Bath-Time Battles with Toddlers

Sometimes toddlers don’t want to take baths. There can be multiple reasons for this. They may not like getting wet, they may worry about getting soap in their eyes, or they may simply dislike the whole routine– considering it boring when they would much rather be playing with their toys.

If your child is “bath-time challenged” consider the following tips:

Use Emotional Coaching
If your child is distressed or clearly unhappy about taking a bath, try using emotional coaching. Emotional Coaching is the naming of feelings. In this case, it involves acknowledging and accepting the child’s dislike of baths. You can say, “I know you don’t like baths.” or “I know you’d rather be playing right now.” Outline and articulate whatever dislike your child has of baths. “You don’t like the water.” “You don’t like feeling cold.” Your acknowledgment and acceptance of the child’s true feelings actually helps your child to release those feelings a little – just like when you tell a friend a problem and your friend’s sympathetic listening helps you feel a little better even though you still have the problem! On the same note, you like your friend more because he or she listened without judgment. In the same way, your child likes you more when you accept the way he or she feels – without trying to change it. The bond between you is strengthened and this tends to increase the child’s overall tendency to cooperate.

Employ the CLeaR Method
You can reinforce each step of the bath time routine with the CLeaR Method. The CLeaR method uses a comment, label and reward system. For instance, when the child comes when called – the parent says, “You came right away when Mommy called. You’re a good listener!  When the child cooperates with getting undressed, the parent says, “You’re getting undressed so nicely. That’s very cooperative of you.”  When the child gets into the bath, the parent says, “You got into the bathtub. You’re a clean bunny!” You can reward cooperation with an extra bedtime story or special snack.

Make it Fun and Enjoyable
Baths can be made into an enjoyable activity. If your child finds baths boring you can enhance the experience in many ways. Below are some examples:

  • Put some bath toys in the water with your child. Rubber ducks, toy boats, or any other water appropriate toy can make baths entertaining.
  • You can have a countdown to see how quickly your child can get into the bath. Put on a timer or count to a certain number of seconds. If your child beats the time, reward him with a treat or prize.
  • Make the water colored, add bubbles and watch your child go wild.
  • Have fun! Get into the bath with the child and splash around together! Or, put more than one child in the bath at a time to play together.
  • Talk to your child as you bathe him or her.

Avoid the Things that Your Child Dislikes
If your child is worried about getting soap in his or eyes, exercise extra caution to make sure that never happens or get soap or shampoo that doesn’t irritate the eyes. If he is worried about drowning, keep your hands on him so he feels safe. Whatever fear or dislike your child has, show that you are taking it seriously and doing your best to address it (without going to ridiculous extremes!).

Follow Routine
Make sure to set a time of day for bath time. If you decide to bathe your child at random times, he can be frustrated and upset at having whatever activity he may have been engaged in interrupted. Make it known to your child that the bath will happen at a specific time (and perhaps specific days of the week), so he knows what to expect.

Make it Short
If your child still hates baths, you can simply speed up the process. Baths don’t have to be long and drawn out. Give him or her a quick bath and then move on to story-time!

Use “Grandma’s Rule.”
When parents use the word “if” in sentences, they imply that whatever they are discussing is an option. However, as this is generally not the case, it is advisable to remove the word “if” (and other similar words) from such dialogue. For example, instead of saying, “If you have a bath, I’ll read you a story right after,” a parent might say, “As soon as you’ve had your bath, I’ll read you a story.” This technique (Grandma’s Rule) allows the parent to provide the child a reward for good behavior, without making the good behavior optional (as is the case with bribes). Grandma’s Rule enhances cooperation, whereas as bribes tend to create little tyrants who try to bargain with you for everything you ask them to do.

Use the 2X-Rule
If a child tends to run away when you announce bath time, warn him or her that running away will lead to a negative consequence such as losing a story at bedtime or not having snack along with milk after the bath (or whatever other enjoyable activity the child might normally experience).

Consider Bach Flower Remedies
If hating the bath is part of a larger picture of negativity or defiance, consider Bach Remedies like Vine (for strong-willed defiant children) or Beech (for negative kids who have complaints about everything). Two drops in liquid 4 times a day until the issue disappears. You can find more information about Bach Flower Remedies online and throughout this site.

Professional Help
When hating the bath is part of a larger picture of negativity or defiance and the techniques listed here haven’t helped sufficiently, do consider enlisting the help of a mental health practitioner.

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