Bath time a struggle?

Although bath time may be relaxing for some children – there are many kids who go running in the opposite direction when they hear the word “bath.” Kids fight bath time for many different reasons.

If your little ones have to be chased down for their bath, it is possible there is something behind their opposition.

Do your kids hate bath time? There are some strange but common reasons for that resistance. Here are 10 of them and ideas on how to fix it!

I often work with families in my therapy practice who misinterpret their children’s intense avoidance of bath time as “bad behavior” – when in fact there is often a fear or discomfort driving their behavior.


Besides the obvious reason:


I am doing something and I don’t want to take a bath!


There are other reasons that are often missed. Here are a few of them:


Hard time with transition/change of activity


Afraid of bed time – which often occurs right after bath time


Fear of bugs in the bath (even those small, microscopic mysterious black dots)


Sensory issues related to the feeling of water on their body


Sensory issues related to the temperature of the water


Sensory issues related to the sound of the water pouring into the bath


Fear of getting soap in their eyes


Aversion to getting water on their face


Fear of slipping in the tub


Fear of getting sucked into the drain


This is not an exhaustive list, but it addresses the most common reasons why kids may want to avoid bath time. With that being said, how do you get your little ones from being scared to loving their bath?


As with many kid issues, it is not effective to get into a power struggle and out-power your child. Getting to the source of your child’s fear will get you much farther in the long run!


Below are some approaches to help get your kids back to loving bath time:


Avoid sensory overload in order to get your child IN the bath.


If your children are sensitive to noise or temperature – there are many triggers around bath time that might overwhelm them. Parents do not always realize that their children may have some sensory issues.


If children hold their ears around loud noises they might have some auditory sensitivities. If your children have noise sensitivities, it might be helpful to fill up the bath prior to bringing them into the bathroom. A nice quiet bath might be more inviting than the roar of rushing water.


Some children have issues with temperature or with the feeling of water around their body. A possible indicator of this would be if your child stands and refuses to sit in the water through the entire bath.


To help alleviate this sensitivity – have your children sit in the bath tub as you fill up the water. This will help them acclimate to the water as it envelopes and tickles their little body. It will also help them adapt to the temperature and allow you time to make adjustments if the water gets too hot or too cold.


Avoid soapy eye disasters!

The most common bath time issue is the fear of getting soap in one’s eyes. Kids have a good memory for pain and it only takes one soapy, teary experience for them to want to avoid bath time all together.


Besides soapy eyes, many kids don’t like water on their face. Take precautions to avoid both of these nightmares!


Use a bath visor to help prevent water from trickling down their face. 


Also, I always recommend keeping a dry wash cloth right next to the bath. This instills confidence in your children that if they were to get their face wet, you got it covered!


Put stars or a mobile above the tub so your little ones will look up for a longer period of time when you are rinsing their hair.


Use washcloth puppets to get their hair wet if they refuse to let you pour water on their head. A very soaked monkey may want to pat your kids on their dry head during a fun puppet show.


Help associate bath time with fun time!

This point may be obvious – but if your children are having fun, they are less likely to focus on their worries.


Adding bath toys, bath paint or bath crayons can turn your bath time into a fun play time. I discovered the world of fun themed baths through the website Growing a Jeweled Rose. She has amazing ideas for fun baths (plus lots of other great ideas)!


Conceal those little black specks that freak your child out!

Trust me, this is a bigger problem than you think. Younger kids get very paranoid about little black specks that they view as large, scary bugs that can eat them.


As irrational as this might sound, the fix can be quite easy. Bubble bath. A beautiful sea of white bubbles that consume and conceal anything that might possibly be analyzed and deemed as a threat to your kid. You can also add color to your child’s bath. There are bath drops that don’t stain your bath and make beautiful, colorful baths.


Don’t drain the bath with your child still in it.

If your child is sensitive to noise or just tends to be on the nervous side – the obnoxious, aggressive sucking sound your drain makes might be pretty unsettling for your kid.


This nervousness about drains sucking them to their death will pass – thank goodness – but in the meanwhile why have all that drama?


Take your children out of the bath without pulling the drain. As they are drying off you can pull the drain as you distract them or as you are leaving the bathroom. Their fear of the drain will most likely naturally go away as they develop.


Give plenty of warnings about when bath time will start and finish.

Ironically the biggest complaint I hear from parents is something like, “He fights us tooth and nail not to take a bath and then weirdly he refuses to get out of the bath!”


This isn’t really that big of a surprise. Many kids don’t do well with transitions. Also, once your children are having fun in a warm, soapy oasis – who can blame them for not wanting to get out!


Before bath time is going to begin, give your children a ten minute warning. For younger kids, anchor your warning around an activity not a time. You can tell them something like, “After you are done drawing that picture it will be bath time.”


I have transitional theme songs with my children that I have made up. My bath time rendition is “bath time is fun time…bath time is fun time….who wants to take a bath?” luckily you are not hearing me sing it – it gets worse.


But…my children know what is coming when they hear the bath time jingle. I also have a bath time jingle to end the bath – I won’t subject you to that one. Anyway, my point is – let your children know what is coming before it comes.


Have a fuzzy towel ready for your little ones so you can wrap them up as soon as they hit that cool air.


My parenting motto – whether to myself or to the families I work with is “this too shall pass.” I have whispered that many times under my breath as I have endured hardship after hardship with my kids.


My first child actually had occupational therapy to address her fear of bathing. My third child had a month long aversion to the bath – where she cried and screamed every time it was bath time.


I am happy to report that my oldest child is now eleven and laughs when I tell her she needed therapy to eat and take a bath (we’ll talk about the eating issue some other time)! My little one is still a toddler and now she loves her bath! On to the next phase and struggle…


Does your child hate baths? What has been your experience? Leave a comment and share.


Know someone whose kids struggle with bath time? Share this article and help them out!

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There is a whole chapter on bath struggles in the book How to Parent Your Anxious Toddler

A must read toddler parenting book! How to Parent your Anxious Toddler. By child therapist and toddler mental health expert.