Splish-Splash! My Kid Won’t Take a Bath!


In our house, bath time can sometimes be a struggle. A few nights ago my daughter refused to take a bath. I eventually figured out that she wanted me to bathe her. I’m not sure about you, but around 7:30pm, after being sick and working all day, the last thing I wanted to do was bathe my eight year old who refused to take a bath. After all, she knows how to bathe herself; she doesn’t NEED me to do it for her, but, sometimes, she does NEED me to do it for her.

I could have taken a more demanding approach and gotten into a battle over control, but instead I took a moment, took some deep breaths, and reminded myself that she missed out on me bathing her as an infant and that this is such an awesome opportunity to foster attachment and show her that I love her (her love language is most likely physical touch). So we made a compromise, I would wash her hair and she would wash her body. As I was washing her hair, I told her that my favorite part about going to get my hair cut is getting my hair washed by my hair stylist. She asked why and I explained that it is a special time for me to relax, unwind and get a mini head massage, and it just feels better when someone else is washing your hair. What could’ve turned into a meltdown resulted in a special moment between the two of us. My daughter doesn’t usually need me to wash her, but for now she does prefer that I stay in the bathroom with her or at least stay close by. Getting three kids bathed and ready for bed at night is no easy feat, but I have to remember that sometimes my kids need me to take time to give them the extra personal attention and affection that they need.

I have on occasion received calls from parents who are struggling to get their recently internationally-adopted child to take a bath. Bath time in an orphanage or children’s home in another country is most likely not the most enjoyable experience for a child. Baths are also most likely done much differently and less frequently in an orphanage. Children who have lived in an orphanage may not be accustomed to taking showers or sitting in a large tub to take a bath. They may be more familiar with taking bucket baths. In some orphanages, they have all of the children line up and take turns getting soaped up and then rinsed off. For children who joined their family through international adoption, taking a bath in their new home may be new and scary at first and it may take time to adjust to the new way.

If your child is afraid of taking a bath you will need to replace many negative bath time experiences with positive ones. First of all, if baths are a struggle, find an alternative to keep your child clean in the meantime as they become more comfortable with bathing in your home. You can wash your child with a washcloth and soap outside the bathtub or use wet wipes. Don’t force your child to take a bath, especially if you suspect an underlying fear. Bath time is a personal intimate experience for a child, so tread carefully with compassion and understanding that it may take time to create the trust that will allow your child to let you bathe him or her.

Start off by creating positive experiences in the bathroom by playing on the bathroom rug, or playing with bubbles or bath toys from the outside of the tub. You can also introduce water play outside the bathroom by putting a few toys in a small tub of water on your kitchen floor. Get bathing suits on or let your child go in with their clothes on. Parents should get in first to demonstrate that it’s not scary. Parents can also offer to stay in the bathtub with their child. Have fun, and splash around a little bit. Your bathroom might get wet, but it is just water, and it will dry!

Here are ten ideas to make bath time fun:
        1. Play music or sing Put a twist on familiar songs like the Hokey Pokey, “Put your right hand in put your right hand out put your right hand in and shake it all about.”
        2. Add lavender or other calming essential oils to help relieve anxiety.
        3. Read a book Sock Monkey Takes a Bath by Cece Bell or Pigeon needs a Bath by Mo Willems are two of my favorites.
        4. Fill the bath with bubbles or blow bubbles.
        5. Add balloons and fill some with water.
        6. Fill a spray bottle with water and let your child spray the walls, himself bubbles, and toys.
        7. Add cups, strainers, bowls and allow them to explore and watch the water pour out
        8. Buy bath crayons or bath paint and let your child create a masterpiece.
        9. Fill up a cup or bucket with ice cubes and allow your child to play.
        10. Have fun creating stories with washcloth hand puppets.

There are many more ways to make bath time fun, but the best way to help your child is for you to actively participate, whether that means getting on your bathing suit and getting in with them, washing their hair for them, or helping create a fun imaginative story. Even if your child joined your family at an older age they still may need your help, so take advantage of this opportunity to build attachment.

For more information on our international adoption programs, please contact us.

Photo Credit: Todd Morris

Ten tips to make bath time more bearable at your house!

Angela Simpson is an adoptive parent, social worker and adoption advocate. Angela is MLJ Adoptions’ Support Services Specialist and works with families throughout their adoption process. Angela and her husband have two sons and have just recently added a daughter to their family through adoption.