I did not see this coming. Out of seemingly nowhere, my water-loving toddler started becoming more and more hesitant to take a bath. At first, it just took a little convincing, Mommy interacting with the toys more, splashing in the water, exaggerating the fun that was about to ensue, etc. Next thing I know I have a 2-year-old that takes bathing to Defcon 5 EVERY SINGLE TIME! Flailing, kicking, screaming, to the point where her slippery body hit the tile floor, HARD. Bathroom temper tantrums are especially concerning due to the very real chance of injury. Wet feet, hard surfaces, a small space, plus an unruly attitude are a recipe for disaster. So what is a parent to do? It is hard to come up with something new and different to entice your child into the water on a regular basis, so I’m sharing my experience and successes in an attempt to save you some mental energy that could surely be put to better use elsewhere. Hope it helps!
1) Limit Bath Time
This may seem like a no-brainer, but I was bathing every other day and feeling guilty because I thought most parents did bath time daily. I’ve read that this is a good ritual to incorporate into your bedtime routine and felt like a bad parent for not having the energy to do this every night. When bath time started getting REALLY tough, I started skipping bath two nights in a row sometimes. Cue guilt. Then a friend mentioned they sometimes go three days too. She reminded me that kids don’t have body odor. If they didn’t get super dirty or sweaty, why torture yourself?! Just wash face and hands for a couple of nights and give yourself a break!
2) Consider Child Temperament
Every child is different. Waiting until just before bedtime means your little one is their most exhausted, cranky self. It’s probably not the best time to make them complete an activity they hate. For spirited children especially, bath time is typically not soothing. It can be extremely stimulating and is much better situated at a different time of day. If mornings aren’t feasible, bath time should be first thing upon arriving home in the afternoon or right after dinner. If your little one is still putting food in their hair, it’s probably best to wait till after dinner. On the other hand, if a quick wipe of the face and hands is all that is needed, why not get the tough part out-of-the-way early?
3) Rotate Toys
I should have known my child would get sick of the same things and I got lazy in rotating my two bins of bath toys. Foam letters kept her engaged for a long time. They stick to the tub walls when wet, help teach colors, letters, and numbers, plus they are inexpensive. Win! Toys that squirt are a natural go to until they end up moldy inside. No thanks! I opt for bath toys that can easily be cleaned in the top dishwasher rack and don’t have tiny holes you know all the water is never going to drain through. Make sure to ramp up your enthusiasm for tub play, interact, and have fun! It will be worth the extra effort to avoid heading further down the path of resistance.
4) Use Tub Art
Tub Crayons became a favorite activity for quite some time. I would not recommend using these if your tub is in great shape. Unless you scrub hard after every use, you will find the crayon doesn’t come off completely. Luckily my tub is a piece of crap, so I used this to my full advantage!
Turns out these are just more expensive containers filled with smaller volumes of tub paint. It's much more cost efficient to use the larger tubes of tub paint. Also, at 2.5 years old my daughter didn't have the fine motor skills to squeeze and push at the same time to get the paint out, so she was frustrated with the markers.
5) Enlist Their "Friends"
What special character is your child obsessed with? If they had a towel, face cloth, or robe with them on it would it make a difference in how bath time went? Give it a shot!
6) Remember to Teach
We often forget to teach our children when busy checking off the mommy-do list. I usually say, “part of being healthy is being clean and washing all the germs away” or “it’s mommy’s number one job to take care of you and part of that is making sure you are clean.” Since I’m a "working" mom, mentioning that she is my most important job makes her feel special and she’s a little more willing to cooperate. Most toddlers have their toughest moments when they have little to no control. Involving them in the cleaning process gives them a sense of control and they are less apt to resist. I have my daughter choose a cup to pour water and a washcloth. By letting her choose, she knows that those items are now hers and mommy gets a cup and washcloth too. If you have a very strong-willed toddler that is still working on sharing you made need extra cups and washcloths. I try to avoid power struggles as the last thing I want is a slippery toddler completely melting down. Go over each area that needs to be cleaned, this helps teach body parts at the same time. You can ask them to wash their elbow and praise them when they choose the right spot. Young toddlers will love this game.
8) Get creative
For the ultra-strong-willed child, you may have to continually come up with new and exciting activities at bath time. Here are a few ideas I’ve tried. If you rotate activities the novelty will take longer to wear off, which will give you some time to think of something new.
This was a big hit during a very difficult phase. I built up a snow mountain and put Frozen figures on it, then covered my little one in shaving cream at which point she started pretending she had a Frozen heart. I then thawed her body with soap and warm water.
If your child is old enough, try to determine what it is about the bath that makes them so upset. Make sure you are careful when rinsing shampoo to avoid soap in the eyes. Have them hold a washcloth over their forehead and eyes. Let them know how many times you will rinse and count them, so they can anticipate how much 'torture' is left. Knowing there's “only two more rinses" might make them slightly more apt to comply. Sometimes I find myself rushing and end up dumping water when my child's head is looking down. If I say, "eyes to the sky" and wait those extra seconds for her to actually look up (fingers crossed), rinsing out goes much smoother.
10) Use incentives
If bath time is truly horrific, use an incentive. Choose something you know they will love, but don’t get to have very often. Make sure to lay out the expectation clearly. “If you take a bath and put your pajamas on with no fussing, you can have an entire pack of Teddy Grahams." Cue excited squeals followed by an absolutely no-nonsense bath. What? Seriously?! And now I’m kicking myself that it took me so long to do this. She eats her Grahams feeling like she hit the jackpot and so do I!
If you’re anti-rewards, try it once and then at least you’ll know whether they are capable of a tantrum-free bath. I avoided using food as an incentive for a long time because I read that it will teach kids to reward themselves with food. I mentioned this to my pediatrician to which she replied, “So?” She even mentioned using fruit snacks or M&Ms for potty training. I almost cried in frustration. It is so hard to do the “right” thing for your child when everyone, especially professionals, have different opinions. That was the moment I decided I would do what worked for my family and try my damnedest not to feel bad about it.
11) Join in
A lot of parents are able to successfully coerce their children to shower or bathe with them. I would use this as a last resort unless you really don’t mind. Once you do it, they will most likely expect it at every bath. A less committed option is to have them wash your hair while you lean over the side. This works well if you have a willing spouse with short hair.
And there you have it, my tips for a stress-free bath time. How have you had success in making bath time go smoothly? Please let me know in the comments! Thanks for reading!
Hi! I'm Nicki, a full time working Mama in a fast-paced male dominated industry. I blog for a creative outlet and to help moms like you make this parenting journey a little easier!
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