Why Toddlers Fight Bath Time
"For toddlers, one of the main tasks is to develop a sense of autonomy—to understand that they're separate, powerful people," says Gretchen Kinnell, Education Director of Child Care Solutions in Syracuse, NY. Part of this expression of power might be resisting bath time. They're starting to say, "Hey, this is my body. I should decide if it gets washed." And if your toddler has ever successfully delayed his bath by throwing a tantrum or asking for just one more video, he'll try it again and again.
What to Do
As your child gets older he'll be able to do more things for himself, and he won't have to use bath time to prove his independence. He'll also start to understand the good sense behind bathing (and then he'll forget again in college). To cope in the meantime, you can start by making the battles as infrequent as absolutely necessary. "Parents should check with their pediatrician on how often to bathe their children," suggests Kinnell. Daily baths are probably not necessary.
If a bath is part of your pre-bed routine, your toddler might actually be resisting bed and everything that leads up to it. Try getting the bath done out of the way earlier in the evening, and make sure something fun always happens after a bath. Get creative with bath time, and your toddler will look forward to finding out what surprise await: Use bath tints to color the water, or rotate a new toy in each time. Even goggles or inflatable arm floaties from the pool can spice up bath time. (Use these other bath time fun ideas.)
It can also help to give your toddler some of what he wants: control. Let him decide to have either a bath or a wash-up—like a sponge bath with a soapy wash cloth. Or let him choose between having a bath by himself or with a sibling, suggests Kinnell. "The more you can have a toddler do things himself, the better," she says. Let him fill up the tub, or wash his own arms and legs: This way, he's being given a "job" and not just being placed in the tub. If this doesn't fly, hold your ground and say, "You can wash your back or I can wash your back, but it must get washed." Then, distract him with a song: This is the way we wash our back, wash our back, wash our back…
Keep in Mind
"Parents should be aware that some children are very sensitive to the feel of the water or being washed," says Kinnell. If your child really hates bath time, make it fairly short. Many children specifically dislike getting their hair washed, especially being tipped back to have it rinsed. Hair washing probably doesn't need to be a part of every bath. Again, distraction will be key. You could even let your toddler wash your hair first.
So what do you do if the bath is drawn and your toddler is warming up for a 30-minute tantrum? "You have to decide for yourself. It's unfair to everyone to take a child in the middle of a tantrum and throw them into the bath tub," says Kinnell. Taking a break to read a few books and trying again gives the child more time to make the transition to bath time without backing down on your bottom line. On the other hand, it is just a bath. Fighting every battle with your toddler will exhaust you both. There's no shame, once in a while, in raising the white flag.