Bathing & School-aged Kids

Archived Q&A and Reviews


6-year-old is refusing to shower & do homework

Nov 2005

My son is going on 6 in December, and lately, he doesn't like to shower, or he doesn't want to do homework. I try to go over a routine schedule to make it easier for him and me so that there would be no complaining on his end. So, I tell him when we get home after snack time, you can shower, and then do your homework, but when it came to taking his shower, he just refused to do it, and I ended up dragging him into the bathroom, and told him his punishment would be going to bed early, and not watching his favorite show. He cried up a storm, and I lost control and kicked his toys around. I knew right then and there I was out of control. At this point when I get home, I will just try to relax, and kind of let it go a bit, and make some changes in the routine. On top of that, I owe my son an apology. Personally, I feel horrible about this. Kath

You were so open and honest about your anger. I think you need some support -- as we all do. We don't often talk about how frustrating and angry parenting can be. I read a great essay by Anne Lamott in Mothers Who Think that was helpful this subject. She reminded us that it is often not the single act that we are reacting to, but the string of suppressed frustrations that cause us to get so angry. I am currently trying to get MORE SLEEP so I can cope. What I find helpful when my son is extra challenging is to walk away saying, ''I'm too frustrated to cope with (blank) right now, I need a time out.'' He protests loudly, follows me, etc. but I move away from him and turn my back to him. Then I close my eyes, try to center and relax, think of something wonderful about my son and open my heart to him again, then try another tactic with him. Sometims I ignore what ever we were struggling with, and ask for a hug so that I can feel better (which helps him too). I also think it is not so terrible to get angry sometimes to show how we handle it. You can explain what happened and process it a little together. If he knows that you feel bad for crossing a line (kicking things for example) you can talk about how you can prevent it and what you need from each other.

About the homework and after school needs -- try involving him in creating the routine or incorporating something fun. When homework battles got too bad for me, we tried going to cafe's for coffee and milk. My son won't yell at me as much in public! Plus it is something we both enjoy. Today, I gave up on finishing his homework (a first time). He was too worn out to do it, so anything he did wasn't going to be good. Try to figure out if he is testing your limits or if he is having trouble with the work. Good luck. You're not alone. another struggling mama

What about a bath? What about showering or a bath after dinner (before the tv show)? Explain to his teacher the situation you are in and let him not bathe awhile. His peers will soon make it clear that he needs to clean up! Is it really necessary to bathe every day for him? Does he do sports or get filthy? It is known that most folks are healthier without a daily bath. Could he do his bathing every other day? If there is a dad in the picture, could they shower/bathe together? Have you asked him why he is not interested in showering? Is he shy about having you around when he's in there or do you give him complete privacy? No real solution here I am afraid, but hope the questions might bring about an ''ah ha!'' moment for you. Nanny to a 6 year old

I have 3 boys, and the two oldest are in their 20s now. I remember very well the period of years when they did not want to bathe. It lasted from about kindergarten till about middle school, at which point, I guess because of puberty, they finally started to care how they smelled and looked. (At that point we then had problems with huge clouds of cologne wafting all over the house. Pew.)

I remember the fights. I remember one of them going into the bathroom (to get me off his back), turning on the shower for a few minutes, and then emerging 5-10 minutes later *completely dry* and still in the same clothes, pretending that he'd showered. Later he learned to wet the towel, or rub water on his hair to trick me. It wasn't just shower trickery either. He would also rub a bar of soap on his dry hands to make me think he'd washed his hands, and eat a bit of toothpaste to make me think he'd brushed his teeth (I used a sniff test - doesn't work.) GRRRRRR!!!! They just had better things to do and didn't want to spend time on an activity they considered to be a waste of time. If they don't care if they are dirty, what can you do? When they are 6 you can still sort of hold them down and wash them, but when they are much older than that, they are mortified to have their mothers even see them in their boxers. So what's a mother to do?!!

I don't know what to suggest because I had a very low success rate using nagging. I can tell you from experience that shaming doesn't work either (as in, ''eeyou! what is that smell?''). One thing I would suggest is cutting back on bathing to just 2-3 times a week, and let him pick when the bath days are. Maybe you can tie it into some sort of treat. It might work if you convince him that it's fun - reading in the tub maybe? Special bath products just for him?

Now homework, that is a much bigger problem. It is a very, very common problem reported by parents of boys. Some people say that schools aren't really set up well for boys, who want more physical activity more frequently, while girls often enjoy sitting for longer periods doing work. I hate to tell you that for my boys, reluctance to do homework continued all the way through middle school and high school. It was always a problem. As a 6-year-old, your son may be feeling overwhelmed and he may need your help, either on the actual work, or with organization. Also many parents limit time spent on homework and let the teacher know about this. Your son's teacher may have some ideas about this, but talk to other parents too. Good luck. Boys are great. Ginger

I've read several parenting books regarding developmental stages around this time,and I believe that defiance is a classic characteristic of 6. He does sound as though he needs to feel as though he has some choice. You could offer him something like showering in the morning, or every other day, but it sounds as though that is not the primary problem. I think 6 is a time where independence is tested via defiance, and asking/demanding some choice over immediate destiny is the harbinger. Regarding your reaction, it was a bit emotional and you were taken by surprise, but perhaps understanding what is going on will help you cope. 6 is coming at my house too!

When should child be able to bathe alone?

June 2005

When should a child be expected to bathe alone? My daughter will be 7 in a few months. She doesn't like showers - only baths. We still bathe her. It's her preference. She knows how to bathe herself - I've watched her do it and she does fine (I put the water in the tub to regulate the temperature). Truth is, she is pretty tired by evening when she bathes, and I think she just feels too tired to do it herself.I realize she won't want me/us to do this forever, and I enjoy the time together. I don't mind bathing her - I'm just curious when others' children started to bathe themselves. still bathing my big girl

My nine-year-old basically bathes herself, but still likes me to wash her hair and help her get out of the bathtub. Sometimes she also wants me to hang out in the bathroom and talk. I've also been wondering how long this will go on for, but she seems to feel taken care of by the attention. She's going to overnight camp for the first time this summer, and I'm wondering if she'll want me to help her when she comes back. anon

June 2002

For the last few months, we've been letting our almost-four-year- old take baths while we're in the next room. We check in on her often, and except for the time she and a friend decided to pull all the towels into the tub, there have been no incidents. However, I have this nagging worry that she might still be too young. At what age did you allow your children to be in the tub by themselves? How frequently did you check at first? When did you transition to just calling from the next room? How old were they before you finally stopped worrying about them drowning in the tub? This question is posted on the website, but there are no replies. Jennifer

I think one child alone in the bath is much safer than more than one. I've been doing the next room (we have a very small house) since about 4, and now, at 6, I leave the door open and go to other rooms though if it gets quiet (i.e. no talking to the toys or splashing) I check on my child. I may be more nervous than most people because a high school friend's child drowned in the bath -- I reassure myself because that was two kids, a four-year- old and a two-year-old -- it was one of those awful situations where she left the room for a moment to answer the phone, and when she came back into the bathroom the younger one had drowned. Carol

Okay, I hope child welfare won't come after me, but I've been letting my 25 month old bathe on her own since she was 12 months old. I only use 3 inches of water; she has understood and followed the rules from a very early age (i.e., no standing in the tub); the handles to turn on the water are very old and stiff, so there's no risk of scalding; I don't leave shampoo or soap near the tub; and I am usally in her bedroom (4 feet away) putting away toys and setting out clothes for the next day. I look in on her from time to time--she likes to chatter with her toys and if it gets quiet, I'm right in there. She's in the tub alone for 10 minutes, then I go in and wash her and get her out. I never used one of those bathtub child holders, but a non skid bathmat is very important (cheap at Ikea!). I am very aware of the risk I am taking and always keep my ears tuned to the tub (i.e., no music, TV or phone conversations, and I don't even answer the door!).

I think everyone needs to make this decision on their own, based on the temperment of their child. Also, safety features should be in place. I'm a single mom, so I probably encourage independence in my child earlier that others. Anon

Well, who knows what the ''right age'' is, but we have a 4-year- old who has been bathing without a parent hovering (I wouldn't say unsupervised) for a good 6 months now. He sits in the tub and plays happily for a long time, while one of us does the dishes in the kitchen adjoining the bath. He's always within earshot and I usually have the ability to see him, too, if I try. Now, if we had a nice big house where I couldn't see and/or hear him, I think I'd do it differently. I would not be comfortable if I couldn't hear and/or see what's going on. Wendy

I wouldn't let a child who could not swim well bathe alone. The problem is that if, for some reason, a child's face gets under water, and the child breathes in, s/he may just panic, and try to breathe again (more water), etc. Only a child who knows how to cope with water, that if you breathe some in, you need to surface, spit it out, etc., can really recover.

Drowning is heartachingly common, and only takes a few minutes. This weekend my family was at Lake Temescal. Although the life guards had just gone off-duty, there were many children and adults both in the water and on the beach. A child reported another child was drowing. My husband and some other adults went into the water as soon as they heard (I stayed with our children.), and the off-duty life guard who had to be retrieved from the shower tried to search, a 14-year-old boy died. In minutes. With 25-30 people standing around, only yards away. Apparently he could not swim well. We are still grieving. Karen

I think that a 6 year old can bathe alone if an adult is within hearing distance. I know of a horror story where an 8 year old had his/her 1st seizure in the bathtub, was alone (parent was elsewhere in house), slipped under the water, and...

When my nine-year-old daughter is bathing, I am within earshot of her. When she bathes with her toddler brother I sit in the hallway, reading, with the door open--she wants to be with him ''alone,'' and so I compromise so that I can spring to action if anon

My almost-5 year old boy has been bathing alone since about 4 years old, however when he is in the bath I always leave the door open so I can hear him sing and play. A good idea until you are comfortable leaving your child alone to bathe is to put a baby monitor in the bathroom. Make sure it and the cord are well out of reach of the child and the tub. I mounted a small shelf just above the outside of the bathroom door for the monitor and used an outlet from the laundry room. My child's bathtime is his singing time as well, so I can always hear him and know he's safe. If and when it ever gets quiet, I immediately go to see what's up. Happy Bathing!