Help! My Toddler Hates Having a Bath
What should you do if your toddler hates having a bath? Keep reading to discover how we’re tackling this issue with our own little bath-hating-toddler.
So your toddler hates the bath and you’re pulling your hair out with worry, stressing about how deal with it before the next bath-time.
Yep. Been there. Very recently.
And we’re still tackling it.
But hopefully you’ll find some helpful tips by reading this post. Or, at the very least, you’ll be comforted by knowing you’re not alone!
She Used To Love Bath-Time!
Okay, let me take you back to Roo’s first few bath-times.
She hated it! Oh my word, I can still hear the shrill cries from that tiny pink bundle of loveliness.
It was so different to when GinGin was a baby. She absolutely adored the water.
So it was a bit of a shock to us that Roo wasn’t an exact replica of her big sister. Imagine the horror at discovering two babies are completely different. Ha!
But, even though Roo wasn’t overly keen on bath-time as a newborn, she soon settled into it once we plopped her in the bath with GinGin.
You see, Roo has always been mesmerised by her sister.
Her dislike of the water was overshadowed by her love of being with GinGin.
And so for two-and-a-half years we’ve had happy, giggly, splashy bath time.
It All Changed
Then one day this summer it all changed.
It started off that Roo didn’t want to lay down in the bath to have her hair washed.
Next time she didn’t want to get her hair wet. At all.
And then she refused to get into the bath. She became like one of those cartoon characters that somehow manage to transform themselves into different shapes to avoid going into the dreaded bathtub.
Worse was still to come.
One day she started crying at lunchtime. I asked her what was wrong.
“I don’t want the bath today mummy!”
She was pretty much inconsolable. And we only bath the girls every-other-day, so she’d also correctly worked out that it was going to be bath-night.
And she was already thinking about it at lunchtime. Lunchtime!
Such was her toddler hatred of the bath.
Why Does Your Toddler Hate The Bath?
Unhelpfully, I have absolutely no idea why Roo started to dislike having a bath.
She went from happy toddler to bath-hating-toddler pretty much overnight.
At around the same age, GinGin began to fear the bath plughole. She thought she was get sucked down and so we couldn’t pull the plug until she was safely out the bathroom.
So I’m guessing that at two-and-a-half toddlers are becoming more aware of their environment, and are starting to develop fears that we might consider to be irrational.
For Roo, her dislike of having a bath began with not wanting to lay back in the water.
Despite being well-supported, she either didn’t feel entirely safe or disliked the sensation of getting water on her head.
I’ve asked her. She says it hurts her ears and head. But then the rational answer becomes twisted into a tale about a monster that will eat her.
Yep – that would scare me too. If I thought a bath-monster was going to eat me, I’d probably avoid having a bath too if I could.
What Did We Do About It?
Like most parents, we tried lots of things. Some good. Some ineffective. And some just plain bad.
Let’s start with the bad.
These are things you should probably avoid trying:
- ignoring the cries – this is just horrible for you and your toddler. And your neighbours. And the people of the next town…not to mention the crew on the International Space Station.
- getting the other parent to do bath-time – if there’s one thing babies and toddlers like, it’s routine. So tag-teaming with Roo’s daddy did not work out well. Not only did Roo cry about being in the bath, she cried because I wasn’t the one inflicting that torturous experience on her.
- removing the sibling from the bath – poor GinGin. Trapped in a bath with her screaming sister. We tried bathing them separately, but see the bullet-point above for a clue as to why that didn’t work.
More reasonable – but ineffective – approaches that seemed sensible to try are:
- putting less water in the bath – we thought she’d feel safer in only a thimble-full of water. We were wrong. It didn’t help at all.
- putting cooler water in the bath – nope! This didn’t work either. It just made both girls cold.
- leaving out the bubblebath – maybe the bubblebath we were using irritated her skin? It was worth trying a plain old water bath. It didn’t make any difference.
- taking away bath toys – again this made no difference, but I was desperate and willing to try anything.
So you can see we tried a fair number of different approaches to help our toddler overcome her fear and loathing of having a bath.
How’s It Going?
Now, we’re still going through the process to help Roo enjoy having a bath again. Progress has been slow, but we’ve definitely made some improvements.
The thought of having a bath still upsets Roo.
In fact she saw the picture I’ve used at the top of this blog post and immediately said “I don’t want bath-time mummy” so we’re not 100% clear of the trauma.
But she will now willingly get in the bath. In fact she will run her little bare bottom all the way from her bedroom to the bathroom to join her sister in the bathtub.
She’ll happily get in and splash in the water. She’ll wash her own arms and legs. And she’ll douse GinGin in water from the jug.
But, she won’t lay down. Even with support. And she still gets very upset having her hair washed.
What’s Actually Working?
Talking to Roo has probably been the biggest help. Asking her about her feelings. Hugging her when she tells me. And reassuring her that there’s nothing to fear.
Getting GinGin involved in the process too has been a real help. Roo can see for herself how much GinGin enjoys having a bath. That is very comforting to her.
I get that you might not have an elder sibling who can help with this process, so here are some other more practical things you can try that have worked for Roo:
- putting more water in the bath – bizarrely making the water deeper seems to help Roo feel happier in the bath.
- clearing space in the bubbles – Roo wanted bubbles in the bath, but she didn’t want to sit in them. I push all the bubbles to the other end of the bathtub and then Roo collects the amount she wants around her.
- singing the alphabet – singing as a distraction was a great method at first. She’d forget why she was crying to join in with her favourite songs.
- pouring water – letting Roo pour water over my hands and arms enabled her see there was nothing to be afraid of. It didn’t take long for her to let me do it back to her, tickling her toes, hands and shoulders with sprinkly water poured from a cup or jug.
- using a flannel to wet her hair – don’t get me wrong, she still hates this but she’ll let me do it with minimal fuss.
- let her shampoo her own hair – Roo happily scrunched away at her own hair making it all foamy. She looked horrified, however, when she realised those suds needed to be washed out.
- extra playtime – now this is important. Don’t rush bath-time. As long as your toddler is playing happily in the bath, let them. The promise of milk, a small snack and a story before bedtime is enough to coax Roo out of the bath without spoiling her re-found splashy-bathy fun.
But How Did You Get Her In The Bath?
Most of the tips I’ve given so far only cover how to prevent a full-blown toddler meltdown once they’re in the bath. So how did I manage to get Roo in the bath without her clawing my eyeballs in an attempt to escape?
Well. I didn’t. Not at first.
On the day she cried at lunchtime about having a bath, I told her not to worry. It was bath night, but I couldn’t face another tear-filled evening. So I said she wasn’t going to have a bath.
And she didn’t. Not for another four days.
She missed bath-time. But she saw that GinGin still had a bath. And enjoyed it.
We talked about having a bath when Roo brought it up. I didn’t push it. Or bring it up myself.
Then one day over dinner Roo said about having a bath. She’d come round to the idea all by herself. She did cry while she talked about it. But I said she could just have a playtime bath. We wouldn’t wash her hair.
And she agreed.
She came in the bathroom to watch while I prepared the bath. Yes, she was hesitant getting in. But she was enjoying herself soon enough.
We did it! We had a tear-free, scream-free, meltdown-free bath!
My toddler was happy splashing in the bath once more.
The next bath-time I only washed the ends of her hair. She hardly noticed.
And the time after that she agreed to having shampoo all over her hair. She cried when I rinsed it, but her cries soon passed.
The key was to let her come to the decision in her own time.
Not to push it. Or insist on keeping to her usual bathing routine.
We let her be in control.
As I said earlier, we’re still going through this process. So I’ll update this post when we’ve completely resolved our toddler-bath-issues.
In the meantime, let me know how you’re getting on with your toddler baths. Do you have any tips you’d like to share? Pop them in the comments below and help other mamas in our situation. xx
A Note On Bath Toys
Just before I finish I want to leave you with some really important advice. If you have bath toys at home that are hollow and only have a tiny air hole in them, chuck them straight in the bin.
These toys quickly trap germs that grow into mould that are pretty harmful and really difficult to get rid of. If your little ones love bath toys, then make sure you can clean the whole toy – inside and out – and clean them regularly.
These stack and pour buckets are perfect 🙂
If you take nothing else from this blog post, this last point is so important so do share that info with your mama-friends.
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