Bathtime can be one of the great joys – or great challenges – of parenting babies and young children. This article covers some safety considerations to keep in mind while bathing – as well as parental tips to coax reluctant bathers into the tub!

Bathing Newborns

Giving your newborn a bath is a subject which takes up an entire article on its own! Please see our other piece on How to Bathe Your Newborn for more information.

Bathing Tips for Older Babies

Once your baby gets a little older and graduates to the bathtub, there are some things to keep in mind.  Having a soft bathing mat at the bottom of the tub is very important as it will cushion them if they fall. Also, make sure that the water is not too deep and that you have tested it ahead of time with the inside of your wrist to make sure that the temperature is not extreme. Also be sure to have all the supplies that you need to hand before beginning the bath and most importantly of all, never leave the baby unattended, even for a single minute.  Babies and small children can drown even in a few inches of water.

Bathing Tips for Toddlers

Toddlers may be less stressful to wash than a small, slippery baby – but they can present their own unique set of challenges. It is very important to set boundaries for your toddler about bathtime safety, such as keeping their bottom in the tub (not standing up) and not splashing excessively.  Toddlers may want to do more of their own bathing care (such as scrubbing themselves down) and this is okay as long as they are getting clean! The whole point of the bathing ritual is to get children independent with it so that as they get older and more mature, they can start to do this on their own.

As with babies, never leave toddlers unattended in the water, even for a minute.

Tips for Reluctant Bathers

If you feel confused because your toddler or preschooler would spend all day in the pool if he could but howls up a storm when you try to get him to bathe, don’t fret!  This is a stage that many toddlers and young children will go through.   Here are some tips to coax your reluctant bather to the bath:

  • Use it an opportunity to spend time together – if your child sees this as a time for one-on-one attention, they will be more willing to bathe.
  • Many parents use bathtime as an opportunity for a child to wind down at night – but if you are having a hard time getting your child into the bath before bedtime, try it at another time of day. You might find that just this simple switch can make bathtime easier.
  • Bathe with them if that is what it takes to tempt them into the tub!
  • Toys are a great way to distract kids and make bathtime more enjoyable. Be sure that they are age-appropriate and waterproof (or at least that they won’t be ruined by being submerged!) and switch them out every now and then just to keep things interesting.
  • Turn bathtime into art time: Crayola makes washable paints and even bathtub crayons that make bathing fun for your more creative kids. They also put out a kind of food color meant to be used in the bath as well!
  • While aromatherapy candles (with those open flames!) are not a great idea for your kids, there is a kid-friendly version of this: drop some glow bracelets into the bottom of the tub and dim the lights. This can make the bath so much fun that your child might be begging for bathtime!
  • Let kids start out in the bath in their swimsuits if this helps. Flippers and snorkel are ok, too!
  • For some kids, the big fear of bathing is getting water in their eyes. A bath visor or even a pair of regular swimming goggles can allay this fear and making bathtime more pleasant for them.
  • Consider letting your young child bathe with an older sibling. Some parents feel comfortable with co-bathing and some do not, so go with your instincts.  Generally, parents who co-bathe let children do this until age 5 if they are of the opposite sex or until age 6-7 if they are of the same sex.

When to Go Solo

When bathing, if your toddler or young child shows an interest in helping to clean themselves, encourage them to do this as much as is safely possible – remember, the goal is to get them to the point where they are able to perform these activities on their own. Solo baths are an important milestone in childhood and generally speaking, children will be ready for this between ages 5-7.  For children who are developmentally delayed in some form might take longer to achieve this, however, and for any child you will have to wait until you feel they can do this safely on their own.  Once this happens, be sure to give a child privacy while they are bathing.  It is an important part of them growing up and becoming independent.

In short, if you play your cards right, you can making bathtime an enjoyable way to spend time with your baby or young child, while at the same time helping them develop the skills they need so that they can begin to bath themselves as they grow.