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Sound Advice, expert advice on bath time, iStock illustration

Sound Advice: My Child Hates to Take a Bath—What Can I Do?

Your parenting questions and dilemmas, solved

We asked DFWChild Mom-Approved Pediatrician Dr. Mansi Lalwani, of Baylor Scott & White Family Health Center – Mesquite, to weigh in on what to do when your child hates bath time, how often kids really need to bathe, and more tips for getting them clean. 

Dr Mansi Lalwani, photo courtesy of Baylor Scott & White, Sound Advice - Bath time
Dr. Mansi Lalwani, photo courtesy of Baylor Scott & White

Q: “My kid hates to take a bath. Is it really so bad to skip a day?”

Dr. Mansi Lalwani: Guidelines for how often a child should bathe are based on age and activity level. For newborns, we recommend sponge baths for the first few days of life, until their umbilical cord falls off and their belly button looks dry and healthy. After that, you can bathe them two to three times a week; about 5–10 minutes is enough. We usually recommend fragrance-free, color-free, gentle soaps for them.

Toddlers and young kids should bathe at least two or three times per week. I would recommend daily baths if your child has been very active, playing in the dirt, or swimming. If they are very cranky or tired and would like to skip a day, that’s OK. Just do a quick wipe of the dirty areas—such as the face, underarms and groin—with a wet towel, and make sure they wash their hands with soap and water.

Make Bath Time Fun

Little ones are more likely to come on board with bath time when it’s fun and interesting. Kids love listening to stories, singing songs and playing with waterproof toys. Make sure that you clean bath toys regularly since they can develop mold, which can be harmful to a child’s health. Also, pediatricians generally recommend against bubble baths. That’s because soap is an irritant, and exposure of soap to the privates can result in vulvovaginitis. This often presents as burning and pain during urination or itching in the privates. If your child has these symptoms, consult your pediatrician immediately.

Comfortable and Safe Baths

To avoid dry skin, use warm water instead of hot (about 98–100 degrees is recommended, and get a water thermometer or dip in your wrist or elbow to check the temperature). Use gentle, fragrance-free soaps, and limit time in the water to 10–15 minutes. Gently pat kids dry instead of rubbing with the towel. Finally, moisturize them using unscented lotions and creams.

Of course, supervise bath time for babies and young children, especially under age 5. Get everything—towel, clean clothes, etc.—ready in advance so you can stay there throughout the bath. Additionally, keep hazardous items (razors, hair dryers, radios) out of your child’s reach. Never leave older siblings to supervise—they don’t have the skills to see and react to an emergency.

When are Showers an Option?

You may be wondering about showers. There is no magic age to make the transition; instead, follow your child’s cues: Are they able to follow your instructions? Can they stand steady in the shower? Would water falling on their head or soap getting into their eyes cause them to panic? When to transition to take a shower will depend on your assessment of their cognitive and motor skills. Start with supervised showers. Also, consider installing handholds, make sure shower doors are shatterproof, and use slip-resistant mats.

I recommend parents provide kids a laminated card with step-by-step bathing instructions. For example, wet hair; add shampoo; rinse shampoo; get soap; wash neck, then torso, arms, legs, genitals; rinse off soap. Giving them a clearly defined routine will help them learn what’s expected and teach them how to wash themselves independently.

Once kids hit puberty, they should bathe daily. Tweens and teens should wash their face twice a day to remove oil and dirt, and it’s also recommended they take a bath or shower after swimming, playing sports or sweating heavily.

This article was originally published in April 2022.

Top illustration: iStock