Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Bathing Strike Strategies

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama
Welcome to the April 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Kids and Personal Care
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared stories, tips, and struggles relating to their children's personal care choices.

Sometimes babies and toddlers decide to go on a bathing strike. If they’re pre-verbal, it can be hard to know what the trigger is-maybe stress from upheaval in other areas of life like a move, maybe the bath water was too hot or too cold last time, or maybe you’re in a new place and the bathtub looks and feels different. Whatever the cause, it can be frustrating to mom and dad, who still want their kiddo to look and smell cared for. Our son who is almost 3 has had several short phases where he refused to take a bath in the bathtub by himself, and here are some of the strategies we’ve tried:

Bathe with him

Sometimes a child going through a period of anxiety towards the bath will relax if he sees his mama or daddy bathing with him calmly. If you don’t want to do this nude for whatever reason, feel free to wear your swimsuit or undies. Your baby won’t care what you are wearing, or if your swimsuit doesn’t fit because you bought it before you were pregnant with them, or if you have awkward tan lines-they just want the security of having you right there with them.

Bathe him in a “pool”

This has been one of the best solutions for our son when he’s going through an anti-bath phase. Basically, we bathed him in his kiddy pool. We used regular old water plus a little baby soap (and some clear water ready for rinsing) and didn’t make a big deal of it. This worked best for us outside with swimsuits and swim toys, but we’ve also done it in the bathroom with towels on the floor to prevent slippage. But the word “pool” is in quotation marks because I use it loosely-we also used a big plastic storage tub at one point when he was unwilling to bathe in a new bathtub, both inside and outside the house. Basically, the novelty and the word pool are the important things here, because your kid will think of it as something different than the word “bath” that they’ve applied the negative connotation to.

Shower with him

This never worked with our son, but I have heard of other people (who I trust 100% were remembering accurately) having great success. One strategy is for Dad to take a shower, and in the middle, have Mom hand him the baby. He cleans the baby off quickly then hands him back. Some toddlers might be willing to stand on their own feet as long as they are out of the main spray. Our son clung to his dad in fear until he was close enough to me to reach for me instead. I think it made his bathing fear worse instead of better. But it was at least worth trying in my opinion.

Toys, Books, and Bubbles

Sometimes new toys, bath books, or even a new bubble bath can entice an otherwise bath-hostile baby or toddler into trying a bath. Be careful about bringing non bath toys in though, even ones that seem waterproof. We’ve discovered water still in Little People and plastic dinosaurs weeks after they went in the bath. It might still be worth it to overcome a bathing strike, but use toys designed specifically for the bath first when practical to do so.

Sponge baths

If you’re visiting relatives (or on a vacation with just your family) and your little one is unwilling to bathe in a strange place, sometimes the gentlest option is to basically just let them go without. But that doesn’t mean you have to leave them muddy and stinky. Just wipe them down with washcloths, and maybe even do different parts of their body different times throughout the day to be sneaky…and less stressful for them. The good news is, babies don’t get smelly nearly as fast as adults, and don’t really need to be washed as often to be socially acceptable. Sometimes giving them a break is the most gentle way to help them get past their dislike of the bath.

 Combine strategies

Mom playing in the pool with a new toy might be totally irresistible even if one trick alone would’ve failed to inspire a desire to bathe in your little one. Or maybe you just can’t figure out a way to wash hair without screams, so you do that separately or not as frequently. Anyway, these strategies can be mixed and matched to fit your family. Just trust your instincts on what your kid needs now!

So if your baby or toddler goes on a bathing strike, don’t despair. Pull a page or two out of my playbook, based on what you think will work best for your family, and try a few different things. And don’t stress-your kid will be clean again before you know it!

How does your family make bathtime fun?

 PS: I have a son, so I refer to babies/toddlers as male in general in these suggestions, but of course they would all be just as applicable to girls. I’m just not lucky enough to have any yet!
PPS: I am not a psychologist and am not attempting to offer advice here for children who have actual fears of water etc and may need professional help. These are just tips for kids who go through occasional anti-bath phases. Seek out a doctor or counselor you trust if your child experiences a fear of water for an extended period of time.

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Cassie said...

I used to feel really weird about this because my son didn't want to bathe very often. He loves water, but he just wild rather do something else. We mostly showered with him and when we do shower he loves it.
Then I read about how toxic most soaps are, even natural ones that can wash the protective bacteria off their skin. And then how chlorine in the water can absorb through your skin and damage your gut flora! Can you believe that? I have personally stopped showering as often for other reasons too (skin feels better and can't with two kids as easily lol)
Then I had my daughter at home with my midwife who's care for baby packet said never use soap on a baby, water works just fine. So we've been sponge bathing her with a wet cloth. But now that she crawls around all over everywhere she gets filthy and doesn't like water. So oops. Oh well. We'll probably just wait until she's a bit older and then do your tips :D

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

We have used many of these with success - excellent tips! We've also bathed Kieran in a sink (kitchen and bathroom!), he enjoyed those times. And fwiw, this can leak into the preschooler years as well - we just keep making it fun and different :)

Erica @ ChildOrganics said...

We love bath time. I'm thankful we have a giant tub that we can fit into together. I do like the sponge bath idea too!

Crunchy Con Mommy said...

Cassie-I don't shower very often anymore, mostly because it is just hard to find a good time to when my son won't launch himself off the couch, or scale the refrigerator and eat steak knives, or something equally mischevious, lol.
I use "Yes to Carrots" baby wash on my son since reading how terrible Johnson & Johnson's baby wash is. It is amazing that something so full of chemicals is so readily accepted by our society for daily use on babies! We definitely do baths with just water sometimes too :)

Dionna-glad to know those strategies work for bigger kids too! We have some trips planned to visit family this summer and I have a feeling we will need them (I wonder if my brother's yard is big enough for a baby pool...lol)

Erica-isn't it fun to take baths together?? My son especially loves that then he's allowed to splash and squirt me all he wants when I'm in my "swim clothes" instead of my jammies or play clothes like when he's in the bath and I'm not :)

Lauren @ Hobo Mama said...

Love these gentle tips! We've used a lot of them. Mikko doesn't get screamy, just stubborn, so I have to entice him back to the bath (which he loves once he's in it, silly boy). The new/different toys is very important, even if it's just some kitchen utensils (they're waterproof and washable, after all!), and one of us always goes in with him (and now baby brother as well). I don't really like offering bubble baths (drying to the skin), but he found out about them and now that's an incentive as well. And we've definitely done sponge baths when all else failed and the cleaning needed to happen!

One other idea: Letting them hold the shower sprayer themselves if they're old enough to control the spray, and letting them wash you with it. That's helped alleviate fear of the sprayer, and given him something fun to play with.

Christine Powell said...

I love all of your tips, thankfully we haven't needed any of them yet as Jesse loves water, but surprisingly he also didn't like the shower. So we stick to baths.

Kerry McDonald, M.Ed. said...

You are so right that little ones can go on bath strikes! I never thought about it in those terms, but have definitely experienced it during those peak toddler years! I found water balloons in the bath to be especially helpful and fun!

Kenna Lee said...

I often miss having the little ones now that mine are getting bigger. Don't miss the bath strikes, though! Great ideas.

Sheila said...

My son is TERRIFIED of the shower. One time, when I was filling the tub and he was sitting in it, he grabbed the little button on the tap that turns the shower on and pulled it up. The water came spraying out onto his head and he was totally traumatized! Kinda wish I'd tried showers with him when he was little. I remember I was scared of showers as a child too.

Kitchen sink baths are a great treat for us, though. We've never had a bath strike, but sometimes I want to save water and get stuff done in the kitchen, so I plop him in the sink. He plays in there with a few plastic dishes and has a blast.

Crunchy Con Mommy said...

Thanks for all the comments everyone!

Kerry-my son would LOVE water balloons. I'll definitely have to get some this summer!

Sheila-we did baths in the sink when he was really little, but he's too big now. And my sink is too full of dirty dishes! I'll have to figure out a new system next baby-maybe wash him or her in the laundry room sink, lol.

life-is-learning said...

I love that you are patient and gentle and supportive with your little one through the bath strikes. We also did the baths in kiddie pools/tubs outside when it was warm and while it worked. The sponge baths kept her clean and mixing up the toys is great too! Thanks for sharing; it's nice to know I'm not the only one w/ a little one who hates the bath! :)

Ursula Ciller said...

I've never had a bathtime strike with my little one yet. My usual problem is keeping her out while she gets undressed. Her flexible tenticle feet always try to get into the bath tub and cling to the tub when it's time to get dried up!

garage said...

Thanks a lot for sharing such informative post. Excellent job!