Toddler Bathing 101

At some point, your baby will get too old for the infant tub.  Once baby can sit up well, bathe them sitting up in a large clear tupperware container—like a storage bin from Walmart or Target.  Put it inside the real tub and pull it away from the water controls after filling it so there’s no temptation.  This saves water, provides higher walls so more of the baby gets washed by just sitting there, and lets them sit and splash around without you worrying about them slipping all over your tub.  Or getting water everywhere.  Or hitting themselves on the faucet/side of tub.  Or without getting contaminated by whatever disgusting stuff grows in your tub!  If they poop in the water, a storage bin is easily cleaned and refilled.  Just wipe it down and swish some bleach around in there, and you’re all set.  You can add slip grips on the bottom (stickies or a mat) if you’re still worried about slipping.  And depending on the size, your preschooler may still like it.

Get the water all soapy with bubbles, make sure it’s not too hot or too deep (we drew a line on the tub with a permanent marker so everyone knew), and load it up with toys.  Older toddlers might like to wash or spray the walls with a squirter or spray bottle, and this is a great diversion for kids who would normally splash too much out of the tub.  Toy makers have some neat crayons and paint for bath walls that fill busy hands too.  We used to let our kids blow bubbles in the bath once they were 3 and reliable.  Make sure you have some kind of home for bath toys, or you can use the storage bin itself after you’re done.

You probably don’t have to sit there and watch the whole time once your toddler is fifteen months or so, but you should patrol frequently just in case.  Teach them not to stand up but to sit and splash with control.  Give them a cloth or sponge and teach them to wash themselves.  If you get them to do their own hair (around 2 years old), they won’t object as much when you do it.  Give them a couple times where you let them do it all by themselves even if they don’t do a good job.  They will inevitably get water in their own eyes, etc., and will probably be grateful when you take a turn next time.  Teach them to  swish own armpits, behind the ears, and private parts too.  (The latter mostly get washed just by sitting there).  Just FYI, don’t worry if they do some body exploring while they’re in there, as it’s just natural since they’re normally in clothes/diapers all day.  Distract with toys or soap bubbles if you think it’s too much.

We also used to add brushing the teeth to the bathroom routine because it fits the cleaning schema.  When our boys were little toddlers, I’d give them a wet toothbrush and they’d just chew it.   They didn’t bathe every day so they didn’t “brush” everyday, but that was ok because they didn’t eat junk.  Once they were potty-trained, I started bathing every day because I suspected their bums were dirtier than when I did the wiping ;-)  Then they started brushing every day too, and we started using toothpaste and all.  They were ready for more instruction by that time because they were habituated to the brush/cleaning idea.

An older baby (6-12 months) should still be supervised all the time while sitting, and their bath is still pretty quick and functional.  But somewhere around the 12-15 month mark, baths get more fun for them and they start wanting to take more time.  By age 3, our boys were taking around 30 or 35 minutes.  They needed much less supervision by that time, and I could read magazine or tend to the baby nearby until they told me they were ready to get out.  (Still no standing in the tub).

Get a mat so they don’t slip while getting out of the tub, and teach them to dry themselves while standing on it.  Get a sticky hook and teach them to hang up their own towel as soon as you can!  Towel bars are too hard, even for a four year old.

One person recently asked me if you should bathe a toddler in the diaper.  I’m assuming they having trouble with their baby pooping in the bath. Babies and toddlers poop in the bath because they feel relaxed. Plus the warm water can help the muscles around the rectum relax and make it feel soothing to push. If your child does this routinely (but not in his diaper), it could be a sign of constipation.  Add more fruit.

But first, don’t bathe after meals.  It’s so easy to bathe kids after dinner, but you’re asking for trouble.  First thing after breakfast is unwise too.  Try a random time in the middle of the day when you’re looking for something to do.

And even though it’s gross to poop in the bath, you still shouldn’t bathe your toddler in the diaper. If it’s clean, you waste a diaper. If it’s not, you don’t help the private areas which, of all places, need the most exposure to moving, soapy water. If the toddler is old enough, try putting him on the toilet first to see if he’ll pee or poop in it before going in. If he won’t, put him in the bath for a couple minutes and supervise him to see if he’s going to go. Then try putting him on the toilet for a minute if you’re suspicious (dry the bum first because he’s wet and slippery). If all else fails, use a swimmy diaper (which is made to be wet!) or some plastic pants which allow some water movement but will keep the bowel from going everywhere. (You can empty it in the toilet.)

If you’re worried about just peeing, I wouldn’t. It’s normal for children to pee in their tub and it’s probably not a big deal as long as you use a lot of water. I know it seems gross but as long as you’re not washing their hair in it, just soap up the tub and let her rip! Wash their hair directly from the faucet.  One thing I did with my little toddler boys who used the tupperware container for their tub was to strip them down and let them stand inside the real tub watching their little one fill up. They’d almost always pee while doing this but that was ok because it just went down the big tub drain. Then I could put them in their little one without worrying too much.

Incidentally, watching you pour their bowel into the toilet (if they poop in the tupperware tub) can be good toilet-training knowledge.

What else can I say?  You are probably a pro at baths by now.   If you have more questions, just comment below.


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