Establishing consistent routines helps children anticipate expected behaviors and develop a feeling of security. One thing that will help make preparing for bedtime more pleasant is a good bath time routine.
You may decide to only bathe your toddler 2-3 times a week to keep him clean, but a nightly bath is a relaxing opportunity to spend quality time with a child.
A bath at the end of the day can calm a fussy child down and help him or her relax. On the other hand, a morning bath works best for some people’s busy schedules.
Giving your baby a bath while it is in a good mood is important. “Avoid bathing it when he or she is overtired or hungry,” says Rachel Waddilove, author of The Baby Book: How To Enjoy Year One (2016).
If baths are conducted in the same manner at the same time every evening, children will look forward to them, expecting to have a parent’s undivided attention. The better organized you are and committed to a schedule, the easier bath time will go.
Think about how you prepare to bathe a child. If you are rushed and disorganized, the experience will feel chaotic. The child will enjoy a bath more if you are relaxed and enjoying it too. Here is the best routine for bathing a child.
Regardless of the age of the child, avoid using soap, because regular soap can dry out the skin. Instead, use a gentle non-soap cleanser. Do not use antibacterial washes; however, as they can contribute to antibiotic resistance. You can read more about antibacterial washes.
There are many good non-soap skin cleaners for children available. Many are also made for washing their hair. We recommend you use a detangling rinse or conditioner, so combing out tangles is not painful. Choosing a bath wash with a lavender scent can also help relax a child.
Safely bathing a baby or toddler
If you are a new parent, bathing a child can be intimidating. You do not want to bathe a baby in a bathtub until they are old enough to sit up. You can use a safe non-soap cleanser and a wet washcloth and wipe them down from head to toe.
Be sure the water is warm and start with the baby’s head, being certain not to overlook behind its ears and in the folds of its neck. Formula or milk can often settle in these creases and irritate the skin.
As you wipe down the baby’s arms, legs, torso, and bottom, be sure to rinse gently with warm water and quickly wrap the baby in a towel to dry them and keep them warm.
A bath is usually a very pleasant experience for children, once they get used to being wet. It helps to keep the bathroom warm and to work quickly so the baby isn’t chilled. Babies love to look in mirrors.
If you put the baby on a towel, a foam cushion, or in a bassinette on a sink counter, they can look at the “baby in the mirror” while you bathe them. Keep talking or singing to the baby as you bathe it. Any baby looks forward to hearing a caregiver’s voice and to have their undivided attention.
As children age and can sit up by themselves, you will want to start bathing them in a bathtub. Just because they can sit up does not mean they can be left alone, though. Bath safety is still very important.
Here are some tips to keep your toddler safe at bath time:
- Make sure to always keep your child within arm’s reach. Never leave the child alone in a bathtub.
- Stay off the phone. Leave your telephone in the other room until bath time is over.
- Get everything ready in advance – towel, washcloth, clean diaper, and clean pajamas. This will prevent you from needing to leave your child to find it when you need it.
- Only fill the bath to your toddler’s belly-button height. Two-three inches of water is plenty.
- Check the temperature of the water so that it is not too hot or too cold.
- Apply a small amount of bath wash to the washcloth and rub it gently over the child’s arms, legs, face, neck, and torso. Rinse thoroughly, being sure not to get any bath wash in the child’s eyes. Most bath washes can also be used to wash the child’s hair. Rinse the hair with water as well and apply either a conditioner or a detangling solution and rinse again carefully.
- Let the water out of the tub, and carefully lift the child out. Do not let the child stand up and crawl out of the tub unless they are tall enough to step over the side by themselves. Wet children are very slippery and can easily fall without help.
- Dry the child with a towel. Be sure to dry their hair with the towel and comb it so that it will not be tangled when it dries.
- Children can drown in a few seconds in only a couple of inches of water. NEVER leave a child alone in a bathtub unsupervised.
How to help a child overcome their fears of a bath
Some children are afraid of taking baths. Here are some ideas to help children overcome those fears:
- Some children are afraid of the sound of rushing water. You can help reduce this fear by filling the bathtub with water before the child enters the bathroom.
- Some children are afraid of being pulled down the drain. Have your child help fill up the bathtub and bathe a waterproof toy or doll. When you’re done, leave the toy in the water and unplug the drain, then watch together to show that the toy does not get sucked away. Remind your child that he or she is much larger than the toy!
- Encourage children to play and put their faces in the water and blow bubbles, with adult supervision.
You can read more about these and other activities for bath time.
Bath time equals fun time
Baths should be fun. Toys make bath time rituals a learning experience as well. Even simple household items like measuring cups and wooden spoons can be safely played within the tub.
Foam letters and numbers that stick to the tub walls are great for spelling and sorting activities. Any plastic floating toy becomes a pirate ship or a submarine, encouraging imagination and language development during a bath.
Massage is a great way to bond, improve the condition of your baby’s skin and boost circulation. Stroke the child’s tummy to help him or her relax, using the three middle fingers to lightly circle around the abdomen in a clockwise direction. You can read further into massage in this British blog Mother and Baby.
A good bath time routine can be so much more than just getting clean. It is a chance to play, a chance to learn, and an opportunity to spend focused time with your child before bed. Enjoy!