping.
Sensory issues related to temperature.
Sensory issues related to sound.
They don’t want to go to bed.
Bathtime is stressful and rushed.
1. Make bathtime fun with toys and games.
Children sometimes dislike taking baths because it means missing out on other things they want to do be doing — usually playing with toys or watching TV. If bathing is all about getting scrubbed and scoured as quickly as possible, kids will be less enthusiastic about hopping in.
I think one of the reasons Baby and Monster love bathtime so much is because we make it a lot of fun with toys and games. Bath crayons are a big hit in our family. Baby and Monster love coloring on the walls and sides of the bathtub, and they clean up easily with hot water. Fizzy colorful bath bombs are a lot of fun, too. Just be sure to find ones that won’t stain your tub.
2. Avoid splashing the face
More than any other fear that keeps kids from enjoying bathtime is the worry about getting water in their face. Little faces are super sensitive, and getting splashed in the face with water, even if you’re expecting it, can be disorienting and unpleasant. This is especially true if they end up getting it in their nose or eyes.
When I’m washing my girls’ hair, I encourage them to look straight up at the ceiling, and I use a small cup to pour water over their hair. I use my hand pressed against their brow to shield their eyes. If using your hand doesn’t work well, consider investing in a bath visor.
3. How to keep soap out of your child’s eyes and mouth
It only takes one instance of your child getting soap in their eyes or mouth for them to swear off bathtime forever. Soap is painful and irritating and it tastes horrible. Thankfully, it’s pretty easy to avoid getting it in little eyes and mouths if you’re careful.
First off, don’t use as much shampoo. You really don’t need a lot of shampoo to get clean, and chances are, you’re overdoing it. Excess soap tends to run, so it’s more likely to end up dripping down your child’s face. When you use less, the suds tend to stay trapped in your child’s hair and not end up near their face.
Second, be sure you’re using a tear-free shampoo. While these type of shampoos may still be mildly irritating, they’re a lot more gentle than adult soaps.
4. Protect against slips and falls
Even if your child has never fallen in the tub, the slippery surface can make them feel anxious and unsure. If they have fallen in the tub, they may be scared of repeating the painful experience.
Consider non-slip solutions for the bathtub bottom. There are a variety of textured mats or slip-resistant tapes that can be applied inside the tub to give your child a better footing.
You can also install a suction grab bar to give your child something to hold onto while they get in and out of the tub. They’re plenty strong enough to handle a child, and don’t require any major installation.
5. Your child may have temperature sensitivities
Children are often more sensitive to changes in temperature than adults are — for one thing, they’re a lot smaller than we are. Water that feels perfectly fine to us may feel too hot to them. Listen to your child, but trust your intuition — they might also say water is too hot even when it’s not, just because they don’t want to get in.
Children may also dislike the chilly feeling when they hop out of the bath, especially during winter months. Keep a large towel ready to wrap them up in as soon as they get out of the bath. Little tip: throw bath towels in the dryer at the start of bathtime. By the time the kids are ready to get out, they’ll be cozy and warm.
If you’ve got a little home improvement budget, you might even consider installing a bathroom exhaust fan that includes a heater. My dad installed these in all the bathrooms of our house when I was growing up, and I gotta tell you — they’ll spoil you.
6. Bathtime can have scary sounds
Sometimes, the loud noise of fast rushing water can be scary to children. If your child seems anxious when the bath water is running, consider filling the tub with the door closed, and bring your child into the bathroom once the tub is full.
Likewise, the gurgling sound of the drain can be scary to some children. As a small child, I used to worry that I would be sucked down the drain. An irrational fear, sure, but small children don’t have fully developed brains and the things they worry about are often irrational. I always made sure my mother let me out of the tub before she pulled the plug.
For children with sensory issues related to bath sounds, consider using a shower-friendly Bluetooth speaker to play music they enjoy, like Disney songs. The music can help distract and soothe your child.
Other Sensory Issues
Be mindful of other sensory issues related to bathing. Bathtime is a HUGE sensory shift from the normal environment your child experiences all day — it’s wet, it’s slippery, it can be both hotter and colder than they’re used to. It even smells differently, especially if you use shampoos and soaps containing fragrances.
Some children, particularly younger toddlers and infants, may find full water immersion too much of a sensory overload. It’s perfectly okay to go for wipe-down baths with a wet cloth instead of a full bath until they’re better equipped to handle it.
7. Bathtime often leads to bedtime
For a lot of families, bathtime is a big part of the bedtime routine. Children who don’t want to go to bed may start to associate bathtime with it, and begin making bathtime difficult as a way to keep from being put to bed.
In our house, we rarely go straight to bed after bathtime. Instead, bathtime comes at the beginning of our bedtime routine. After bath, we usually end up reading several storybooks, watching some gentle YouTube videos, or other lowkey fun activities.
Another way to prevent your child from associating bathtime with bedtime is to simply not bathe every day. Unless your kid has been getting filthy playing outside or with art supplies, chances are they aren’t dirty enough to warrant a full bath every night. If they just have messy faces and hands, a wet washcloth will do the job.
8. Tangles suck
With two girls with lots of hair, tangles are a constant bathtime menace. Brushing hair after bathtime can be uncomfortable and painful for them. Thankfully, there are some tricks that can help.
First, use lots of high-quality conditioner. I usually wash the girls’ hair with shampoo at the beginning of their bath, then rinse and immediately apply conditioner. After that, I let them play with their bath crayons and toys for several minutes while the conditioner works. Then we rinse out the conditioner, scrub bodies, and finish up our bath.
Angela usually handles brushing their hair after bath. A good brush and children’s de-tangler helps relax their hair and makes brushing less painful.
9. Take your time
Bathing children takes time. You might be able to hop in and out of the shower in five minutes flat, but kids typically don’t do very well when rushed. If they sense that you’re feeling stressed and rushed, they’ll feel anxious about bathtime too.
Instead, take your time. I let the girls play for a bit between each step of their bath. Sure, I know the focus is getting them clean, but for them, bathtime is synonymous with a special kind of playtime, and I want them to enjoy that.
Just keep an eye on the water temperature. A tub full of warm water usually has enough thermal mass to keep warm for a good while, but it will slowly cool over time, and you don’t want your child to get cold. If your child doesn’t have any issues with the water running, you can always give it a short refresher to warm it back up.
How Does Bathtime Go In Your Family?
Do your kids fight against taking baths? What tricks and tips do you use to make bathtime easier? Tell us in the comments.