Whether you're a first-time parent or a seasoned pro, bath time can stress out the calmest of parents. With some children, the very mention of bath time is met with protests and pleas of “Not today, mummy!” Other children are visibly uncomfortable and may even cry through the whole shower or shampoo session making it a tense situation for the parent. You are wondering if this is always going to be this way…
In this blog post, we'll go over some tips to make bath time a breeze and help you avoid the "bath time blues."
A reframe for parents that might help you help your child during baths
Refusing bath time is really not because your child is “bad” or is showing “bad behavior”. When children are unco-operative or show off track behavior, there is usually a bit of a backstory. Engaging in a power struggle over bath time is ineffective and results in tears and anger for parents and children. When we are able to move past the lens of trying to fix the behavior or force compliance, we often arrive at a happier and more well rounded solution that benefits the whole family.
Why is bathtime such a struggle for some children?
Children may struggle with bath time for a few different reasons. Which one(s) might be applicable to your family?
Your child has a hard time stopping what they’re doing and come to the bathroom
Your child struggles with transition from one activity (eg. play or dinner) to another (bath time)
Your child associates bath time with bed time and is not ready for bed
Your child doesn’t like the feeling of water on their body
Your child is uncomfortable with water on their face (eyes, nose)
Your child may have a fear of falling, drains, insects, etc in the bathroom
Some things OUTSIDE of bath time to help your child
For the child that struggles with transitions - Give them a heads up and repeat a few times. Time is an abstract concept for young children so visual cues work better - a clock or a transition song can be effective
Acknowledge feelings - Having empathy that a child finds bath time hard allows for a child to have space for the big feelings that seem to come up for them before or during bathtime. “Bathtime is hard isn’t it?” or “You don’t like it when water gets in your eyes” helps a child feel understood and more connected to you.
Describe what is going to happen and what to expect - Young children thrive on predictability. Knowing what to expect can take some of the stress out for them.
Offer choices - Offering safe choices to children gives them some of the autonomy and independence they seek. “What bath toy will be joining us today?” “Do you want to have your legs washed first or your arms?”
For the child that associates bath time with bed time or is over stimulated during bath time - Choosing a different time might help, provided it works for your family.
Have non-bath time water play - Once in a while, when time and schedule permit, set up a water play station in the bathroom and allow free, unstructured play (supervised of course if the child is young) with cups and sponges.
Allow your child to “bathe” you - playful connection is a game changer to working through big feelings for children. When you are up for it (either during regular bath time or separately), let them pour water on you while you sit at their level. Mess around and get wet! Laughter builds connection.
Here are some tips to help bath time easier
Start from the feet first and ease in. The face is usually a very sensitive area for children (and for good reason) so it can come last. If there is a lot of resistance around the face, wipe with a washcloth instead
Have a bath timed to a song so children know when bath time will end
Have a routine and stick to it while bathing, for example shampoo is always last
Use bath toys or a bath book to help child stay focused
Give an opportunity to the child to participate in bath time - for example, by applying the soap, lathering up or in washing off
Use a head visor if the problem seems to be with water in the face
Give a verbal warning before pouring water on their face and make sure the child has paid attention to you. This takes away some of the surprise and unpleasantness of the situation
Incorporate long relaxing massage strokes into bathtime to help your child relax
Don't be sneaky (and I say this with so much love) - I know it feels like the quickest and easiest way to get through the stressful process of showering your little one but (and this is a big but) - it erodes trust and the feeling of safety (body safety) for a child. It keeps them always in a state of vigilance because they have learnt that unexpected things can happen during bath time over which they have no control. This doesn't allow them to relax or co-operate because they have to always be “on guard”.
Be creative and flexible - if a child resists a shower, maybe use a washcloth or sponge instead. Use a different bathroom or a different time, if either are an available option.
There are other benefits to having mindful bath times
Children that are listened to and believed when they are communicating are more likely to feel confident in standing up for themselves with others. They are also likely to be more in tune and aware of their body’s needs and are able to communicate them. They have a better relationship with water in general (think: swimming classes or days at the beach in the future).
Bath time can be a fun and bonding experience for both you and your baby if you approach it with patience and care.
Approaching bath time in a respectful and mindful way, can help create a positive and enjoyable experience for both parent and child. With a little creativity, you can help turn this daily task into a bonding moment for you and your little one. With these tips, you can avoid the "bath time blues" and make bath time a special and enjoyable part of your day.
Writer: Namrita Bendapudi, Birth & Parenting Coach
Believer-in-Chief in expecting and new parents' abilities to thrive! I mentor people in the season of birth and parenthood to help them find their secret sauce and create empowering experiences for themselves.
As the founder of The Nesting Heart Sdn Bhd, Namrita provides courses, workshops and coaching on birth, postpartum planning, mother, infant and child mental wellbeing and parenting. She also leads mindful pregnancy and motherhood circles.