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Some babies and toddlers are frightened of the bath, and bathtime with these children can feel like a battle. But you can help your child learn to enjoy this part of the day.
Happy baby being bathed

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You can make bath time more fun for older babies if you provide some attractive and engaging bath toys.
 

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 bathtime 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. 

Newborns
You can make bathtime easier for newborns by:

Babies and toddlers
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 her a sponge bath. Once she is 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 him between your legs or even on your lap so he feels safe.
  • Use a bath seat so your child can sit in the bath. Always stay with your child when she’s in the bath seat.
  • 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.

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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 bathtime fun

  • Buy special toys just for bathtime – bath crayons, squirty toys and funnels are all great fun. Let your toddler choose some new bubble bath or a special toy.
  • Bathe younger and older siblings together - for example, put your toddler and preschooler in at the same time. This way, a fearful child can see that big brothers or sisters enjoy the bath.
  • Use bathtime as a chance to spend time with your child. Sing songs, read stories and play games while you wash.
  • Try changing the time of day that you bathe 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 bathtime a positive and rewarding time, this will help get rid of children’s fears.
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  • Last Updated 14-11-2012
  • Last Reviewed 02-11-2012
  • Acknowledgements Developed in collaboration with Dr Emma Little, developmental and educational psychologist.