bath time battles

Bath time battles – when bath time isn’t fun

Aoife Lee looks at the most common challenges parents face at bathtime.

Warm soapy bubble baths is a lovely way for a parent to spend an evening winding down.

However, when it becomes a battle ground with our children it’s an entire different experience. For many parents who are finding bath time stressful, the main issues for our children are often resistance to washing hair, getting water near their face and refusing point blank to get into the bath in the first place. Often it’s the feeling of dread that overwhelms both the parent and the child.

What’s most important is firstly to figure out what might be triggering their upset.  Did your child get a fright? Maybe they had a slip in under the water, or a tricky hair washing situation where water or soap got into their eyes, nose, mouth and ears. What you might be seeing as the suggestion of bath time approaches, your child getting really upset for what you think comes from nowhere.

What all parents want is bathtime to be part of what’s often the bedtime routine, we want it to be fun for our child and an opportunity for them to relax while feeling fresh and clean! So what can we do to ensure that bathtime becomes a less stressful and happier experience for mums and children?

The good news is that the more we reassure our children the more their bathtime fear will begin to fade.

Be patient – Go at their pace

Firstly be as patient as you can be. I know there’s a task at hand however if you go at their pace and are relaxed this can gently encourage positive feelings about bathtime.

We can do this by either starting off allowing them play in the bath (without water) with their clothes on as this gives them the feeling of being in the bath environment with little or no stress.

Another stepping stone can be filling the shower basin up with water, so that they can sit in the shallow waters with their favourite toys while also having a wash. Sometimes getting into the bath with them can help and can also be fun for both parent and child.

Make it fun with a bubble mountain

You can introduce lots of fun activities that make being in the water more comfortable. Distractions can be great fun such as novelty facecloths and waterproof books to water crayons, which allow our children to write and draw all over the bathroom tiles and bath but are easy to clean off afterwards.

Alternatively, you can get kiddie’s foam that creates lots of clean mess and fun too! If they continue to show resistance create a ‘bubble mountain’. This is where your child blows into a straw while in warm soapy water; this blowing automatically builds a mountain of suds, the activity itself provides two things; the sheer excitement and fun as well as the blowing which allows the entire body to calm.

This is great for children who are old enough to understand not suck the straw. What we’re trying to create is positive associations with water and being in the bath while moving away from the anxiety that has been created over a period of time.

Tackling the hair wash

This is one of the most common challenges parents have at bath time. Your child may be happy as Larry in the bath; however, when it comes to having water near their face, it can often trigger a reflex fear of their face being submerged in the water.

So, what can we do to make it easier? If your child has got short hair, use a spray bottle with a nozzle or a container that has a controlled flow.

Alternatively, you should use a plastic pitcher with a rubber lip that rests on your child’s forehead while you pour the water over their head. This prevents the water from going in their eyes.

Another idea is to hold a facecloth firmly over their eyes while they direct their head ‘right up to the sky’.

Finally, it is important to note, fussing at bath time is very common, and although at the time we may never see the end it’s more often than not a phase that we need to support our children through.

More like this:

Baby bath basics
Top 5 newborn skin concerns
20 tips for separation anxiety

Ask Tracey

Midwife Tracey Donegan answers your questions about pregnancy and birth

Q When should I have my first pregnancy scan? And how many scans should I get throughout my pregnancy?

Your first scan is known as your dating scan and is routine in all hospitals. Most mums will have this scan at their booking visit, which can be anywhere between 12-18 weeks. The earlier the scan the more accurate it will be. If you have experienced recurrent miscarriages some hospitals will scan you earlier. Contact your antenatal clinic for more information. In Ireland, most women will have two scans in a healthy pregnancy – a dating scan and an anomaly scan at around 20 weeks. However, some units provide a dating scan only. Private scans are also available in most cities and many parents use these services for additional reassurance and to find out the sex of their baby.


Ask Allison

Q My sister-in-law and I both work three-day weeks and we help each
other out with child minding on our working days, which up until recently has worked out really well. Between us, our kids are aged between five and nine years – the problem is that it’s now become quite apparent that we have very different parenting styles. I prefer my two daughters (seven and nine) to have a structured day. For example, in my house, we have allocated times for television and iPads, etc. My sister-in-law, however, lets the kids run loose after school – homework is ignored and my kids end up wired after eating sugary treats all afternoon. I am considering looking at after-school childcare for the kids, but I’m worried that this is going to cause a family argument. Is there a diplomatic way that I can ask my sister-in-law to introduce some discipline into her child-minding days? It certainly doesn’t do her two kids any harm when I am minding them in my own house!

In a word, no, there is no diplomatic way to do this as it may very likely seem like your saying that your parenting style is better than
hers. As L’Óreal says, ‘now here comes the science bit.’ Dr. Kaylene
Henderson, a child psychiatrist, wrote a very interesting blog about ‘the
science behind the Mummy Wars’. She explains that before she had
children of her own she hadn’t been aware of how parents have a
very specific sense of the right parenting style. She also found that parents could be very definite in defending their chosen parenting style. Dr. Henderson, who describes herself as a curious, scientific, open-minded person, was surprised at how defensive parents could be and, at times, of their judgemental attitude towards each other. She explained the neurology of the Mummy Wars; okay, I’ll need you to bear with me for a second. Warning; I’m about to use some neuro-techie language.

Why do we judge each other?
As we have all had different experiences, this means that we all have very different memories stored in our brains. Most of our memories are ‘explicit’ memories – these are ones that we can recall easily such as important dates that mean something to us; important birthdays, special events or stories of and about our lives.
There is another type of memory called ‘implicit’ memory that plays a
key role in our parenting. This type of memory is the stuff that you do on autopilot. Psychologists call these heuristics or rules of thumb –
such as tying your shoelace, or driving your car (once you have learnt
to do both first!). Otherwise we’d really waste a huge amount of time
pondering over tasks that we have readily available to us. This seems to be where the science bit of our parenting style kicks in. This implicit memory goes all the way back to when you were an infant being parented by your parents. This is when you started the process of storing up how they did it into your memories.
Unless you make a conscious choice and effort to parent differently, what you saw and unconsciously learnt will be your automatic go-to parenting style.

We learn habits
This can really kick into gear when we feel our parenting style is
being mirrored or highlighted by disapproval from another parent. I know the cold sweat you feel when your child decides to make their outstanding bad behaviour performance at, of course, the most public and worst time. The implicit autopilot of how your parents dealt with these outbursts will flow unconsciously from you if you haven’t worked super hard to be aware and consciously change the old habits.
What’s happening for the on-looking parent is that they see you doing something they are used to doing, but you are doing it all wrong. Simply, because that is not how they know how to do it.

Find a way that works
You both have different parenting styles – who is to say which type is correct? You just need to know what works best for your family and that’s the bottom line. The irksome feelings won’t go away. You can talk to your sister-in-law, but I’m adding a caveat that it would be hard not to hurt her feelings. What we’re possibly looking at is that you prefer a more structured form of parenting, whereas your sister-in-law has a more permissive style. I’m not sure the two styles can mix, the mixture is a bit like oil and water.
If a collaborative shared form of parenting style can be agreed upon, then that is great, but our learnt hardwiring may prove difficult to change despite the intent to do so.
Perhaps, your own instinct of changing childcare might work best for you. In terms of making childcare work; the fit is ultimately the most
important aspect as you want a cohesive congruent feeling of the other caregiver to just ‘getting it’, like in any good partnership. Best of luck
with this and I wish you both well.