Yesterday, SSBE reader hnMom from High Needs wrote in with a question:
We are going through a phase right now where she is completely scared of the water. How did you get [your toddler] to take his bath? What did the trick? I’d be thankful for any ideas.
When my toddler was close to two-years-old, he developed a fear of the bath. The first few times started off innocuously enough—some protests and crying; but a few days later, the fear transformed into hysterics where even the sight of any bath props like a washcloth was enough to send him running the opposite direction.
How I helped my toddler overcome his bath time fear
We tried a few tactics to ease our toddler back into the water, and of those we employed, the following were most helpful:
- I placed him into an empty tub. Normally the tub is already full by the time my toddler is plopped in, but this time I placed him in with no water and turned on the faucet only when he was already sitting inside.
- I tried to keep as many clothes on him as possible. Since removing clothes before bath time was enough to incite another crying fit, I kept my toddler’s t-shirt on while he was sitting in the bath before eventually removing it once the water started getting higher. Maybe having clothes on in the bath either stalled his anxiety or helped ease the transition.
- I raised the water temperature. I played around with the idea of raising the water temperature just a tad higher than usual to see if the extra warmth was comforting; or rather, that the cold water wasn’t making him uncomfortable. I also turned on the heater to the bathroom so that the air was warm as well.
- I trickled the water slowly from the faucet. I likened bath time to something he loved: his fascination with fountains and waterfalls. Normally the faucet remains shut during bath time, but we let the water trickle slowly and hyped it up, saying, “Look! It’s like your very own fountain!” For your kid maybe it’s playing on his love of boats, ducks, the ocean or ponds.
- I bought new toys and books and played with them in the tub. He already had bath toys, but we figured a new set of toys might be a nice way to distract him and help focus his attention less on the fear and more on the fun. Before, I also let him play with the toys on his own, but this time I played with them too—sliding them down, making them talk.
- I used my hands instead of a washcloth to suds him up. Since my toddler grew frantic even at the sight of anything bath time-related, I used my hands for most of the time to soap him up.
These ideas may work for hnMom’s daughter, they may not. When I was researching how to help my toddler, I tried several other tactics that didn’t work quite so well not so much because the ideas were useless but because they didn’t apply to my toddler. So, the first piece of advice I would offer hnMom is to try to find the reason behind the fear. For instance, with my toddler, I noticed that his fear stemmed from the water itself, so much so that if any water even splashed on his arm, he would freak out. For that reason, the tactics that worked for me was reducing the fear of water as much as possible (gradually trickling the water) while highlighting its positives (likening the water to fountains).
I’ve also heard other kids who are afraid of the bathtub itself, so parents have been known to sit and bathe with their kids to help mitigate their fear. On the other hand, some kids could be perfectly fine with the tub but are scared beyond wits of the drain, thinking that they too, could be sucked in. In that case, an explanation that only water goes down the drain and perhaps even a demonstration that toys nor people don’t might help comfort them.
The second piece of advice I would offer hnMom is to be mindful of her daughter’s fears. I didn’t know why he suddenly hated the bath and made the mistake of brushing aside my toddler’s emotions when he started acting up. I assumed it was yet another protest or antic and grew irritable at his every complaint. Only later did I realize that he was genuinely afraid and that addressing his emotions as petty will likely exacerbate the problem rather than solve it.
After a day or two, my toddler eventually resumed his normal bath time fun, although we kept several methods going, such as the trickling fountain, the heater and the new bath toys. I admit that his bath time terrors were one of the most challenging chapters of parenthood for me and, while I’ve learned plenty, am glad they’re gone (for now!).
How about you? What advice and ideas would you give hnMom? Which tactics did you use to help your kids overcome their fear? Were you able to identify the cause of the fear? How long did it take before your kids erased their fears and resumed normal bath time?
p.s. If you liked what you read, you can subscribe and receive free full-text posts from Sleeping Should Be Easy in your email inbox. Or, tell us what you think about this post on Facebook and Twitter.
- “It’s okay”: Why you shouldn’t dismiss your child’s emotions
- Ask the readers: When is parenting hard?