Ask the readers: “Help! My toddler is scared of the bath.”

Ask the readers: "Help! My toddler is scared of the bath."
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?

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Our schedule these days

I can’t believe there were days when LO was younger when he would have to nap three, four or five times in a day! With just one nap, our schedules are a lot less complicated. On the days when he’s home with us, his schedule is:

7am-wake up and breakfast
10am-snack
12pm-nap
1pm (or whenever he wakes up)-lunch
4pm-snack
6pm-dinner
7pm-bath
7:30pm-bedtime

On the days when he’s at my aunt’s, his schedule is:

7am-wake up and breakfast
3pm-I pick him up
5 or 5:30pm-dinner
7pm-bath
7:30pm-bedtime

Bath time success!

We had a successful bath time tonight! It started off shaky but in the end, LO took a bath without a lot of crying. The biggest trick? Trickling water.

But before that, the first thing we did was decide that only one of us would bathe him and not both of us. During the past three nights, we’ve tried tag-teaming with his bath, but with a wet and screaming toddler, we just ended up miserable and arguing, which I’m betting affects the little guy’s disposition. So tonight, it was just me and LO in the bathroom.

Another change I made was to raise the temperature of the water. I’ve noticed that he would quiver his lips, and while water temperatures shouldn’t be as high as we adults would probably like it, I figured he could use some heat when taking a bath.

I also tried to keep in his clothes as much as possible, so I just removed his diaper but kept his shirt on. His little tub was back in the big tub, but it didn’t have any water in it. I tried sitting him down in the little tub but he wouldn’t budge and kept wanting to stand (or rather, get the heck out of there). So I turned on the faucet on low and let the water trickle down into the tub. If you remember, LO loves water fountains. So I chalked it up saying that it was like the water fountains at the Getty Center, the way it trickled down and would run into the tub like the streams we saw. Sure enough, this captivated him enough to calm down and sit down in the tub.

I took off his shirt at this point and spent some time hyping up his water fountain. I had his squeaky toys slide down his tub a la water slide. He even wanted to read some of his water books. The next tricky part was not to introduce the wash cloth just yet. Just the sight of any bath props (wash cloth, “tabo” or soap) would get him crying. So I soaped him up with my hands, which he didn’t seem to mind. All the while I was playing with his toys and books.

Then it was time for his hair, yikes. I just had to take my time and use my hands to wet his hair instead of pouring water out of a cup. But he didn’t mind, and I eventually shampooed his hair, careful not to show the shampoo bottle. The hardest part was having to rinse the shampoo out of his hair. I now had to introduce the washcloth. Again I hyped it up by drenching it with water and letting the water drip, and saying, “It’s like the dripping fountain at the Getty Center!” After that, the washcloth was LO-approved.

I saved the hardest task for last: washing his face. At this point I felt like LO was comfortable in the tub so I decided to use the washcloth with soap. He didn’t mind at first but gradually I noticed a wavering of wills and a little bit of fear creeping back in. So I tossed the washcloth away and used my hands again. After that, I told him he did a job well done and we toweled off.

The only thing I would change for tomorrow is to let the heater run a bit longer before he needs to take his bath. I noticed that he started getting cold towards the end. But I am so so proud of him and am so relieved that he was able to take a somewhat normal bath again. I hope tomorrow will be the same!

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Bath time technique one: day two

Still unsuccessful.

This time it was me who got in the tub with LO, and he still ended up crying his eyes out and trembling. I went on the mommy boards to see what other moms have done, and thankfully I am not the only one who has gone through this. Most of the moms advocate for taking a bath with the kid, and that it takes a week for them to get over it. After getting in the tub this time around, I’m finding it hard to repeat it, since I have to get into my swimsuit, then remove my swimsuit after the bath—such a hassle.

Other ideas is to introduce new toys to distract him. I’m not sure if this will work because LO is already freaking out before entering the tub. one distraction that may work is to let the water run or even drip because he seems to notice that. Another idea is to raise the temperature a bit. I’ve noticed that LO’s bottom lip quivers, probably more so because he’s crying but it could well be because the water isn’t warm enough for him. Maybe we can try both of those things tomorrow. My husband also had an idea of bringing his tub outside in the living room and see if LO will play with it and not be afraid of it.

It looks like LO is afraid of being wet. If we even get his arm wet, he’s saying “dry! dry!” because he wants us to wipe it off right away.

My husband doesn’t want to bathe with him anymore because he doesn’t see it as effective, especially if we don’t plan to bathe with him in the long run. Hopefully we can distract him with running water and raise the temperature a little bit. Either that or we’ll have to sponge bath him.

Bath time technique one: day one

With LO crying hysterically at bath time, we’re trying new techniques to ease his fears and keep him clean. Last night, we removed his little bath tub and filled up the regular tub with a small amount of water. My husband carried LO into the bath with him, but LO was still crying a lot. He wouldn’t even sit down. Every time I toweled him off, I would follow up right away with a dry towel to keep him dry because he didn’t like any water on him, even when it wasn’t anywhere near his eyes.

He would get distracted by little things which was good: he would notice he running water coming out of the faucet, or count the circles on the tiles, or notice his toys. I figure that anything other than crying is good, so I was relieved that he’s starting to try to regulate himself.

Once we got him out of the tub, he was fine for the rest of the night. He didn’t even cry when we left the room. So even though he still cried and quivered during bath time, I’m hoping that a few more days of getting in the tub with him will help reassure him. We’ll see!