My toddler cries hysterically at bath time

For the longest time, LO loved taking baths, or at the worst, tolerated it, especially when water would get in his eyes. These past few days though, he’s gradually become so frightened of taking a bath. It started off innocuously: first he would just whimper whenever he would get water in his eyes. Then he would cry and complain. Then it was onto a full on loud cry. Then it was the “I’m seriously scared right now” and he would be shaking and quivering. Then he would be doing all of that and we hadn’t even gotten any water on his face. Then he would go crazy when I would attempt to towel his face, and eventually would go crazy if he even saw the towel or the little bucket we get the water from. And today, the worst so far, he was already afraid just walking to the bathroom.

It feels horrible to see your kid genuinely frightened. He wouldn’t even sit down in the tub, he wanted to stand the whole time, wanted to get out of the tub, was clutching on to me as I tried to soap him with my other hand. Then there’s the guilty frustration of wanting to just say, “What’s there to be afraid of? Just take a bath!”

I felt so guilty today because after the bath, I had him walk to his room (normally he’s carried) but I just had it already. When we got to his room, his dad was there and I just left LO in the room instead of laying him down on his blanket to get dried off like he normally does. I just turned around and walked back to the bathroom to catch my breath. He must have sensed my frustration; and sadly must have thought that he was the cause of it, and started getting hysterical again. He eventually calmed down, I read him stories, but he was still hiccuping from his cries.

I sang him extra songs to calm him down, and maybe that was my way to say “I’m sorry” with actions. I’ve been feeling so sorry about his bathtime: so sorry that we still keep giving him baths when maybe we should have been giving him sponge baths instead. Sorry that I kept pouring water over his head as he cried hysterically. Sorry that I walked away.

I know there are worse things a mother can do to a child, but I just feel so heavy when I see him so afraid and when our actions (giving him a bath) is the cause of it.

I looked up a baby book and it suggested a few techniques that I want us to try. The first one is to remove his mini tub from the big tub and just take a bath with him (wearing a swimsuit). Another is to give him a sponge bath where he’s nowhere near water. Another is to give him a bath at an unexpected time so that the surprise may throw his fears aside. And another is to take a shower with him (a soft, trickling shower, not the pounding hard one).

My husband noted that maybe the new fears has something to do with his new skill of drinking water from a cup (not a sippy cup). There have been a few times when he has splashed his face with water, maybe even gotten water down his nose or down the wrong pipe. That’s the only recent change we can come up with. He hasn’t gone swimming in a long time. He hasn’t had anything traumatizing happen in the bath. Whatever it is, I hope it goes away! This is a terrible feeling, and I can’t even imagine how he feels.


3 thoughts on “My toddler cries hysterically at bath time

  1. How is it going now? Bathtimes were a struggle with Baguette for ages–she’d cry and shriek, and it was hard to hold onto her slippery little body as she tried to get away. It didn’t matter whether it was sponge baths, the infant tub, or the full bathtub. Taking a bath with her definitely helped–one of us would put on a swimsuit and join her, and I think that made her feel secure. For about a month now she’s been bathing by herself (we’re right there, just not in the tub), and she even loves the shower. In the past week, she’s been practicing putting her face into the water!

    • Wearing a swimsuit and taking a bath with him has definitely helped. We also told him that the running water coming out of the faucet was like a fountain. Also, a few new toys helped him somewhat enjoy the bath. He now enjoys baths and has since graduated to taking a bath in the big tub (he got too big for the little one). He still doesn’t like getting water in his eyes and always asks for a rag to wipe it from his face.

      That’s awesome that Baguette has started liking baths again, and that she’s even dipping her face in the water! It’s kind of crazy to think what in the world is going on in their heads to make them freak out like that, but suffice it to say, I’m pretty sure it feels serious to them, however petty it seems to us!

  2. I remembered something else that we’re pretty sure helped: Pajanimals. If you haven’t encountered it, it’s a Jim Henson show that featured four animals getting ready for bed (that sounds boring, but there are actual stories). There’s a lot of tooth-brushing and bathtime, and I think those segments made her more open to both.

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