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Our 2.5-year-old daughter used to love baths, playing in the pool and just playing with water. Now, she is terrified to bathe. It is a battle to even get her in the tub, let alone to try and clean her or wash her hair. She screams and cries with tears when I try; I try to explain that she needs to be cleaned, but she just freaks out.

I have 2 other children and never had a problem like this with them. They may not like water over their face, but they love bath time and have gotten used to water sometimes going over their faces. I don't know what to do. She has become very emotional in general. Nothing I have tried is working. Please I would love to hear some new things to try!

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What I have found most effective is to teach them a coping mechanism, something active to do so they don't feel helpless, and give them plenty of time to employ it. For example:

Okay, some water is coming. Close your eyes and mouth tightly so it won't get in!

Kids often cry because they're scared of water getting in their mouth, which sort of creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. Other things that have helped my kids at one time or another:

  • Getting a bath chair to help them feel more secure. Or let them stand up.
  • Use tearless shampoo.
  • Let them choose their own temperature. One of my daughters likes the water much cooler than I'm accustomed to.
  • Give them more control. Let them do their own washing and rinsing as much as practical.
  • Keep calm myself.

Unfortunately, sometimes there's not much you can do other than getting it over with as soon as possible. That stage will pass like any other, though.

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    These are great suggestions. I'd only add considering a sponge bath (damp washcloth) in cases when a bath is going to turn into a big problem -- kid gets clean without much fuss, and very little water is involved. – Acire Dec 2 '14 at 17:54
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    I did the same as you suggested, just letting the kids have their own time in the bath, I just supervised and made sure they were fine. I'd wash their hair last, cause you know they mess it up anyway, then get water to pour over them using the "close your eyes and mouth" line you suggest. It got easier over time, but nothing I did would break the habit, just get used to phases your child has to work out of on their own time frame, not yours. – MichaelF Dec 2 '14 at 18:15
  • It helped with our toddler to give her a beaker to slosh water over her toy rubber duck before we did the same to her. If there are soap bubbles on the duck, she finds it quite funny and doesn't mind quite so much when the same happens to her. – user293594 Dec 2 '14 at 19:43
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    Giving my daughter control to some extent by giving her a hand towel to hold over her face was what worked for me. She'd hold it tight to her face until I said it was over. Sometimes give her another dry towel afterwards to dry her face off. – coburne Dec 2 '14 at 19:54
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    I have found trusting a young child to keep their eyes closed for anything to be a futile effort. – corsiKa Dec 2 '14 at 23:50
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We cured the same problem in my daughter, INSTANTLY, with a cheap pair of swimming goggles. I showed her what they were, what they are for - she pressed them to her face, and that was it. no going back!

The same pair got her used to jumping in a swimming pool, and to learn to swim. Now she's nine years old, and an experienced scuba diver!

  • We did this too. We also sometimes encouraged our child to hold a wash cloth over his face (gives him control) during hair washing or rinsing. Eventually we taught what we called "the swimmer's wipe), to use his own had to wipe away excess water from his face (again, putting control in his hands). – MJ6 Dec 3 '14 at 23:50
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This worked for my son: I let him wear a swim mask, and put his hand over his mouth when I washed his hair. Then, I let him hold the washcloth while I washed his face. Knowing he could pull the cloth away at any time helped him deal with having his face washed.

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With my oldest son, the problem was primarily the shampoo in the eyes (or the unsalinated water, but more often the shampoo specifically).

What we do is keep his towel at hand, and as soon as we've poured water over his hair, he takes the towel and dries his eyes. This gives him some sense of control (similar to Thorin's mask idea). We also use a flexible silicon vessel for pouring water (specifically sold for this purpose, but anything flexible will do) that will somewhat conform to his brow and thus reduce the spillage down the face. He learned around 3 to look straight up when I was pouring water, also, which helps reduce it further.

This of course is for a child that doesn't otherwise mind water in his eyes - in the pool for example he's as comfortable as I would imagine any child is going underwater for brief periods.

We definitely encourage bath time to be as fun as possible, including lots of playtime before the dreaded hair washing. Lots of toys, almost-unsupervised play (I'm in the room so there is no drowning risk, but I don't interfere if he splashes all over, as long as the bath curtain is mostly drawn).

Also consider self-guided showers if she is more amenable to those. This was brilliant during potty training for my oldest; we had a shower head with a flexible hose (like you get for elderly people who shower sitting down), and we found out one day that he loved playing with it in a manner that produced a useful shower. He takes it and moves it around so his whole body is thoroughly wet over and over again, and even (at 3 years old) can use soap in a semi-useful fashion. The hair washing still has to be done of course, and this probably wastes some water (though I'm not sure how much with a low-flow shower versus a full bathtub?), but it might be a change even just to change things up for your little one, and it's a lot of fun. Worked well with potty training after accidents - he could mostly clean himself up with it.

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Every child is different, and the suggestions already posted are good ones. I would suggest one idea that I didn't see posted yet, which is to alternate between a bath and a shower with the drain open.

My kids get somewhat fearful when the water is being poured from a cup or bowl, but for whatever reason they think the shower is funny. I started with just holding them with their back to the water, and not putting their face in the water at all, letting their hair get wet but keeping it away from their face. Then as they get used to the occasional splash, I would let them splash for a second or two in the shower and come back out. It worked pretty well, and the water moving faster rinses out the soap / shampoo much easier than a bath does.

Sometimes if the kids spill too much bubble-bath in the tub, I will let them splash around and then drain the tub and turn on the shower to rinse off, as it has just gotten easier over time.

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It's sometimes better to use a "Monkey see, Monkey do" approach; I'm not sure if you have tried getting in the bath with her, and showing her that nothing happens to you when water goes over your face. My mom remembers that I used to have a terrible fear of water for a while, owing to an incident where I accidentally fell into the pool while playing tag, but scientific theory states that watching someone do an activity or action often inspires the observer to imitate them, despite any lingering fears or doubts, to put it simply.

HTH, and good luck!

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Great answers!

My 2 years old daughter has a love/hate relationship with water, and she specially dislikes water pouring over her nose or mouth, which happened each time we washed her hair. What has worked of us is -as suggested by others- letting her take more control of the whole process, for instance, allowing her to pour water on herself with a toy pasta strainer. Also, putting one hand on her forehead while using the other to pour water on her hair, which avoids water running down on her nose or mouth.

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Some ideas:

1) Offer a "happy bath" versus a "sad bath" My son had a similar transformation, and we had a few forced baths and felt absolutely awful about it. I'm not sure if it was the water over the face issue or something else, but he would fight with all his might to get away from the tub. After a few bad experiences we offered him 2 choices: a happy bath, or an unhappy bath. With the happy bath he could climb in and do the usual stuff - play with toys, etc. The unhappy bath was where we held him in there and washed him. He eventually chose the happy bath and the problem went away after a few months.

2) Let them play with the tub before getting in Another trick I can't say I tried, but might work, is involving them in the bath prep. Let them pick out a towel and a wash cloth. Show them how you get the water just right. Maybe you put a boat in the tub and let them play with it for a few minutes. Maybe even try this without the bath itself, just to prevent the fear of water in the face from transferring into a general fear of the bath tub itself.

I also know that kids are sometimes afraid of drains.

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