Fear of the bath: babies and toddlers

Fear of the bath: babies and toddlers

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Why children are afraid of the bath

Newborns might feel out of control, not like the change of temperature or not like the way floating feels.

Older babies and toddlers might be afraid of the noise of the water draining or of slipping under the water. They might not like having their hair washed or getting water or soap in their eyes.

Handling bath time fears

When a child is very afraid of the bath, it's best to take her fear seriously and not force her into the bath when she's upset.

Instead, you can help your child feel safe by being gentle and keeping your hand on his tummy. A face washer on your child's tummy or chest can also help him feel secure in the bath. This keeps his temperature even and keeps him warm too.

A bath time routine can make things easier for newborns and babies because it lets them know what to expect. For example, you could try singing a special bath song or saying a silly rhyme when you dry your child in a towel.

Newborns: tips for bath time

Here are some ways to make bath time easier for your newborn:

  • Use a small baby bath - this can help your baby feel more secure.
  • Make sure the water is close to body temperature.
  • Maintain eye contact with your baby.
  • Talk to your baby about what's happening during bath time.
  • Check out our illustrated guide to bathing a newborn.

Babies and toddlers: tips for bath time

Here are some ideas that might help older babies and toddlers get used to the bath:

  • Slowly introduce baths - for example, by sitting your child in the empty tub and giving him a sponge bath. Once he's OK with this, you could try adding a little water in the bottom of the bath.
  • Put the baby bath inside the big bath for a while, until your child gets used to the idea.
  • Have a bath with your child. You can put her between your legs or even on your lap so she feels safe.
  • Use a nonslip mat or stickers on the bottom of the bath. This might help with your child's worries about sliding under the water.
  • Take your child out of the bath (and maybe out of the bathroom) before you pull the plug. The sound of the water going down the drain can be very scary for some children.
  • If your child is worried about getting shampoo in his eyes, you could try a specially designed bath cap (available from chemists). These keep bubbles and rinse water away from children's eyes. Some children even like to wear swimming goggles! It's also a good idea to use baby or children's shampoo, which is less likely to hurt little eyes.

If baths just aren't working, try showering with your child. Either hold your child in your arms or sit her on the shower floor with the water spraying away from her.

Never leave the room while your baby or toddler is having a bath. Children can quickly and silently drown in the bath. Make sure you have everything you need before your child gets in. Read more about bath safety.

Ideas to make bath time fun

You might be able to help with fear of the bath by making bath time fun:

  • Buy special toys just for bath time - bath crayons, squirty toys and funnels are all great fun. Let your toddler choose some new bubble bath or a special toy.
  • Bath younger and older siblings together. For example, put your toddler and preschooler in at the same time. This way, children can play together in the bath and a fearful child can see that siblings enjoy the bath.
  • Use bath time as a chance to spend time with your child. Sing songs, read stories and play games while you wash.
  • Let your child practise bathing a toy or a doll as part of his play. This is fun and can also help him understand the concept of bath time.
  • Getting dry and applying any creams or moisturisers are part of bath time. If your child is old enough, she might like to choose a special soft, colourful towel just for her bath time. Or try using child-friendly products with a fragrance your child likes.
  • Try changing the time of day that you bath your child. Some children enjoy a bath more in the morning, when they're not tired and cranky.

Praise and encourage all of the steps that babies and toddlers take towards bathing. If you make bath time a positive and rewarding time, this will help reduce children's fears.