Kidsit Founder, Editor, Illustrator, and father of three beautiful kids in Sydney, Australia.
Ever had trouble getting children into the bath? Besides putting them to bed, this is one of the biggest challenges that babysitters run into. Luckily there are strategies you can use to get it done with minimal fuss.
How do you encourage children to get into the bath? If a child you babysit doesn't want to get into the bath, there might be a specific reason why. Talk to them and see what their concerns are, and address them directly. If there isn't a specific reason, you can distract with toys and other fun activities.
In this article, I'll explain some common reasons why children may not want to take a bath or be afraid of the bathtub. I'll give a suggestion for each one on how to fix it, and then I'll talk about some general strategies and tips to encourage children to get into the bath.
There are lots of tips and tricks I can give you to help convince children to take a bath. Before we go down that route, I think it's important to take a deeper look at why they might not want to take a bath in the first place.
There are a bunch of reasons why children might resist the bath. More often than not, it's because they're scared of something related to bath time. Often, all it takes is one negative bath experience to make them uneasy about getting into the bath again. It is much more proactive to figure out what that root fear is and address it directly, rather than trying to cover it up with fun games and activities.
Here are some reasons why children might not want to take a bath:
Children might be in the middle of playing with a toy or game, and they might just not want to give it up to take a bath, so it might not be related to the bath specifically. You'd probably face the same issues if you tried to make them stop playing to eat dinner or anything else too.
How to fix it: Give them some advanced warning before getting in the bath so that they have time to mentally prepare and it’s not such a shock once you announce that it is bath time. A timer works well in this situation.
You can also let the child know that they can go back to playing with their toy as soon as their bath is done. If the toy they're playing with is water-safe, you might want to let them bring it into the tub with them. Or if not, try to find a suitable replacement to keep them busy and occupied while you bathe them.
It might sound silly to you as an adult. But many children have a real fear that they could get sucked down the drain. They see all the water rushing out of the tub at the end of their bath and have no idea where it's going. Just like kids can also have fears of toilets, vacuum cleaners, and other things that might seem irrational to adults.
How to fix it: Avoid draining the tub while children are still sitting in it. Reassure them that they're way too big to fit down the drain. You can put your hand or one of their toys over the hole to demonstrate to them that nothing bad will happen. Let them know that you're putting the stopper into the tub to hold all the water in, and you won't lift it back up until they're out of the tub.
Kids know their daily routines. They might be completely okay with baths, but they know that bath time means that bedtime will follow soon after.
How to fix it: Address the issues with bedtime instead of bath time. In the meantime, you can try to detach their idea of the bath being associated with bedtime. Let them know about some other fun activity that will come after they're done with their bath. Maybe they'll get a special snack before they have to brush their teeth, or they'll get to watch an episode of their favorite television show.
If you need help with bedtime, get some solutions from my article Get Kids to Bed When Babysitting.
All it takes is one bad experience of getting shampoo or soap in their eyes, and children might be afraid of the bath for a long time afterward. Some children might be more sensitive and don't like getting water on their face at all, so even more care needs to be taken.
How to fix it: Use special no-tears shampoos that are made for children if the parents you're babysitting for have them available. If you're helping younger kids to wash their hair, lean their head back so the soap doesn't go into their eyes. There are even special visors and other products to help keep shampoo and soap out of children's eyes while washing their hair.
For children who are afraid of getting water in their eyes, keeping a dry washcloth next to the tub can make them more confident that even if their face gets wet, you'll be able to dry it off for them right away. You can also teach them to keep blinking their eyes as this will help eliminate excess water.
Getting a bath has some unique sensory experiences associated with it, which can be strange for a child. The sound of the water rushing into the bath while it fills up, the temperature of the water, how the water feels on their body, and other issues may all be concerns for children. All of this can combine to cause sensory overload, and is especially worth considering in children with autism.
How to fix it: Get the children involved! Let them turn on the tap and fill up the bath themselves and make them a part of the experience. It will make them feel empowered and less scared of the bath since they're in control. Let them start off by just putting their hand or foot in the water to get used to it if they need to get acquainted with the water gradually.
Bathtubs are slippery. Even when they're dry, they're a smooth porcelain surface without anything to really grab on to. Once you add water to the situation, it gets even more slippery! So it's natural that children might worry about slipping or falling in the tub.
How to fix it: If you have any kind of handle or rail that you can use to help kids sturdy themselves getting into the tub, let them hold on to that. If not, offer to hold their hand when they're getting in and out of the tub. If they're worried about slipping under the water once they're in the tub, you can place something at the bottom of the tub to rest their feet against so they won't slide down.
Most young children accidentally poop in the bathtub at one time or another. Being in the water surrounded by their own waste can actually be a pretty upsetting occurrence for children and make them not want it to happen again.
How to fix it: Have children sit on the potty before getting into the tub. This is probably a good step to take anyway, just to make sure they won't have to go during bath time. For kids specifically scared of peeing or pooping in the tub, it's a step you won't want to skip!
Ensure you talk to both the children and their parents about any fears that they may be having about bath time. If they're still hesitant to get in the bath, here are some more tips to help get them distracted or excited about bath time.
Make bath time seem extra appealing by offering kids lots of toys. This works best if they have special toys that they only get to play with during bath time.
The families you babysit for will likely have a bunch of bath toys of their own for children, but you can bring along a few inexpensive toys of your own to make things extra interesting. Spend a few dollars to pick up a rubber ducky, a toy boat, some colorful cups to splash water around with, or others. There are also bath crayons or bath paint, which might be the only time that kids get to draw on the walls without getting in trouble. These easily wash off with water once the bath is done.
Some of the toys and games from my article Babysitting at the Pool (What to Bring, Games to Play & Water Safety Tips) will also apply to bath time!
Bubbles are a great way to distract children with something fun and interesting. Often bubbles capture their interest enough that you might not need any additional toys at all.
Bubbles also hide anything in the water that children might worry about. For kids that are scared of the drain, bubbles will hide that. It will also provide some cover for children who might feel self-conscious about being naked in front of their babysitter.
Sometimes children can also be scared of stains on the tub or little black specks in the water that can be caused by mineral buildup in pipes behind the faucet. They can interpret these little specks as bugs and worry that they'll bite them. So use a bubble bath to conceal them if you know it's an issue with the water in certain houses you babysit for.
Always check with parents first to make sure that using bubble bath is ok as it can cause some skin irritations, especially in girls if used too much.
Children often aren't great with transitions, so the more time that you can give them to prepare, the better. You might want to announce that it will be time for a bath soon, 10 or 15 minutes in advance. That will give kids plenty of time to finish playing with their toys or doing any activities they were engrossed in, and mentally prepare themselves for a bath.
Similarly, let children know in advance a few minutes before bath time is going to come to an end. Even ones that are reluctant to get into the bath will often not want to get out once they're in warm soapy water. You might even want a special bath time song to let them know when bath time is coming and when it's going to end.
For older and more independent kids who refuse to take a bath, you might offer to let them take a shower instead. If they're old enough to wash their own hair and soap themselves up, you don't even need to be in the bathroom. They might see taking a shower as more grown-up and mature, they might simply think sitting in a bath is gross, or any number of other reasons as they start to get older. So if it will prevent hassle and arguing, let them have a shower instead.
Children are smaller and have less body fat than adults, so it's easier for them to get cold. Getting out of a bath and shivering for several minutes to get warm can be a pretty negative bath time experience. So reassure them by having a nice fuzzy towel next to the tub for wrapping them up as soon as bath time is over and they need to get back out into the cold air. Consider turning the thermostat up a few degrees temporarily while they're in the bath, so it'll be a little less cold when they get out.
Even children who hate bath time usually love going swimming in a pool. So you can try to turn bath time into an evening at the pool instead. Let them wear a swimsuit to make it more like going to the pool. Goggles can be a good addition especially for children who hate getting water in their eyes.
For children that absolutely refuse to take a bath in a tub full of water, you might have no other option than to try giving them a sponge bath instead. You can sit them in an empty tub instead of a full one and clean them that way.
Next time that you give them a bath, you can try to gradually transition them to a tub with a small amount of water sitting in it, and then gradually increase the amount of water until they're taking normal baths. Of course, if a child dislikes baths this much, you'll want to talk to their parents that you babysit for because it's probably going to be a joint effort on both of your parts to help them overcome their fears and aversion to bath time.
There are bath time color tablets that you can add to your bath to make it more colorful. It's a bit like a bubble bath, but with colors instead of bubbles! Be sure to use a product that's meant for the bath so you don't stain the tub, the children, or their towels or clothes. You can mix things up by changing the water to a different color each time that you babysit.
When you're dealing with children, mixing things up and making things seem special can often be a big help. You might switch things up by asking if they want to take a special bath before they eat their dinner, instead of after. The novelty of taking a bath at a different time might be enough to turn a child who's normally reluctant about baths into one who is eager to give one a try at a special time.
Learn everything about babysitting at night from my article Babysitting at Night (Dinner, Baths & Bedtime Routine Tips)
I’ve found this trick to be one of the best ways to get, even stubborn children, into the bath quick-smart - give each child one or two glow sticks to play with while they’re bathing. You can even turn the light off and the water will glow like it’s radioactive! It’s so much fun.
Another great benefit of glow stick baths is the children can then take their glow sticks to bed afterwards which also helps to encourage them to get into bed.
You will want to check with parents first to make sure it's okay. But for children reluctant to take a bath on their own, you might be able to help things by putting on a bathing suit and getting into the tub yourself. You can still clean them and do everything as normal, but you'll feel more like a friend at the pool to them than a babysitter.
For more ideas see our recommended bath time activities for kids.
We've created a handy bath time checklist that you can print and keep a copy in your babysitting binder. It includes:
Also, see our other babysitting checklists.
So you finally got the kids into the bath... what next? Read our babysitting guide to bathing children: 21 Bath Time Tips for Babysitters which includes handy tips plus safety guide.
Bathtubs can be a scary place for children. There's loud rushing water, strange sensations, a scary drain that looks like it could swallow them whole, and other things for a child's active imagination to worry about.
Instead of just masking over bath time problems by distracting with toys, I recommend trying to get to the root of the problem and see what specifically is making the child you babysit afraid of the bath. If you're able to address that directly it won't just make your job easier, but their parents will likely be very thankful as well.
For children who are still too young to tell you how they're feeling about bath time, you might need to just resort to using toys, bubble bath, and other distractions to keep them occupied while you clean them up.
Written & Illustrated by:
Kidsit Founder, Editor, Illustrator, and father of three beautiful kids in Sydney, Australia.
Written & Illustrated by:
Renee is a children’s author and freelance writer from the Sunshine Coast, Australia. She has 20 years of combined experience working with children as a babysitter, swim coach, special education teacher and an after-hours care supervisor.
Published: 8 February 2020
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