Do you have a toddler scared of bath time (even when he always enjoyed it)? You’re not alone! Discover effective techniques to help make bath time easy and fun again.
What is going on?! I thought. My 2 year old had always loved bath time and never resisted hopping into the tub.
But soon bath time became more and more of a power struggle. It started off innocently enough—he’d dawdle and take his time to head to the bathroom, perhaps shed a few tears the first few nights.
Except next thing I knew, his whimpers and tears morphed into full-blown tantrums and meltdowns. He became completely scared of the water, that even the sight of a washcloth would send him running out of the room.
I had no idea what could’ve caused it. No particular swimming or bath time episode left him traumatized to even touch water. It also didn’t help that this was the stage when tantrums were becoming more and more common around our house. To have our relaxing bath time turn into a nightmare was more than I could handle.
How to help a toddler scared of bath time
Maybe you can relate.
Bath time could’ve been one of your toddler’s favorite parts of the day, but now he suddenly screams the minute you sit him in the tub. You’ve tried everything—bubbles, sitting with him, even bribing with sweet treats. Nope—he still wants nothing to do with bath time.
You know he can only skip so many baths before he starts to stink, but you also hate getting him cleaned while he’s screaming all the while.
I hear you, mama. There’s nothing more overwhelming than daily tasks you dread because of the inevitable tantrum—especially one that seems so out of the blue. For days and weeks, I struggled with the same issue with my son, and my patience was waning.
Thankfully, I tried a few tactics to ease him back into the water and stop feeling scared of the bath. These go beyond the usual tips (the ones that don’t work in the long-run). Instead, I focused more about making bath time pleasant and stress-free, and showing plenty of empathy for a child’s emotions.
By doing just these simple tips, we completely turned bath time fears around, and he began to enjoy splashing in the tub once again.
Take a look at these tips to help your toddler stop feeling scared of bath time:
1. Place your toddler into an empty tub
Could a tub full of water feel overwhelming to your toddler? See if he takes to bathing if you place him in the tub with no water at first.
You see, he might be refusing the bath when he sees the tub already filled with water. The thought of dipping his body into a pool of water can feel intimidating, whereas an empty tub can feel far safer.
Once he’s sitting inside, slowly turn the water on in a gentle trickle, allowing it to gradually fill the tub. Even better: don’t feel like you have to fill the tub to a high level—you don’t need much to wash him up.
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2. Keep as many clothes on your toddler as possible
Many toddler start resisting bath time even before they’ve gotten undressed and into the tub. Even removing clothes could already be a power struggle for the both of you (hugging his arms tight to prevent you from removing his shirt, for instance).
Instead, try removing only his pants at first as you stand him in the tub and turn on the water. Then, as he feels more comfortable, take off his diapers or undies. As the water gets higher, start removing his shirt until he’s finally undressed and ready to sit in the water.
By slowly removing his clothes in stages, he’s better able to adjust to the water and transition from clothed to undressed.
3. Get the temperature right
The transition from feeling dry and warm in regular clothes to naked and sloshing in water can be a huge change for your toddler. Keep him comfortable by making sure the water is at a warm, soothing temperature to keep him comfortable.
You also might want to turn a heater on in the bathroom during cooler weather so he stays warm while he undresses and bathes. Then, during summer months, try for a cooler bath with the door open, especially on a hot day.
4. Tie in your toddler’s interests
My toddler was fascinated with watching fountains and waterfalls. Even if we were to visit the zoo, he’d be more interested in watching the fountains than observing the elephants and zebras.
So I decided to tie in his fascination with fountains and waterfalls with bath time, hoping he’d calm down enough. After all, the water trickling out of the faucet could resemble fountains and waterfalls.
Rather than turning the bath on high and shutting it off once the tub was filled, I turned the water on at a trickle and said, “Look! It’s like your own waterfall!” I then continued to bathe him with the “waterfall” that thankfully kept his attention.
Find your child’s interests and use them to your advantage. If he loves boats, add a few toy boats (or even an empty plastic container) into the bath. If he’s been interested in cooking, bring a few measuring cups and spoons he can use to pour.
The more you can tie his interests into bath time, the more motivated he can be to bathe and even enjoy his time.
5. Introduce bath toys and books
Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links, which means I will earn a commission—at no extra cost to you—if you make a purchase.
Nothing like toys—old and new—to make bath time fun again.
A new set of bath toys can focus his attention less on his fears and more on his curiosity. Or simply introduce current water-safe toys (for instance, empty Easter eggs or jumbo Lego blocks) into the tub, adding a different spin to playing with his toys.
And play with him to make bath time even more interactive, like playing with his tugboats or squeezing a sponge over his head. For the ultimate fun, make bath time a new experience he doesn’t get to do any other time. A “fountain rocket” to splash over him can do the trick:
Tip: Make sure to store bath toys in a bath caddy like this one. It’ll keep mold from forming and save space in the tub.
6. Use your hands instead of a washcloth
One thing I tried that I was so surprised to work so well was simply ditching the washcloth.
For some reason, my toddler resisted less when I used my hands to suds the soap and wash him all over instead of the usual washcloth. Perhaps hands are more gentle, or he enjoys the skin-to-skin contact and massage, or that it’s simply one less bath prop to upset him.
Either way, see if ditching the washcloth and using your hands will do the trick for you.
7. Acknowledge your toddler’s fears
As frustrating and unreasonable as your toddler’s emotions might be, he genuinely feels afraid of the bath, despite all your reassurances. After all, toddlers are still trying to understand our world—it’s not unusual for them to truly believe they’ll get sucked into the drain, for instance.
That’s why it’s easy to assume their complaints are yet another protest or act of defiance. But avoid the mistake of brushing aside your toddler’s emotions when he acts up, and instead address his fears.
Let’s say his fears stem from water, where even a splash on his arm would easily send him crying (true story). Address his fears by highlighting the positives, like how water cleans our bodies and makes sure we don’t get sick.
Or let’s say he’s afraid of getting sucked down the pipes. Explain how only water goes down the drain, showing him how even his small toys stay in the tub.
Read more about why we shouldn’t brush aside children’s emotions.
8. Make bath time a positive experience
Are you tense and stressed at bath time as you anticipate another tantrum… or are you relaxed and calm? Kids will notice these behaviors. After all, can you imagine trying to enjoy a bath when you’re fighting with your mom about taking one in the first place?
Instead, enjoy the experience from the get go. Sing silly songs, carry your toddler like a flying airplane into the tub, and play with the bath toys. And above all, relax your face and body language—the more you show that bathing is normal and fun, the more likely he’ll follow your lead.
Fighting with your toddler about taking a bath is a challenge for even the most patient mom, especially about a task you need to do every day.
But as you can see, you have several options to try to help him take to the bath once more, even if it feels like you’ve tried everything else.
Start with simple tricks like placing him into an empty tub, keeping his shirt on, or using your hands instead of a washcloth. Make sure the temperature is right and suits the season you’re in. Tie in his interests, including introducing new (and old) toys into the tub.
Acknowledge his fears instead of brushing them aside—he genuinely feels afraid even if his fears seem petty. And finally, make bath time a positive experience, especially since he’s more likely to follow your lead and learn that there truly is nothing to be afraid.
After a few days of applying these methods, my toddler resumed his normal bath time fun and the fears disappeared. We still continued several methods, such as the trickling water, turning the heater on, and playing with the new bath toys.
No doubt, his bath time terrors were one of the most challenging chapters of parenthood. While I’ve learned plenty, I’m glad they’re finally gone and we can look forward to bath time once again.
p.s. Check out Peep and Egg: I’m Not Taking a Bath by Laura Gehl to help your child feel more comfortable taking a bath:
Get more tips:
- 9 Useful Techniques for Dealing with Anxiety in Young Children
- THIS Is Why Your Child Is Testing You
- Help Your Child WANT to Behave
- 8 Children’s Books about Bath Time
- 7 Proven Strategies to Handle Bedtime Tantrums
How to finally stop losing your temper with your child
Exhausted and feeling guilty from constantly losing your temper with your child? Even if it seems like you’ve tried just about everything, you CAN stop losing your temper… if you start from the inside out and change from within.
In my PDF, How to Finally Stop Losing Your Temper, I’ll show you how to reflect on who you’re being, your habits and triggers, and what you can do when you feel that rush of anger rising within you. Join my newsletter and download your PDF below—at no cost to you: