Bath time and washing is a real challenge for some children and their parents. Children may resist taking a bath for many reasons: it’s not fun, they don’t like the feeling of being naked, they feel unsafe while washing their hair, they don’t like being cold afterward, etc. Our job as parents is to discover why they don’t want to bathe, and then begin to help them work through their resistance.
Here’s a few questions to ask ourselves (especially if we’re trying to discover why our very young children resist bath time):
Do I rush bath time?
Am I patient during bath time?
Is bath time fun or a chore?
Then take the time to understand your child’s perspective; find out why they don’t want to bathe, “I notice you really don’t want to take a bath. Let’s talk about what you don’t like.” Listen without interrupting, correcting, or trying to fix the situation. Remember, they are simply trying to explain their point of view, which is equally as valid as our own point of view.
After they come up with some things they don’t like, invite them to collaborate with you in finding ways to fix those things, “let’s think of some ways we could keep the water out of your eyes when we wash your hair.” Let them come up with some ideas…and try their ideas even if they seem odd!
It’s always good to offer children information, so talking to them about why they need a bath is important, “I know you don’t want to take a bath. So I thought we could chat about why everyone needs to get clean. Have you ever noticed animals cleaning themselves?” Let them try to come up with some animals…if they don’t you could point out the birds bathing themselves in the birdbath or in puddles, or cats licking their paws. “All animals clean themselves in order to keep their skin healthy and clean of bugs and dirt. Just like we do as humans.” Leave some room for them to talk about animals and how they might get clean. Let it be a fun way to connect with each other. Invite them to pretend to be those animals in the bath!
It’s also important to offer them choices, and remember to keep the choices within the realm of the task of getting clean:
Do you want to take a bath or a shower?
Do you want to wash your hands first or your feet?
Do you want to wash your hair or do you want me to wash your hair?
Finally, set up some agreements. It’s really not important to bathe or wash ourselves every day (see articles here and here). So guide them in a discussion on how many days to wash their hair each week (1-2?) and how many days to bathe or shower (2-3?). Let them talk while you write down what they say. Remember to use curiosity questions such as, “what happens if we’ve had a really fun day painting outside in the mud and we get particularly dirty, but it’s not a bath day?” And let them come up with solutions – maybe they just want to run in the sprinkler! You will have to navigate your values in helping them in these agreements. Finally, post the agreements where you all can see them so when your child decides not to bathe on a bath night you can refer back to them, “we made some agreements, let’s go look at them. Where are we in our bathing agreements?” Then you can give some empowering choices, “do you want to bathe in your bath tub or mommy’s bath tub?” or “Do you want bubbles or plain water?” “Would you like to use those glow sticks tonight?” Remember, the agreements are always open for revision if you or your child discover they aren’t working out as planned, “I notice our agreements aren’t really working for us. What can we change to make them better?”
Finally, a word about bathing and the parent-child relationship. If you’ve had a tough day, your child is particularly resistant toward bathing and you simply can’t be patient, consider skipping the bath. Be sure to acknowledge what’s going on, “I am really tired and I am concerned that I just don’t have enough patience for us to enjoy bath time tonight. If you decide you want a bath, let me know, otherwise let’s have your bath tomorrow night when we’re both in a better space.” You could also offer the sponge-bath option.
Simple Steps to Creating Positive
Bath Time Experiences
Go Slow. Don’t rush bath time. If you are in a hurry, consider a simple sponge bath, or even waiting until you have more time. When kids feel rushed they feel stressed. This is especially true when it is time to wash hair. Go slow, try to keep the water out of their eyes, keep a washcloth handy or let them hold it over their eyes, etc.
Be Present. There is nothing more thrilling for a child than having their parent’s undivided attention, no phone, no computer, no distractions. When they’re bathing it gives us the opportunity to connect with them and to let them know we value them. And it’s a beautiful opportunity to listen to them talk about their day, their dreams, and to generally get a sense of what’s going on in their world.
Empower them. Let them make some decisions about what to wash and when. Ask if you can help, rather than just reaching in and taking over. Use questions to remind them about where to watch, rather than instructing them on what to do, “I see your face is clean, what else needs to be scrubbed on your head?”
Play. Children who have time for free play are less stressed, and bath time can be a wonderful time for free, creative play. Play At Home Mom has loads of creative and fun bath time ideas. And if you click here it will take you to a list of fun bath toys on amazon. But you don’t have to get fancy; children are happy to splash around and create their own worlds of fantasy, especially if you’re there giving them your undivided attention.
Note: When my own daughter feels resistant to washing her hair I sometimes let her wash my hair, then we switch. When I was a nanny one of the girls didn’t like washing her hair either and she would put a dry washcloth over her eyes while I very slowly rinsed her hair out without pouring water over her face; it really helped her feel safe and remain calm. And inevitably there would be those times I hurried, her face got wet, and it would set us back.
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