Q. A few weeks ago, we put our little girl of 18 months in a bath that was probably a bit hot for her. Ever since she seems to be afraid of getting in the bath and cries uncontrollably. Do you have any suggestions on how to get around this?
A. Given your daughter’s fear it can be helpful to take a break from using the bath and to find other ways of keeping her clean for the moment (for example, using a cloth and basin or a shower if she will tolerate this). When reintroducing her to the bath it is best to do it gradually and to only proceed at her pace.
You could start with the preliminary steps of sitting her in front of a basin of soapy water with a sponge and some toys so she can get comfortable with washing her hands, splashing and having fun. You could then get her used to sitting in the bath, but initially without any water, and letting her play with the bath toys. You could then give her jugs of warm water which she can pour into the bath, so she is in charge of how quickly she wants to fill the bath.
If it is hard for her to make the step of getting in the bath, you could get in first so she can see that all is okay. Then you could have your partner around to help her climb in and when she is ready, you can hold her securely on your lap and slowly introduce her into the water at her pace. Let her test the water with her hand and even give her the option of getting out again for a moment.
Often, the most important thing is to manage your own level of anxiety and expectation. If you are stressed and worried about the bath, then this will fuel her worries. Make sure to use a warm reassuring tone of voice – perhaps even sing some favourite songs as she gets into the water. It can also really help to distract her with some special toys that she can only use in the bath such as bath crayons, mirrors, water wheels or whatever else makes her keen and interested.
Preparation is the key to making the restart of bath time go well. Make sure you have towels and clothes ready, the room at a nice temperature and your partner on hand to help, and so on. The more prepared you are, the more relaxed you will be and the more you will be able to reassure and be present with your daughter – this will all help her relax and enjoy the experience.
Dr. John Sharry, Irish Times, March 2011. John writes in The Irish Times Health+ every Tuesday.