Child's Fear of the Bath & Shower

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Questions, by Age  


Getting 1 yr old in the bath

Feb 2004

Up until 2 weeks ago. my one year old girl LOVED the bath. For the past several months she has been using a bath seat in the big tub and she is safe and secure in it. She has enjoyed the bath since she was born. All of sudden, she doesn't want to get in the tub, and clings to me, keeping her feet up and away from the water. I tried putting a little water on her feet, showing her the fun toys, making sure it wasn't too warm, putting her in without the seat, then with the seat and none of that has reminded her she actually used to like it. The nanny told me she had the same thing happen, and she isn't pressuring her either although she did get her in by distracting her with the toys. She just doesn't want to get in and I don't want to pressure her b/c I don't want her to be scared. So, finally this last time I just got into the tub and put her on my lap. She didn't cry and was fine that way, and eventually sat on her bottom and even let me float her--but didn't want me to get her head wet, so I didn't this time. Any advice on how to get her back to loving the bath--I can't go in with her every time and eventually she will need her hair washed. Thanks! H2O Mom

Blow bubbles. We got our daughter over a 'no bath' hump by blowing bubbles. For shampooing, we call it funny hair, pull out a mirror, point and laugh, make shampoo horns and shapes of all kinds. Even so around 28 mos, she started resisting. So we just wash like once a week now. Then suddenly she asked for 'funny hair' out of the blue. Also we really like the blow up tubs. Our now 32 mo. old is still in a toddler inflatable tub in the big tub. saves water too! rub a dub

I don't have any advice, but the same thing happened to my daughter. From age 13-18 months, more or less, she did not like the bath at all. Then she went back into loving it. During this time we bathed her seldom (once a week or so), quickly and often had her take showers with us (she was more willing to do that). anon

My daughter went through bath stages, and had a period around 1yr where she didn't want to get in the tub. I have a small inflatable tub for her, which fits in the big tub, is very stable & comfortable & cozy (and costs about $5). When she was getting fussy a! bout it, I'd fill it w/ bubble bath and splash the bubble s& show her hwo much fun the bububles were, play with washcloths (peekaboo, seal diving, etc). & try to warm her up with it. I've also tried to give her ways to tell me if the water is too hot or is in her eyes, and I always close the door so the room is warm enough. If that didn't work, I'd be as gentle but firm as possible, and very quick to minimize the crying. She likes the bath now. Which may change again. anon

13-month-old is afraid of bathtub shower head

Jan 2003

I made a huge mistake. My currious son seemed to want to know about the shower looming overhead while he took a bath. On the well intentioned advise of my brother, I introduced my 13 month old to the shower. With the nozzle down low - at his level but directed away from him - I turned on the shower while my little guy was taking a bath. What a HUGE mistake. The water was warm but not hot, so I know it wasn't the temperature. Panic struck, he backed himself to the farthest corner of the tub. So I turned off the shower and replaced it to it's normal spot. He just wanted OUT! 'IT' was still up there. I even tried to move the shower head to outside the tub, but there's still something UP there. And 'IT' is still around somewhere. Now everytime he takes a bath (our only tub in the house) he'll get into the tub, but eventually looks up. Then the panic starts again. My once bath loving child is now begging to get out.

Hoping to eleviate his fear of the shower monster, two days ago I tried taking a shower while holding my son. No luck. Now 'IT' was REALLY close and just too scary. We've bathed together and that seems to work for HIM. But not for me. It's inconventient and darn cold. I'm just too tall to sit in the tub comfortably.

I'm wondering if anyone has had a similar problem. What did you do to reasure your child? Any suggestions? Thank you.

My son was similarly frightened by the shower head. What seemed to have the most positive impact was the outdoor shower at swimming pools. For some reason (other kids do it? looked like fun? not naked?), these showers were not nearly as scary to him and were soon downright fun. Home baths were immediately easier. Good luck! anon

My daughter went through the same thing a year ago, at age 2 1/2. To get her back in the tub, I sat with her on my lap far away from the tub, while my husband operated the shower. We made it very clear to her that it could not go on while she was in the tub unless someone pulled up on the lever. After a few demonstrations she was willing to get into the tub, but she still talked about the shower for several months. And she still will not take a shower, although she has recently become interested in watching me take a shower, so she may be coming around. Good luck! Stephanie

I could have posted your message when my son was that age, and in fact, I think I probably did. It was the same scenario, except in our case he pulled the shower lever on himself while the tub was running, and was rewarded with an unexpected drenching. He's never been a kid who liked getting his head wet (hairwashing is still something he has to steel himself for) so this was a terrible insult.

We tried everything that I'm sure will be suggested in response to your post: fun bath toys, music in the bathroom, getting in the tub with him, playing in the bath with no water in it, letting him hold the shower nozzle, etc. None was a magic bullet. It took months of patience to get him comfortable in the tub again, and I remember how sad I was because bathtime had always been one of his favorite activities, and mine too. It is again now, so there is hope. Here are the things that I think were the most helpful: - getting the spray nozzle out of the tub. Ours is one that can be hand-held if you lift it off its holder, and we always let it dangle outside the tub during bath time so he didn't look up at it and freak. - bathing with him -- which I always liked anyway - persistence. For a while we followed his lead and didn't force the issue, giving baths just once or twice a week and going weeks without a hair wash. Didn't work -- it just gave him more opportunity to cultivate his bath phobia. What ended up working was doing the opposite. We insisted on nightly baths, even though they were accompanied by a lot of screaming and crying at first. I kept them quick, tried to make them fun, talked about how he felt before and afterwards ...that I knew it was scary for him but that he had to get clean and he was going to be fine.

I can't remember now how long it took before he just got used to the bath again, and stopped worrying, but it happened. We did have one relapse when I got lax about putting the spray nozzle out of the tub and he pulled the shower on again, but it just took a few days to get him comfortable again. He still doesn't like the shower, but he'll happily play in the tub for an hour or more, with or without me in it. nelly

Maybe if you and your son could regularly ''visit'' someone while they were taking a shower. Your son could then see that the shower was not scary to the showeree while still getting to keep a safe distance. My daughter never had the shower-head aversion, but I remember my little brother having it, big screaming fits, and the rest of the family just made a big deal of getting to take a shower (talking about it at the dinner table, discussing how nice it felt when we got out, using the special ''shower toys'' etc.) until his curiosity was up. The ''big kid'' thing was encouraging, too, since he had two older siblings. He was about two at the time. Good luck! Mercedes

Perhaps try showing your child that he can play with the fun shower hose? Stand outside the tub and Spray it around with him and be silly. My daughter is scared of the shower over her head but loves playing with hose (even spraying it over her own head) if it is the context of play. If that doesn't work, maybe hang something friendly like a toy on the nozzle? Maybe when he looks up and sees a toy he won't be so scared? more shower to you......

Here is an idea you might try that worked for my daughter when she was little. We had the showerhead ''talk'' to her when she was in the tub. Mr. Showerhead would talk to her (in my voice down an octive) about her day, if she had remembered to wash behind her ears, if she liked the color blue, etc. She came to look forward to bathtime so that she could talk to Mr Showerhead. Good luck! Rachel

14-month-old is afraid of the bath

RE: fear of water
My 14 month old daughter, Alisdair, has just begun this same bathing tantrum pattern as well. Our temporary solution has been to put her in a small plastic tub, and sponge bathe her while her older sister, Ariel age 6, is in the bathtub playing/cleaning nearby. However, this is a very difficult way to properly clean her hair. Any other ideas would be greatly appreciated, as our daughter used to love baths until last month. I believe the hair washing is the issue but I am sad she no longer enjoys splashing and playing in the water. Is this a phase, how long does it last? Thanks, Carolyn

You may want to bathe with her. We did that with our son when we first adopted him. He wasn't real happy with bathing so we tried to make it as much fun as possible. We also didn't insist he take one every day--just a couple of times a week. But the security/safety of having another person in the tub with him allowed him to relax enough to start having fun. Sliding down our legs, splashing games, toys, singing--anything to distract from any previous unpleasantness. Now at age 7 he sings and plays and really enjoys his baths and showers. Good luck! Kay

Sounds like your daughter has a fear to overcome before bathing will be enjoyable. Here are some tricks I used with both of my boys that maybe you haven't tried. Bring a cassette player with the music she likes into the bathroom. Give her a different water toy to play with each time, use plastic utensils from the kitchen or blow bubbles, do something unpredictable to get her attention away from the bath. Maybe having a toy doll that she can bathe would make her feel more comfortable. Also try using a small plastic baby tub inside the bathtub to help her feel secure and fill it water before she gets in. I think my son was afraid of the water coming into the tub and it seemed to help when I stopped running it in front of him. He was also really afraid of the water going down the drain! The temperature of the water is also important. My younger son still insists the water is too hot even when lukewarm so that could be an issue. He also hated having his hair washed and fussed every time until last year when he started taking showers (and he is six!).

These days we laugh because the boys never want to get in the bath but once they are in we can't get them out! Hopefully Ellie will learn to enjoy a good bath and you will be begging her to get out. Best of luck...Sharon


16-month-old is terrified of the bath

My 16-month-old will not let us bathe her and she seems terrified of the water. Any ideas? Clay

To Clay, whose 16 month old has become terrified of taking a bath: I've heard that there are developmental phases where a child becomes more (or less) afraid of water. My daughter totally loved the bath until about 12 months, and then became very afraid of it for several months. Eventually she simply outgrew her fear ... it lessend about 16 months and then vanished at about 20 months. However, in the meantime while she was so frightened, I just took my baths WITH her. As long as we were in the tub together and she could literally hold onto my hand or knee at all times, she was fine. Now she is happy to take a bath by herself (with me sitting right there, of course) although she STILL hates to have her hair washed. I've had her wash my hair (I wash, she rinses) ... she pour cup after cup after cup of water over me while I mock-complain and say all done! and she laughs ... reverse role playing to give her some sense of control. Helped *just a little* but every little bit is something. Good luck. -- Mary Carol

Re: toddler afraid of bath. What if you tried taking a bath with your daughter, with her actually sitting on your lap, at least part of the time? This, coupled with some new bath toys, might get her over her fear. Another idea is taking her swimming. The YMCA in downtown Berkeley has water acclimation classes for that age group which I did with my son and which he really loved. Good luck, Dianna

Clay, has your wife/s.o. tried getting in the tub with her? Maybe take some toys and play in the water for a while, get her used to being in there again, then after a while move on to a quick bathing. My son didn't care for the bathtub much, but we've helped him adjust to baths by doing this sometimes, and letting he see that we bathe too. He really didn't like water on his face (and still doesn't). So when we play I'll let him splash and dump as much water over my head as he wants, while I laugh. Then occasionally I'll pour some water on him. He hated this at first, but quickly learned that it wasn't the end of the world; after all he could do it to dad and nothing tragic was happening, plus dad and I are having fun, mom is laughing, and I don't have to go to bed yet. :-) Keeping the bathing as short as possible has helped too, now he'll even lean back under the faucet so we can shampoo his hair. Just some thoughts to consider. Jonathan

18-month-old is afraid of the bath

My 18-month-old daughter is in another I hate/am afraid of the bath and scream/cries if put into her bath. Previously successful methods of getting her to like it again have now failed for the first time. Last night I got in the bathtub and invited her in with me and that failed as well. This was a method that was recommended in the past by many, but which we never needed to use as my husband's method had worked. Now I am at my wit's end and don't know what to do. I am not sure why she may be scared of the bath. She didn't fall in it or anything. One thing that we were wondering is that she does associate taking a bath with going to bed and she is not particularly into going to bed right now, either, so there may be a connection there. I would appreciate any advice you may have.

this sounds bizzare, but a book i was reading on child development suggests that for toddlers it's not uncommon to develop a fear of being sucked down the drain. it's worth checking the book out anyway for a baby and toddler's view of development. it's helpful, humorous and easy reading. She talks about common developmental struggles and development in general in children 0-6 years. it was written in 1959, however, so the expectation about women's roles is dated. it's a classic so should be easy to find: The Magic Years: Understanding and Handling the Problems of Early Childhood by Selma H. Fraiberg

....from these isolated and seemingly not very important events we can draw a conclusion that seems preposterous to an adult. Nancy's avoidance of the bath which follows her observation of the disapperance fo water down the bath drain and her observation that objects disapper down the toilet, suggest that Nancy is afraid that she, too could disappear down a drain. The grown-up, even an older child, will dismiss this as nonsense. We know that a child cannot go down that little hole. We have a concept of relative size. Nancy at 21 months does not know this. She will need to carry on a series of experiements for a long time before she acquires knowledge of the amount of space which her body occupies...

The author suggests being especially gentle and reasuring, make the bath pleasant and encourage her to play in the tub. May be easier she says, for a time to allow the water to remain in the tub while the child is in the bath and even for a while after she is out of the tub. Give the child oppourtunities for water play that the child can control. (ie wash toys in a water bsin where she can manipulate the drain and let the water in and out and see what happens.). Find opportunities to demonstarte to her and let her find out about the relationship of her body and size to other objects.

If you try any of this, I'd be curious to hear how it turns out. It was interesting reading, but who knows... Hope some of this helps.

When I read the description of the common childhood fear of getting sucked down the drain, I was reminded of a song that Mr. Rogers (is he still on TV?) used to sing. It was called, You Can Never Go Down the Drain. I loved this song as a kid--had it on a record--and played and sang it all the time. I was never afraid of being sucked down, and maybe it's because the song prevented it. Anyway, the words were so cute, something like: You can never go down, you can never go down, you can never go down the drain. You're bigger than the water, you're bigger than the soap. You're bigger than all those little things, you're bigger than your telescope... Maybe this song is still available somewhere?

Try bathing her less often? Kids just don't get as dirty (at least in the same ways!) as adults do. I find my daughter has always done just fine with a bath no more often than 1 time/week. I usually just bathe her when her hair needs to be washed, or when she has just covered herself in yogurt! :^) Maybe if, as you suggested, she is associating bath with bed, separating these two activities will help. Good luck!

My son began to fear baths after one of his sisters helpfully rinsed his hair by pouring buckets (toy buckets) of water over his head repeatedly and just overwhelming him. He would not take baths for the longest time. I bought a detachable shower head (with hose) and would just stand him in the tub, wet him, soap him, rinse him off and voila! No problem. It takes about 5 minutes. It was easier to rinse his hair and even when he returned to taking baths I would rinse him with the shower head to take off any soap that might remain on his body from the bath water. Later, when he was older and in a hurry he'd take his own modified shower instead of a bath. Now he has moved on to showers entirely which he takes all by himself since he was 6. Veronica

Well, we went through our ups and downs with baths too, although they was never a fear associated with it. My suggestion is to keep baths short and entertaining. When my toddler's resistance was high, despite a nice variety of bath toys, I picked up a tip from this list and bought her a cabbage bathdoll. And that worked like a miracle for a few weeks, because the doll could only be played with at bathtime and otherwise lived in the towel closet (to make the attraction last longer). So, if you instructed your daughter to wash the doll's hair and give her a little bucket, she might put aside her disgust of lose hair - because she has a task to attend to. By the time the attraction fades, the original rejection might not be that strong anymore. Worked for us. However, once we had to deal with a whole month of my daughter not wanting to sit down in the tub at all. I don't know when and why this changed, I think she eventually got tired of having bedtime books subtracted and we compromised somewhere, because she really hated to sit while having her hair washed. (Note: My husband and I always bathe her together. You need four hands to ensure safety for that kind of compromise). Somehow she outgrew that phase too and we figured out that she would enjoy a deeper bath that covers her body completely - as she now enjoys lying in the tub mommy, I'm a fish. We also use a portable heater to heat up the bathroom ahead of time. Baths have become pure pleasure again. I guess what I'm trying to say is that even bathtime struggles are just a phase with a beginning and an end and you'll navigate your family through it just like with any other issues.

You might check out the children's book Angelo, The Naughty One about a boy who's terrified of water but by the end of the story becomes Angelo, The Brave One. Regan

19-month-old is really scared of the bathroom

March 2007

My son has refused to take a bath for the past month or so. We bathe him on a towel every night with a wash cloth in the bedroom. He initially got frightened because some water from the shower head dripped on his head while he was taking a bath. Then a few days later the toilet was clogged and he saw (clear) water approach the rim of the bowl. We were probably acting alarmed when this happened, but it seems to have really scared him. When I ask him why he won't take a bath, he says it is because of the clog.

I tried covering the toilet with a towel and taking the plunger outside, but he must have been worried about it all night, because he insisted on finding it first thing the next morning. We read books about bathing, I made bathtub paints for him to play with in the tub, he took one bath with daddy since the CLOG (he won't do it again), we tried bubbles, we tried talking about it. How can we get him to take baths again? stinky's mommy

I can totally relate to what you are going through. My son became terrified of the bathtub right about the same time as yours. What set him off was washing his hair. Some of the water ran down his face and over his nose by accident. Anyway, like you we tried everything and finaly gave up traditional baths. I couldn't handle the screaming and crying at the mere turning on of the water. My Dr. said that at about 18 mo. they become aware that the water can block their breathing and some kids respond this way. She said it was really common.

What worked for us was to introduce water play outside the bathroom (with a water table in the yard). He LOVED this. Eventually we began to water play in the bathroom sink. Then one day, I tossed the toys from the sink into the tub. He got in. I turned on the water with just a trickle. When he didn't cry, I put in the stopper - and before he knew it, he was taking a shallow bath. He had so much fun he took 2 baths that day.

But I have to say that the whole process took about 6 months. During that time I sponge bathed him on the diaper station. Then I would wash his hair once a week while he was in the high chair by spritzing his hair wet, then a very light shampoo, using a small cup to rinse the soap out (I would lay a towel down around his shoulders. Of course he still cried but not nearly as much as when he was in the tub).

I read my son bathing books, too. I would suggest you continue doing this even though the results aren't immediate. Give the positive message time to sink in. Besides, It's about a year since he has been back in the tub and he still likes those books - 'Does and Elephant Take a Bath?' is one of his favorites. melissa

20-month-old's Intense Bubble Fear Ruining Bathtime!?!

Nov 2012

We have the strangest situation, and we're hoping parents who've been there will have some ideas for us. A couple months ago, we saw some kids playing with bubbles at the mall, and brought our daughter (now 20 months) closer to watch. She touched one of the bubbles, and when it popped, we discovered it wasn't a normal, soapy bubble, but some gross plasticky material that stuck to her finger after it popped. She got really stressed out by having the bubble membrane stuck to her finger. Ever since that day, she has become increasingly terrified of bubbles in the bath. Bath time used to be soooo much fun for us: she used to love the bubbles we made on our hands and on her body when we washed, and we would splash and laugh and goof off the whole time. Now, she freaks out when she sees bubbles in the tub or on her body or hands, and even starts to panic when the soapy film drifts across the surface of the water. I've tried just calmly teaching her that there are good bubbles, which pop and then go away, and bad bubbles, which are sticky, and that we only have good bubbles in the bath tub. I also show her how the soap film disappears when we move the water around a little, and then I would start up one of the games we usually play to try to distract her from focusing on bubbles and soap scum. I was hoping that some calm, repeated reassurance coupled with reminding her of all the fun we have in the bath would help this fall quickly by the wayside. Instead, her fear just seems to be worsening, and tonight's bath was a screaming nightmare for everyone involved. I had no idea that one tiny incident at the mall could turn something that was so joyful before into such a source of stress. I'm really heartbroken about it, because we had been so careful to make sure bath time was always a positive experience for her, and now it feels like that's gone. How have other families successfully dealt with fears that seem to take on a life of their own like this one has? And what can we do to reclaim bath time? sad little ducky

Just drop it for a while! My two-year-old used to love all animals until a cow started mooing right in front of him. He was so scared that he would wet his pants coming closer to one for a year-and-a-half after that. Even on my arms he would freak out leaving the parking lot at Little Farm in anticipation of the cows ahead of us.

We love Little Farm, but we didn't go for over a year. Then about 18 months later we went camping and found out that our booked site was right next to a field with cows. My husband and I were ready to pack up the kids and the stuff and turn around, but he was fine! He just turned 6 today and LOVES all animals and doesn't even remember the cow-fear!

So my advice is, just let it go! Bathe her in warm soapy- but not foamy- water. Use a wash cloth and some baby wash or regular soap, and put the bubbles away. She will most likely not hate them for the rest of her live! mom of three-who all had their fears

The good thing about this kind of fear at this age is that it will pass. In the meantime, why not skip the soap at bathtime, or use a soap that doesn't make bubbles, or just use the tiniest amount of soap only on strategic areas? When my son was having dry skin, the pediatrician told me to skip the soap at bathtime, and that worked out just fine. I think Dr. Bronner's soap doesn't have so many bubbles; there are probably some other options at a natural foods store.

Why not give your daughter a bath in water, with minimal soap? Even just a bit of soap on a washcloth that you use to wipe her body, so no soapy filmy residue. She can then encounter bubbles once more when she is older and when she may be over her phobia. I know bubbles can seem part of the routine but kids can love bath without bubbles too. Best of luck with this. a mom

2 thoughts: can't really be sure the mall incident is behind it all. Could just be a phase with various other contributing factors. Either way, it will probably change eventually. Likely just when you give up trying to understand it all And, in the meantime, just don't use soap for awhile! My babes just bathe in warm water, wipe down with a washcloth. And once a week I wash their hair, but the California Baby soap isn't sudsy and a little goes a long way with this schedule (which is good 'cause its spendy). No bubbles necessary, and their sensitive skin seems much happier. Bubble-free baths

Your story is so sad... I can't really give you some advice but you sound very comforting and patient to me. I think, these qualities will help your daughter finally to get over the trauma she has experienced. She'll need some time. You could try to bath her without bubbles for the moment (in my experience, kids of this age usually don't get so dirty that you need lots of soap) and than carefully reintroduce her to soaps, e.g. by giving her the bottles or a small sample and let her play with them. Good luck! vera

My daughter developed a disdain for teeth brushing after months of happy brushing when she was about the same age as your daughter. Someone recommended that we cut out tooth paste for several months and give her a chance to forget about it. We then returned to tooth paste a few months later and bought a kid friendly one.

I'm wondering if you could eliminate soap all together in the tub for a few months. We didn't use soap on our daughter for about a year because of her eczema and she was still a pretty clean baby. Then bath time could return to being a happy experience for a while. Good luck. anonymous

My daughter developed a disdain for teeth brushing after months of happy brushing when she was about the same age as your daughter. Someone recommended that we cut out tooth paste for several months and give her a chance to forget about it. We then returned to tooth paste a few months later and bought a kid friendly one.

I'm wondering if you could eliminate soap all together in the tub for a few months. We didn't use soap on our daughter for about a year because of her eczema and she was still a pretty clean baby. Then bath time could return to being a happy experience for a while. Good luck. anonymous

How hard for you all to be dealing with this - especially for such an extended length of time! Have you tried just laying off the soap completely for a while (a week or two) and seeing if that can get her back in the groove with enjoying her baths? also perplexed by kids' sudden fears

Why do you need to have bubbles in the bath anyway? She's only 20 months.

My daughter went through a phase of hating bath bubbles as a toddler,no idea why. I just gave her baths sans bubbles. It was fine.

Why force it on your daughter? She's too young for you to reason with, and kids get to control so little. Trying to force bubbles on a screaming 20 month old seems unnecessary.

If you really need to wash with soap, do it quickly and rinse it off without plugging the tub. Then let her have her bath with clean water. Indulge her it's not a big deal

Alright, mama. It is clear that you made too big a deal of this and it is seeping into your child's reaction. It is also clear that this is your first child and you are a first time mom. You are hovering, and turning a molehill into a mountain. Before you get too defensive, look back at your own post: ''some GROSS plasticky material'', ''there are good bubbles and bad bubbles'', ''I'm heartbroken'', ''this positive experience now feels like it's gone''. Seriously, you are way over-reacting to this.

I imagine that when the first ''traumatic'' bubble incident happened, you made a big deal comforting her, talking to her in baby talk, and playing into her drama. Seriously, you need to chill out a bit, and just shower with her until this whole things blows over. It will. But you need to stop making this into some big, dramatic, trauma - its no big deal. Take her in the shower with you for a few weeks until she gets over it. But please, stop treating her like a delicate princess flower that will break if you squeeze her too hard - that is way more damaging to her long term than being assaulted by a terrible bubble. reasonable, no-drama mama

seems like the obvious solution is to not use bubbles at bath time. bubbles are not a necessary component of a fun bath. anon

Why don't you just forget about any bubbles for now? At her age, your daughter will do fine just washing with water. She's not so dirty that she needs to be scrubbed! Give her time to enjoy the bath again and when she feels ready she may ask for bubbles again. Sara

20-month-old is terrified of bathing

July 2002

My 20-month-old son has always had an extraordinary, intense fear of bathing. I looked in the archives, but all the posts about bath fear were situations so much milder that the advice doesn't help me. They were all about a ''phase'' of bath fear in a kid who had been fine --- my child has always, always responded to bathing as though we were about to flay him alive. (I did recently find one photograph from when he was tiny of the two of us in the bath together, but I think I remember that moment: he had momentarily exhausted himself from screaming, so we thought ''quick - take a picture!'') The suggestions offered - bathe with him; try the shower instead, get fun bath toys, make the water cooler - we've tried all that.

It's not skin sensitivity - he loves to be tickled and touched. He's not at all a fearful child -- comfortable in crowds, happy to be babysat, in general really brave and cheerful and open to new experiences. Nothing really bad has ever happened to him. It's not even really the water, I think - he likes to help me water the garden with a hose, and fill up a little bucket, and if as part of that experience he accidentally splashes himself, even on the head, he laughs and does it again. Is there a word for a phobia about bathtubs?

His doctor says that so long as his skin seems healthy and he doesn't smell bad, just don't bathe him! So, fine, we don't... but then once every three or four weeks he gets jam in his hair, like he did this morning, and we really have no choice. We do it as quick as we can, with a hand-held shower head, and he clings to my body with all four limbs and screams and trembles and begs to be released (one shaking hand does the sign language for ''all done'' while he sobs into my shoulder...)

So I'm wondering if there's anyone out there who's had this experience with their child - even if just to tell me that it doesn't go away until they're six -- but mostly I'm hoping for some tips on how to make it tolerable. I don't need to ''cure'' him, or even know why (it's enough to make a person wonder about past lives...) but if there were a way to make the occasional unavoidable bath less of a terrible betrayal of trust, that would be really great.

As the summer heats up, I've begun speculating about getting a wading pool and experimenting in the front yard, but I just don't know.... Alyson

Our son went through possibly more than one fear-of-bath phases. I recall one instance where my husband just got him wet and cleaned as fast as possible then took him out of the tub. There was an entire period where he would allow us to bathe him only if he could keep his clothes on. We went along with it until he outgrew it. In your son's case, if you don't mind not bathing him but need to wash his hair, why not allow him to stay out of the tub but hang his head over while you pour water over his head and lather his hair? Will he allow that? Fran

My daughter has been terrified of bathing for one year. She would scream every time until the bath was over. When she was one we went on vacation to visit my parents. They had a baby pool in the backyard with various toys. She was not afraid to be in the pool. We took the toys with us and we put them in her bathtub. She did not scream anymore and loves the bath since then. The baby pool is worth a try. Alessandra

21-month-old's bathtub phobia

April 2003

We have used up all our current crop of ideas for how to help our twenty-one month old son overcome his debilitating fear of the bath. He used to love the bath, the pool, the ocean -- all water. Then about three months ago he started self-toilet training, and at the same time he developed a hysterical fear of the bathtub. I think the two are connected because he figured out how to control the stream of his urine while standing up in the bathtub. He now uses the potty a few times a day (not under any pressure, and he uses his diapers as well). But he will not get into the bathtub under any inducement. We've tried repeatedly to reintroduce him to the bath with these ploys:

baths with friends his age; baths with his parents; playing with bath toys in the water while standing outside the tub; letting him give mama or dad a bath; letting him tell the parent running the bath ''no hot'' (he expresses fear that the bath is hot); bathing him in a plastic bucket on the porch; showering; reading bath books; I've even told him the bath is water not pee-pee (just in case he was confused) and we tasted the bath water together. We have left him alone for a couple weeks at a time, just giving him the occasional sponging down with a washcloth. But once in a while he gets really filthy and needs a more thorough soaking, and then he is inconsolably hysterical (screaming with intense fear) until he is out of the bathtub and dried off. Yet he loves water outside the bathtub, and happily plays with any muddy puddle he can discover. And I don't think its a fear of going down the drain, because our drain is hidden, and he is not at all afraid of flushing the toilet while he is sitting on it!

Has anyone else been able to help their child with an intense bath phobia in a way different than those I've outlined? We used to love taking baths together in the good old days, and I would like to have a thorough cleaning be a more than once- monthly routine. Rachel

I have never personally dealt with this issue but I know several kids who developed bath phobia. My main observation was that for the kids who were allowed to avoid baths, this did not go away. For example, I have an absolutely filthy four year old nephew. He was and still is allowed to go eons without coming near water and he has never gotten used to it. I also have a few friends who lovingly made their kids face their fears and the issue seemed to go away with time. But this is a small sample! Elizabeth

I missed your original message and only saw someone's response, so my apologies if I've missed some of the nuances of your problem.

Our two-year-old developed a huge fear of the bathtub at the beginning of the year. We figured out that he was terrified of the shower -- we have a detachable hand-held shower head that I was using it to rinse his hair when I couldn't rinse it out otherwise. Every time I turned off the water at the bath spout, he thought it meant that the shower would come on and he would leap out. It got to the point where he wouldn't go in the tub at all.

I ended up consulting a couple different parenting books about toddler fears, and it seemed like forcing the issue (using the tub) would be counterproductive as would avoiding it (not taking a bath) all together. We wanted to help him confront his fears in a nonthreatening way.

So we started bathing him in the kitchen sink. Luckily, he did accept the change of venue once we convinced him there was no shower in the vicinity. In the meantime, we talked a lot about the bathtub with him, invited him to watch us take showers, and even had him ''help'' me take a couple baths. After about a month, we started asking him where he wanted to take a bath, in the kitchen or in the bathtub. He still chose the kitchen, but was aware he had a choice. A couple times he chose the bathtub, but changed his mind.

The transition back to the tub wasn't easy. We managed to convince him to go into the bathtub with the lure of bubbles (the kind you blow). The first couple of forays back in the tub were extremely tentative. Also, for two weeks straight, one of us had to be in the bath with him blowing bubbles. We also made a point of saying ''bye bye shower'' every time we filled the bath so that he knew we won't be using it. It's been about two months since he's back in the tub and he seems to have forgotten all about his original fear.

Hope this helps, Teresa

I did not see the original post - but my (now) 3 yr. old daughter had a serious fear of the bathtub for about a year starting at around 18 mos. She would scream like a banshee any time she got near the tub, and I would get so scared and worried by the level of her fear that for a while I just stood her on a few towels and gave her sponge baths. We tried talking it through, going slow - explaining that she wouldn't go down the drain - to no avail - What finally did the trick was actually a pretty simple solution - we put her smaller old infant tub INSIDE the big bathtub and filled that one with water - she had no problems at all splashing around in her ''boat.'' Eventually we filled the big tub and the little tub and she would go in and out of the little one until one day we didn't need it any more - I guess that was just her ''training tub.'' Good Luck, mom of a clean kiddo

All 3 of my 4 kids have gone through this (and I suspect the 1yo will hit it as well) around age 2. I simply stopped doing baths - simply doing ''monkey'' baths (cleanup with washcloth) and never forced this issue. all 3 grew out of their phobia. i will warn you however, our 3.5yo still has an intense phobia about hair washing due to a ''forced'' hairwashing her father gave her years ago.

My advice- don't force it. Allow him to play/splash/shower/whatever means he finds pleasurable - and do not force bathe him. I would advise you to take a nightly bath - to clean yourself ) and model a fun bathtime. Me, I'd LOVE a nice soak at the end of the day! ) Kathy

24-month-old fears hair in the bathtub

I also have a fear of the bath question of sorts. My 24-month old daughter suddenly developed a fear of fuzz or hair in the bathtub about a month ago. We thought she would get over it, but it has only gotten worse. Whereas she used to just scream, Help, help, there's a hair in the bath, and then resume her bath once we had scooped out the offending hair or piece of fuzz, now she immediately starts screaming, There's hair in my bath, I want to get out please! almost ast soon as we put her into the tub. She seems traumatized for several minutes after we take her out of the bath. I have no idea how to handle this. I clean the tub carefully before her bath, but somehow something, usually a doghair, ends up in the bathtub, and she notices it before I do. Bubblebaths help, but I've heard that these can encourage UTI's, so I only give her bubblebaths occasionally. Any suggestions? Is she too young for showers? I don't want to cause permanent psychological damage by subjecting her to this trauma each night...

Showers work, though probably you or your partner will need to shower with her. I thought my daughter was the only one with extreme annoyance with hairs in the tub. The other thing is that little kids don't need daily baths and if twice a week is all she can handle, you can take care of the rest by spot cleaning her with baby wipes.

This is for the parent with the child who is afraid of hair in the bathtub: I don't have any experience with your child's particular fear, but our son, now two, has been showering with us since he was seven months old, and takes baths only when visiting grandparents or for a special treat. While we had to watch him closely at first, to make sure he didn't slip, and have had to be extra vigilant since he discovered that the slope of our bathtub resembles a slide, we have had no problems showering with him and find it neater (no splashing) and more fun for everyone, since a parent gets to participate too.

Our kids took showers with us when they were babies, and then on their own. We have always left to them whether to choose a shower or a bath when it is time to wash. Your daughter might like to try showering if she is afraid of the bath. Just be sure that there is a good mat to prevent slipping, and be prepared for a lot of water on the floor if the shower isn't enclosed. If she is reluctant at first, you might consider going for a swim at a local pool that has showers in the locker room so she can noodle around in the shower without associating it with the dreaded bath. The pool at the MLK Jr. High on Hopkins has (or at least used to have) family swim times and a big communal shower area.

27-month-old won't go near the bath

Our 27-month-old daughter until a week ago loved the bath. Now, she won't go near it. After a week, she has gotten kind of grubby, particularly her hair. I have read the website for past advice and am seeking some more if anyone has anything to add to it. We have asked her if she wants to take a bath with either of us and she says no. I put one of her dolls in the bath as a new toy kind of thing, but she didn't want any part of that, either. I am fearful that I may have provoked this one night recently when it was getting really late and although she wanted to take a bath, I told her it was too late and she'd have to take it tomorrow. Now, all she says is tomorrow when we approach her for bath time. So, it sure seems to be my fault and I'm not sure how to fix the problem. Thanks for any advice you can give to help get my daughter to love the bath again.

Perhaps a different approach might be in order...instead of encouraging your daughter to take a bath, maybe you could suggest a new adventure into the rainforest of the shower??? My son has been a shower baby since he was about 6 months old. He takes baths occasionally and thinks of them as big treats. Maybe since your daughter has been a bath baby, she might find the shower an exciting switch? She might feel more comfortable never being submerged in water, and as long as Mom or Dad stands in the spray, baby can play in relative dryness at the end of the shower. heather

2.5-years old scared of post-swim shower

Nov 2009

Hello, My 2.5-years old loves to take long bath but she's pretty scared of shower. We take her for swimming and after her class, she absolutely refuses to take shower. I generally end up dressing her up after the class without shower. Can you please let me know if there are any harmful side-effects by not giving her a shower after the class??? Please advice anon

I grew up literally drenched in chlorine and am just fine--I swam every day, all day, nonstop--I was the kid who slept in her swimsuit in order to leap out of bed and up to swim practice. I am sure that my hair took a beating then, but I was not a hair model at age 9. Sounds as if the key with your 2.5 year old is for her to enjoy swimming, right? I wouldn't force the shower and would make sure to use lotion or oil on her skin--get a yummy scent that she likes-- if she's African American make sure to condition her hair with oil or leave-on conditioner--and be done with the issue. Most adults aren't scared of showering. She'll grow up loving swimming.

Well, I never take post-swim showers for a number of reasons (modestly, hassles, etc) I don't expect my kids to take them either. We don't swim regularly, and we bathe later at home. This is just my anecdote - you should talk to your doctor about your particular health concerns (any pre-existing skin conditions for example). The only issues I know of in leaving chlorine-treated water to dry on skin/hair is a drying out situation. Mom of Two