What do you do when you child hates bathing, refuses to bathe, or throws a temper tantrums at bath time?
There probably is a very valid reason why your child may hate bathing and oftentimes they resort to using “bad” behaviors to get out of the situation.
If your child is consistently throwing a temper tantrum around bath time or refusing to bathe, don’t just immediately think it is because they are trying to be “difficult”, instead, change your focus to look at why your child dislikes bathing so much.
Especially with children who have some sensory issues, bathing can be a very scary and uncomfortable experience, so some children will try to avoid bathing altogether. Here’s a look at some underlying problems and some quick fixes to help your child get more comfortable with bathing.
Underlying Problem #1- The feel of the water
Do you like it when someone unexpectedly pokes you? It’s a quick, unexpected light tough that is startling, unpleasant and causes alarm. For many children, especially those with sensory issues, taking a shower feels like thousands of little fingers poking them.
The light, unexpected touch is detected by nerve receptors on their skin that send signals to the brain which elicit an alarming response. This alarming response can either put a child in flight or fight mode which can be a very scary, unpredictable experience for your child. Many children, especially those with sensory issues and autism that thrive on predictability, struggle with unpredictable light touch.
Quick Fix #1- Take a bath in a tub that is already full of water rather than taking a shower with constantly running water. The water in a tub is more predictable than that coming from a shower head and less alarming to the skin. Also try to minimize splashing in the tub as the splashes create additional light, unexpected touch.
Quick Fix #2- If you don’t have a bath tub and only have a shower stall, try changing the shower head to the least powerful mode with the fewest amount of water lines coming out of the shower head. This will at least minimize the amount of water that is “poking” on your child’s skin.
Quick Fix #3- Prepare your child’s body before they bathe. This may be the most critical quick fix of all and is very important to do. Your child’s alerting response (which causes the flight or fight mode and subsequent meltdowns) can be calmed down with deep touch and deep pressure techniques before your child bathes.
Unlike light touch which is alarming, deep touch is soothing and calming. So, giving your child deep touch before entering into a light touch situation calms and prepares the body better to handle stressors like light touch.
- Start with active movements- Have your child to any type of active body movements such as wheelbarrow races, jumping jacks, push-ups, crawling, running, bike riding, hopping, etc… This gives great proprioceptive input which starts the calming process.
- Follow with at least 5-10 minutes of deep pressure input. Here are great ideas like:
Underlying problem #2- The process of getting undressed/dressed before and after can be bothersome
Your child may be okay with the water, but may absolutely hate having to undress and get dressed again. The feeling of the clothing material or size may be uncomfortable for your child.
Again, this is because your child’s skin receptors feel alarmed by light, unexpected touch such as a shirt tag brushing against their skin, or a button brushing against their ears.
Kids that like wearing tight clothing may also be especially bothered by undressing because that material tightness is calming and reassuring for them, so undressing may be difficult because they are loosing their “security blanket”.
Quick Fix #1- Prepare your child’s body before they have to undress by using the steps in quick fix #3 above (active movements followed by deep pressure input)
Quick Fix #2- Allow your child to wear a tight swimsuit or bodysuit in the tub occasionally to help give their body that tight input for reassurance and calming.
Quick Fix #3- Use a dressing checklist to give your child a visual cue of what clothing they have already removed or put on and what else needs to be done. This will help to visually prepare your child for what to expect next.
Underlying problem #3- The temperature of the room or water
Your child may hate feeling too hot, too cold, or changing temperatures rapidly. There are a lot of quick temperature transitions when bathing and for some children, it is difficult to smoothly process through all the changes.
Try to make the temperature as consistent as possible across all aspects of bathing such as when they are undressing, bathing, and afterwards.
Quick Fix #1– Get undressed in the bathroom nearby the shower or tub with the doors closed. Turn on the water and have the heat from the water naturally warm up the bathroom. Wait to undress until the room has warmed up. Don’t let your child undress in their bedroom,then run down a cold hallway and hop into a warm tub; that is too many temperature changes.
Quick Fix #2– Don’t get into the tub or shower until the water temperature is at the right spot. Don’t just let your child sit in the tub and have it “warm up” as it is filling. When in the tub, make sure the water is at the right height as well. Too little water in the tub also causes temperature confusion and can be difficult to process for some children.
Quick Fix #3- Have warm towels ready for afterwards. There’s a huge temperature drop after getting out of the shower/tub before putting on clothes, so ease that transition by wrapping them in warm towels (just throw the towels in the dryer before bath time). This will ease the temperature transition and be calming for your child.
Quick Fix #4– Have fresh clothes ready in the bathroom for afterwards and change in the bathroom with the door closed. This again will ease the temperature transition and is more calming than drastic temperature changes.
Although this is not an inclusive list of all the reasons why your child may dislike bathing, it certainly is a great place to start. Hopefully this article will at least change your focus on bath time so that it can be a more pleasant experience for you both by draining those tub time troubles!