Q: My 1-year-old hates taking baths. He will scream and kick and cry until we take him out. I can't understand why this is happening, but it is really frustrating. Any ideas on helping him calm down while we get him clean?
A: The first step is to try and figure out why he hates the bath. He may be very sensitive to certain sensory experiences. He might not like feeling wet, hate having his hair washed, feel too cool while he’s being toweled off, or doesn’t like the texture of the towel or the smell of the shampoo. If this is a sudden change for him, then it is likely that he had an experience that made him fearful. The water during a recent bath may have been too hot and felt uncomfortable. He may have experienced something—like slipping or sliding—that made him feel insecure and afraid.
For now, it’s best not to fight this battle. There are plenty of other ways to keep him clean. A warm sponge bath works great and even a quick once-over with a soaped-up washcloth will get the job done. Don’t feel pressured to bathe your son every day unless he’s been finger-painting or making mudpies.
To make baths easier right now, give your son ways to feel in control while he’s in the tub. He can help you pour in bubbles, wet the washcloth, and clean himself. Also bring in lots of toys, squirters, measuring cups, strainers. Use bubbles or bath paints to make it fun (and to provide distraction). You might encourage “water play” when you son is not in the bath, like washing a toy duckie or doll, to gradually increase his comfort level with water play.
When you try the bath, read his cues to see if you can identify what bothers him. Is it shampooing that puts him over the edge? Or is it getting out and feeling cold as he towels off? You can modify the bath routine based on your observations.
Responding in this way is not spoiling him or being too lenient. It lets your child know that his needs are important, and that you will provide the support he needs to help him cope with life’s challenges.