How to Help Your Toddler Love Baths

A 5 year old girl taking her bath

Catherine Delahaye/Stone/Getty

Most babies love bath time, and who can blame them? It’s like a spa in there: warm and soothing, full of bubbles, steam, and good smells. Even as babies get older, bath time often remains a favorite activity—there are few things more interesting to a small child than splishing, splashing, pouring, and dumping water in the tub.

But what if your child starts hating bath time as they get older (or never even liked it in the first place)? It’s not like bathing is optional! Meanwhile, your child’s reluctance could cause major issues in the house, disrupting the bedtime routine and leading to unnecessary tears.

If you’re tired of battling with a semi-nude, tantrum-throwing toddler every night at bath time, never fear: we have all the tips and tricks you need to turn bathing into a positive activity that your kiddo looks forward to instead of protesting.

Why Do Some Kids Hate Baths?

If you’ve got a toddler, then it’s no surprise that these pint-sized people are walking mysteries. Why do they hate broccoli? Why do they hate taking naps? What’s so bad about the color orange? Why are they asking to wear their old Halloween costume in July?

Good luck finding the answers; most of a toddler’s likes, dislikes, preferences, and aversions develop as a result of the unique (and undeveloped) way they view the world. Bath time is no different.

That said, there are three common reasons why kids turn against baths.

  1. They had a negative experience in the tub. This could be as simple as the water being a little too hot or too cold, or getting a bit of soap in their eyes. It doesn’t take much to make a bad impression, unfortunately.
  2. As they get older and more independent, they don’t want to be interrupted from any of their important toddler activities, like spinning, dancing, coloring, playing hide-and-seek with the dog, and building block towers. Take a bath?! No thanks.
  3. Fear of the unknown. Yes, investigating and experimenting with water can be thrilling. But for your child, who doesn’t fully understand how water works (Why is it wet? Where does it come from? Where does it go when I unplug the drain?), all that mystery can also turn into a legitimate fear of water and anything involving it.

Why You Should Care

You’ve watched your toddler eat spaghetti without utensils, dig in the dirt for earthworms, and finger paint their entire body in the name of artistic expression. Let’s face it: toddlers aren’t the tidiest people on the planet. They need baths to avoid turning into Pigpen from the Peanuts and it’s your job to make it happen.

More important than sheer physical need, though, is the fact that it’s also your job as a parent to help your child feel more comfortable in the world. Yes, some kids get over random fears on their own in good time. But others cling to old phobias as they age, unable to overcome their worries without an adult’s guidance.

You might be able to overlook your two-year-old’s bath time reluctance now, but it won’t be so easy to convince him when he’s five or six. It’s important to gently and consistently show your child that bath time is not such a big deal after all. How? Here are five easy ways.

Take It Slow

If you were afraid of water, would you want to be deposited into 40+ gallons of the stuff on a nightly basis against your will? Probably not. Sometimes, the sheer amount of water in the tub is overwhelming for a young child and can act as a major deterrent to setting foot inside.

Instead of filling up the tub before bath time, allow your child to get into an empty tub. Ask them to help you turn the water on, and give them permission to turn it off when ready. They might only want one inch of water at first, but that’s okay—they're likely to let it fill up a little more each time as they get comfortable.

Make It Fun

This tip works for kids who hate baths for mostly any reason, whether it's fear or plain old disinterest. Introduce a new toy, bottle of bubbles, or activity (like drawing with bathtub crayons) into the equation, and your reluctant bather might turn into an excited one at the drop of a hat. Tell them this new item is for bath time only, so they have to get in the tub if they want it.

Make It Different

If putting a new toy or product into the tub doesn’t entice your kiddo to bathe, you might need to go big: change up the whole bathroom environment to create a more positive association with getting into the tub.

Kids who aren’t afraid of the dark might love turning the lights off and tossing a glow-in-the-dark bath bomb into the tub. You can play soothing spa music on Bluetooth speakers, light a yummy-smelling candle, or even give them a small snack on a portable tray. Try letting your child wear their bathing suit. Read them a book or watch a short video while they bathe.

One note: this approach has the potential to get out of hand fast! Make sure you set limits. The cool stuff only happens if your child stays in the tub long enough to get clean. Do it this way a few times, and then start phasing it out.

The goal is to help your child realize baths aren’t so bad after all, not create a dependence on all the bells and whistles.

Ditch the Tub

Most kids won’t be mature enough to shower independently until they’re at least eight years old, but if your toddler’s issues are tied specifically to baths, it might be easier for everyone to replace bath time with shower time. You’ll have to supervise and assist, of course, but as your child gets older they’ll be able to shower on their own. Taking a shower can also be a novel activity to a kid bored with baths—one that eventually paves the way toward them getting back in the tub after a week or two.

Create a Reward System

We’re all more likely to do things we don’t want to do when there’s an incentive at the end. This is especially true for toddlers, who love seeing their hard work add up to a long-wished-for prize. Make a sticker chart, add plastic coins to a jar, or color in squares on a graph. Add one for every night your child takes a bath without a fight (or meets whatever your specific expectations are).

It doesn’t matter how you track your child’s progress or what you motivate them with, as long as you’re creating a visual representation of their efforts and praising them a ton along the way.

By Sarah Bradley
Sarah Bradley is a freelance health and parenting writer who has been published in Parents, the Washington Post, and more.