Does your baby hate bathtime? Is it a screamfest from beginning to end? I’ve been there. Making bathtime enjoyable for everyone doesn’t have to be a ton of work.
Let’s talk about ways to improve bathtime all the way around.
The First Step To Solving Bathtime Problems: Stepping Back to Look at What is Happening
Observe your child. Maybe even watch your partner or a grandparent bathe her. Pay close attention to what makes baby unhappy in the bath. When does she start fussing? When the bathwater is running? (Maybe the sound is too loud).
When you put her in the water? (Maybe the water is too hot or too cold). When you let go of her? (Maybe she is overstimulated or scared, and needs you to be with her in the water as she gets used to it). Does she fuss when she gets splashed in the face?
Once you have some data, you can start troubleshooting what is happening and then brainstorm some potential solutions.
The Stimulation of Bathtime Can be Very Overwhelming
Children are over-stimulated very easily. Children who are learning to get used to experiences that they’ve never had before often cry or fuss. Think about how it would feel to go out in the snow for the first time. If you were small and didn’t understand the weather, it would be really confusing!
Baby brains are constantly changing. Something that was fine yesterday might not be fine today, and vice versa. They are constantly having to adjust to the new things their bodies do, and the new information their senses are taking in.
Many children struggle in the bath simply because it is TOO MUCH of all the things for them at that point in their development.
Some children with sensory processing issues can struggling with bathtime. Normal sounds can be overwhelming and painful to them. They may be over-responsive to the sound of the water running or splashing and to the feeling of the water on their uncovered skin. If your child seems to be over or under responsive to stimuli in a way that is puzzling to you, bring it up with your pediatrician at your next visit. It could be worth looking into more deeply.
It might seem like your child is crying for no reason. But even children without a disorder can and do struggle with the stimulation of a bath.
How Old is Your Child?
The reason I ask is that children go through developmental leaps, with some big ones around 8 weeks, 6 months, 8 months, 10 months, 12 months, and 18 months. Around those times, your child may behave quite differently for a time because his brain and body is changing.
Is he also struggling with sleep? Are you seeing dramatic changes in his abilities to speak, move, feed himself, be independent? This can be a sign that your child is in the middle of a development growth spurt of some kind and could explain the bathtime troubles.
Making Your Child Physically More Comfortable in The Bathtub
Think about what your child feels in the bathtub.
The bathtub can be slippery, which can make a child feel out of control and unsafe. Children often slip unexpectedly in the bath, and that can cause them to have fears about it. (As well as bang their heads and give us heart attacks). Use a high quality (and comfortable) non-slip mat in the tub to keep them secure.
If you have a bathmat in the tub to keep her from slipping, what does it feel like? If your child is an infant (and can’t sit up), make sure that the tub or mat isn’t scratchy or bumpy. You can buy thin foam blocks to float your baby on the top of the water as well, so she is never in danger of getting water over too much of her face.
Is the bathroom door open? Think about how you’d feel taking a bath with the door open. That lets out all the steamy warm air, and baby can’t be too submerged under the water. This means that the air is going to feel cold on skin that is wet.
Can she see you well? You might be nearby but maybe it would go better if you leaned over the tub so she could see your face.
If your child is older, but seems overwhelmed by the bath, start in steps. If he is afraid of the water, start with an inch or less. If he doesn’t want to take off clothes, start with clothes on. (Who cares, he is in the bath!) Gradually add more water. Work up to taking off more items of clothes.
If you are going to put toys in the bath, try showing your child the toys before he gets in. That way he’ll know what to expect.
When you go to wash your child, talk to him about what you are going to do before you do it, so he’ll be prepared.
If he doesn’t want to get in, give him an opportunity to give one of his special toys a bath instead. As long as he is near the bathtub and getting used to the water, you are on the right track.
Distract Your Child in the Bathtub While You Get Her Cleaned Up
How old is your baby? If she is old enough to sit up, she is old enough to play. Babies love pouring water. Can she fill up cups and pour the water out of them? What about funnels or other toys that allow water to filter through? I encouraged my kids to make small splashes and get used to getting water on their faces, even if it meant that I had more to clean up later.
One thing I did a lot while my babies bathed was sing. I drummed a beat on the tub and sang them simple songs. It was hard for them to be grumpy in the face of their smiling, laughing mama. We also did a lot of gentle tickling (so long as they didn’t fall under the line of the water).
You can take the lead in organizing bath games for the toys in the tub. Car races, boat races, and dinosaur races are pretty compelling for babies and toddlers. Use funny voices and slapstick humor.
You can try bathtub crayons, underwater lights, bathtub stickers, bubble bath, etc.
Try some bath specific toys
I try not to buy things in general, unless I can avoid it. But there are some pretty cool products out there on the market for the bath. Some of these are:
- bath bubbles
- fun shaped soaps
- bath crayons that can be used to write all over the tub and walls (and clean up easy too)
- kid friendly shower heads in the shapes of animals
- kid friendly faucet covers
- bath magnets (animals, shapes, and letters)
- water balloons
- toys that squirt
- waterproof books
- Spray Bottles
- Hatching dinosaurs
- Bath bombs with toys inside
- Washable watercolor paints
- Water beads
Try Some DIY Bath Fun
You can really take bathtime to a new level with:
- Colored ice cubes in various shapes
- Coloring the water
- Cutting up pool noodles into tons of floating foam pieces to play with
- Making boats out of sponges and other items from your bathroom (tongue depressors, washcloths)
Try Some Bath Games
- Make alphabet soup
- I spy (toys and other items in the bathroom)
- Counting (toys, bubbles)
- Bath basketball (balls and a small cup floating in the water)
- Learn the body parts
- Shampoo hair shapes
- Sink or float experiments
- Egg hunt (with a bubble bath)
Try Some Simple Experiments
The bath is a great place to talk about displacement and density. Hold a bottle underwater and look at what happens to the air. Or take a few containers and put different amounts of water in them. Use measuring cups and figure out how much water is in a container. Take the temperature of the water, and watch how the temperature changes the longer the child is in the water.
You might do everything possible and not be able to pinpoint exactly what is troubling your child. You can get really crafty about making bathtime fun. Or you can work on what your kids like. Does your child love cars? Throw all his hot wheels in the bath with him. Does your child love his legos? Throw those in with him (except for really small pieces that could go down the drain).
In the end, the solution to your problem might just be TIME. In the meantime, just do your best mom and dad.
Emily Anderson is a mother of three children, all under the age of 10. Located in the Pacific Northwest of the US, Emily is a mom and part-time blogger, jumping in front of the computer when the kids are sleeping. She started this blog in April of 2019 and is proud that the blog is now paying for itself. If you want to know about her journey as a blogger, check out out her personal digital journal or her post about failing her way to blogging success.