Why does my toddler hate bath time?
Reasons why your child might be disliking bath time
We’ve all been there with a bath running and a screaming child refusing to get in the tub. It can come from nowhere; it can be prolonged; and it can be enormously frustrating. But when you’re kids fall out of love with bath time it can feel like a major problem.
Bath time in our house is not something we love. The kids love the play, but the actual washing part – especially washing hair – is not particularly fun. Along the way there’s been screaming, tears and just point blank refusal. But the good news it comes and goes.
It’s an important reminder for all parents and carers of little ones, that it’s perfectly normal for babies and toddlers to go through a phase of disliking bath time. It’s probably not something you’ve done, or changed about the routine. As kids’ change and grow they just change how they perceive the world around them and sometimes that means bath time is the victim.
Your toddler might be struggling with sensory overload
Sensory overload is a common feature of many aversions for kids. It’s why entering a strange room, meeting new people or just loud and chaotic spaces can send kids into their shell, or lead to the acting out. It’s why waking up from a nap can be particularly challenging (though that remains true for some adults!) While these are important learning experiences, it’s important to be gracious as your baby or toddler adjusts and provide a lot of assurance to them that everything is okay.
When it comes to bath time, there’s a lot that’s out of the ordinary. The sensation of water for a start is totally different to anything else a toddler experiences in day-to-day life. It’s no surprise that this can lead to discomfort. Add to that bright bathroom lights and the loud sounds of running water and it can all be quite overwhelming.
Sensory overload is a super common reason for kids reacting badly to new sensations and experiences. The key is not to overreact and be totally dismissive of it all. Ploughing on without due care can just make the whole experience more traumatic and make subsequent baths harder work. Allow space and time to make the situation more comfortable by pre-running the bath or easing them into the water. Distraction with familiar toys is also a great way to downplay unfamiliar sensations.
Your toddler might be worried about getting soap in their eyes
While a lot of toddlers will be up for playing and splashing about in the bath, there’s often the inevitable dread of the body and hair wash. Applying soap and rinsing it out, as a parent, is obviously the crucial part of bathing your kids. It’s why you got them in the tub in the first place.
But as you’ll remember from your own childhood, getting soap in your eyes is the perfect way to put you off baths altogether. The stinging sensation and the inability to do anything about it apart from rubbing more soap into your eyes is not fun.
While it’s almost inevitable at some point that you’ll get soap in your kid’s eyes during bath time you can mitigate it with a bit of planning.
- Test out more natural, fragrance free and sensitive soaps that will cause less irritation if soap does go in their eyes.
- Try a jug like this or a visor to stop the water running down their face.
- Help your kids to look up with fun shapes to keep their eye on while you’re rinsing.
- Try a brush like our Pebbl bath brush for adding soap to hair. It’s refillable soap pouch and targeted sift holes means soap goes where it’s meant to go. That means less chance of soap going in your toddler’s eyes
- Keep a dry towel close to hand when it comes to rinsing hair so you can quickly dry any water that runs in eyes. This will avoid the big fuss that comes with toddlers rubbing soapy hands into their eyes
Aversions to bath time are usually a phase, don’t panic!
It’s crucial to remember that almost all dislike of bath times will not last forever. Stay calm and don’t allow yourself to get overly stressed about your little ones bathing less. If you’re not giving them the most thorough wash each time, it’s not the end of the world. As parents we are often navigating a path of doing ‘enough’, but only you know what that looks like. Don’t feel the pressure of the baths your baby or toddler ‘should’ be having each week when it’s a battle.
How can I help my toddler enjoy bath time?
When it’s difficult to get your toddler into the bath, we all want to do something about it. While sometimes the passage of time and your little ones maturing is the best cure, here are some ways to mix things up to see if you can make life a little easier for you and them.
1. Bath your toddler less
Yep, we said it, try bathing your kids less. And don’t feel guilty! As we talked about here, children’s skin is different to adult’s skin and you can afford to bath them a lot less than you probably feel pressured to do. If bath time is hard try reducing the hassle by just worrying less about how often they bath. In conjunction with the below ideas for making bath times better, fewer baths will remove the headache – and really, you’re not caring for your kids hygiene any less. Instead of bathing, focus more on moisturising your little one’s skin more often – this is a much bigger deal than bathing anyway. Try our challenge for bathing your kids less.
2. Change the time of day you bath your kids
Kid’s love routine, but baths before bed can often become stagnant. And worse, they become an inevitable pre-curser to bed time. Which for toddlers, can be another pain point. So many bath time products focus on the calming wind down before bed, but like Pavlov’s dog, if your toddler starts to associate bath time with bed time and the end of their chances to play, it can actually make it harder work to get them on board with it. Try bathing before dinner or first thing in the morning to mix up the routine and reduce that link between bath time and bed time.
3. There is a point to bubble bath
Bubble bath is fun, but I sometimes wonder what the point of bubble bath really is. It doesn’t do anything for your toddler’s skin, it’s basically just a scented play. But I’m wrong and lots of bubble bath is a great way to disguise any bits in the water from grubby kids that can be particularly off-putting for toddlers.
Toddlers can be especially sensitive to strange bits on their skin or floating around them. So if your toddler is suffering with a bit of an aversion to the water or is feeling particularly sensitive to the many different senses of bath time, up the number of bubbles and see if they enjoy things a bit more.
4. Quick baths are good
Sometimes we make a big deal out of bath times and that can be daunting. A long bath, the toys, the splashing, the inevitable water covering the floor – it can all seem like too much bother. Kid’s pick up on our own parental stress, and it can make the whole experience worse. Remove the pressure, and make baths shorter. A quick dip, washing just their bodies and then getting them out can reduce all the fuss and make bath time less of a big deal in toddler’s minds.
5. Try not washing
Similar to the point above, your kids can bath less than you think they need to. Have a read about why that is here. But in addition to bathing less, try instead just washing them less. Some bath times can just be for play and that’s okay. Again, it removes the build up and fear that the inevitable hair washing and potential soap-in-eye trauma is coming up. A play-only bath is a great way to break the routine. It’s fun for your toddler and hassle free for you as a parent.
6. How to make bath time more fun for toddlers
The way to a toddlers heart is to have fun. Reducing their aversion to bath time can be achieved by making bath time more fun. We wrote about four ways to make bath time more fun here. Below are the best 5 bath time toys to make bath time more fun.
6 toys to make bath time more fun
- Water pipes are a great creative bath toy
- Bath bombs for kids from Lush are epic and a great interactive way to make bubbles
- Build your own bath puzzles with Quut bath time toys
- Bath boats are a must and these bath boats from Green Toys are so creative, and amazingly sustainable
- Bath crayons for getting creative on the sides of the bath
- Water flutes for musical bath time fun
7. Try better bathing tools
Some of the challenges with bath time – especially when it comes to washing – is that we often don’t have the tools to make bath time more enjoyable for toddlers and children.
GRASP bath time products, like our Pebbl bath time cleansing brush mean better washing with targeted soap application. PLUS it’s designed for kids to be able to learn to wash themselves. Rather than the washing part of bath times being something ‘done’ to your kids, they can get involved. Washing better often means engaging your children in the process and showing them how it all works.
You might also want to try hooded towels that keep your little one warmer post-bath time. Being cold after baths is often a reason why children don't like the thought of bath time.
It's also worth reviewing the ways here to make bath time more comfortable for you as an adult. We project our own frustrations with bath time (achy joints from kneeling, or soaked clothes) onto a children and that can make the experience unpleasant for everyone, toddlers included.
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