Children have lots of fears. They can be scared of the dark, scared of loud noises, perhaps frightened when an elderly relative tries to give them a hug. All of those fears are perfectly natural. But what about when your child is afraid of the bath tub? Is this a normal occurrence? And more importantly, what on earth can you do about it? After all, if my children are any examples, kids love to get dirty, which makes bath time a non-negotiable part of our evening routine.
In an email interview with Romper, Dr. Dyan Hes of Gramercy Pediatrics in New York City shared her thoughts on bath tub fears in children. "Some babies are afraid of the water and no one really knows why. Some children hate the bath all together, and some just hate the water pouring on their face." But with every routine in your home, as we all know, it's best to start early to try and alleviate issues in the future. Dr. Hes writes, "It is good to expose babies to the bath in infancy, so they get used to being in water. It is also better to let them get splashed on and have water on their faces as infants. This way, they can see that it is not scary from the very beginning."
Now, if your child still hates having water on their face by the time they become a toddler, Dr. Hes suggests purchasing a visor that kids can wear in the tub (the Lil' Rinser on Amazon, $10, is one example). This way, the parent can pour water on their head to shampoo but the suds and water will run over the edge of the visor into the tub, away from the face. "I really encourage putting a baby in a tub and even a swimming pool early to avoid the fear of water. Kids who fear the tub often grow up to fear the pool. They then do not learn to swim, which is extremely dangerous," she writes.
As my daughter likes to remind me, every test, every activity learned, leads to the next challenge and the next one and the next one, and if you're lagging behind, it can change the whole course of your life (she's 10). But, she does have a point. If early fears of bathing lead to a fear of swimming, well, that could prove dangerous and limiting in adulthood.
Now, what if your child has always loved a bath, but suddenly changes his mind on the topic? As Dr. Sears told Parenting, "Your child’s sudden fear of water is just another example of the many unexplained and passing quirks of childhood, and it’s actually quite a common one. Though you may never know what exactly triggered it, it’s likely due to a new developmental awareness of her environment or some change in family routine." Luckily, there are a few tricks that Dr. Sears suggested to get your child splashing around in the tub again, among them filling the tub with favorite floating toys, getting in the tub first and showing your child how much fun bath time can be, giving a damp baby massage (a practice that already has proven positive results in bonding with your child and relaxing them) and turning bath time from "a routine into a ritual." Other tricks include introducing a bath tub alternative, like a plastic tub in the backyard or the kitchen sink. Infant swim lessons aren't a bad idea, either, and would ease any fears about future swimming mentioned above.
Still haven't eased your child's bath tub fears? Dr. Sears also suggested sponge-bathing twice a week and washing hair once a week. With time, as most things go, this too shall pass, and bath time will be a fun activity once again.
Dr. Dyan Hess, Medical Director of Gramercy Pediatrics in New York City and a Director of the American Board of Obesity Medicine