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The Bathtime Battle

The Bathtime Battle

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

I tried to search the archives if you had answered questions on this but couldn’t seem to find anything. Anyways. I have an almost 2 year old boy who use to love the bath. He enjoy splashing in the water, stomping playing with his toys, would run to the tub with glee when we asked if he wanted a bath. Then one day a few months ago, baths became the scariest, awfullest thing he could ever imagine. We thought maybe it was because he had slipped a few times in the tub so we bought a tub mat, that didn’t really help. He still just stands there and screams and cries “ALL DONE! ALL DONE!” I thought maybe it was because he gets upset about washing his hair, so I stopped that to try and make bath time at least fun again. But that hasn’t improved anything. Then I started filling a bowl full of water and putting it in the tub, letting him play in the water from the outside of the tub with his bath toys. He gets excited about dumping the water so I just have him fill the tub, then take off one piece of clothing at a time which he gets upset about. Then finally after a while place him in the tub. He’s having a great time outside of the tub but once inside he’s a mess. The first time I did this, it went really smooth and he didn’t even notice I was bathing him. But since then he still stands there and cries/screams. On a side note, he loves water, he loves washing his hands, it’s just something about the tub. It’s gotten so bad that I only give him a bath once a week. . .sometimes longer because it’s so stressful for both of us. I also bought bath crayons to see if he would draw in the tub and that didn’t help. I just don’t know what to do, wait it out? Force the bath on him even if he is crying so hard snot is flying out of his nose? I’m so afraid he’s going to be the smelly kid in class that no one wants to be friends with.

Thank you!

P.S. I should mention that we have also tried me getting in the bath with him, taking a bath at my parent’s house, taking showers with him and talking to him about how everyone washes their body (which he likes to repeat a lot “Mama wash the body”).

For what it’s worth, each and every one of my children went through a similar anti-bath/anti-hairwashing phase. Bathtime suddenly (and inexplicably) went from being fun and relaxing to The Worst Thing Ever. Screaming, crying, begging to be ALL DONE ALL DONE EEEEEEEEEEEEE NOOOOOOOO. You’d think I was drowning them. I’m pretty sure our next door neighbor thought I was drowning them.

And each and every one of my children eventually just…snapped out of it. For my oldest, starting swimming lessons seemed to coincide with him getting over his bathtime fear (which was mostly just about getting his hair wet or water/soap in his eyes, not necessarily being in the tub in general). The younger two just kinda…outgrew it, I guess. We didn’t really change anything with them, other than bathing as rarely as possible, offering sponge baths as an alternative, bribing with lots of fun bath toys, and…yes, when it was really totally time for an actual bath and hair wash and there was no way around it, I just put them in the tub and tried to get it over with as quickly as humanly possible, and ignored the screaming.  (Luckily, they do not appear to be scarred for life from that less-than-ideal solution.)

So I would mostly keep doing what you’re doing, while continuing to experiment with other water experiences. A toddler swim class might help if the fear is somewhat rooted around the whole “getting his head/hair wet” thing.  Since it’s summer, you could totally try bathing him outside in a kiddie pool to avoid the dreaded tub. And while I’ve never used these (so I don’t know how well they work or how much of a mess they make), maybe he would enjoy something like these fingerpaint soaps from Crayola, or the Play-Doh like Fun Soaps from LUSH.

I’m sorry I don’t have a ton of specific suggestions…I can mostly offer my condolences and reassurances that you are not alone in trying to figure out why bathtime is suddenly akin to waterboarding for your toddler. He WILL outgrow this, I can say with relative confidence, although I can’t even begin to predict when that will happen.

Published June 26, 2015. Last updated July 16, 2017.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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