Tips for a Bath Resistant Toddler

Dear Dr. Jenn,

I listen to your show every day on my way from work on Cosmo radio. You are such a gift and give such great advice! This time I am in desperate need of your expert opinion! I have a 23 months old and she is petrified of taking baths. Last summer, when she was around 18 months she slipped in the pool and went under water for a brief 3 seconds, but it traumatized her enough to be terrified of water. It took 6 month for to start getting comfortable taking baths and she even started squatting down to play. I couldn’t be happier! About 3 weeks ago we were doing our usual bath routine (she takes baths with her 5 year old sister), I undressed her and put her in the tub, and the moment her feet touched the water she started not crying, but screaming on top of her lungs “mama all done”…Ever since then she runs away and hides from me every time it’s time to get clean. I already reduced bath time to once a week, and use wipes other days. We have tried everything: papa getting in the tub with her in swim shorts; taking shower with me while I am holding her next to my skin, nothing seems to help. We are back at square one, and the most tear-jerking part is her holding on so tight, shivering and really crying, and I am not able to help. What can I do? Thank you!

Julia

There is nothing worse than seeing our child suffering and scared. Your daughter has a great memory and she wants to make sure that nothing like that ever happens again. I have a few recommendations:

1. Validate her feelings. All too often parents just want to make the discomfort go away so they say things like, “It’s okay” or “You’re okay” (Are you guilty of this one? Most parents are.) but in that moment she is not. She is terrified. Instead, validate her experience, “You are remembering when you fell in the pool. That was really scary!” and let her know you are going to keep her safe “I am not going to let that happen again.”

2. Make sure to give her optimal bathing conditions. Make sure that she is not too hungry or tired when you give her a bath. She needs to go into the experience without being cranky or exhausted.

3. Bathe her alone. I know it is a pain to take the time to do two separate bathes but right now she needs the individual attention. She needs to be the sole focus during bath time until her anxiety dissipates. I would also recommend keeping one hand on her at all times during the bath to help her feel safer.

4. Play in the “dry” tub. Try to create some positive associations with the bath tub by playing in it together when she does not need a bath. Put some of her toys in the tub and hang out in there together playing so it becomes less scary and she doesn’t think that she will have to be in water every time she is near the tub.

5. Try starting the bath without water. Let her sit in the tub and literally ad water one cup at a time, making it a fun game for her. Make sure you keep the water level very low the whole time as she gets more comfortable.

6. Get some distraction toys. Let her bring a favorite toy into the tub. Get some balloons and give them to her in the tub (my kids are obsessed!). Try getting some new bath toys like the Sassy Fun Fishing Toy, Tub Tunes Water Drums, Green Spouts Stacking Cups, Alex Jr. Water Xylophone, or Muchkin Disco Tub Lights.

7. Make your tub slip proof. Make sure you have a no slip bath mat so that she does not have that feeling like she is going to slip which is likely to trigger her fear reaction.

8. Try a different tub. Don’t worry, you don’t have to redo your bathroom for this. You may want to consider getting a small portable tub like the FlexiBath or something crazy looking like a duck tub. Having a smaller enclosed tub might feel less overwhelming to her. Truthfully I think the water is scaring her more than the actual tub but I do think her fears of slipping are a trigger and a smaller more manageable tub might help.

Time will heal this memory eventually but I am hoping that one or more of these tips helps speed up the process. Thanks so much for listening to my show on Cosmo Radio and following me on Facebook! Please let me know what happens!

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