My 22-month-old daughter absolutely hates getting her hair wet.

At bathtime, she complains (crying, but without tears) when I pour water on her head in preparation for washing her hair (even if I'm careful not to get the water in her face and ears). She doesn't mind when I wash the hair. Rinsing is the same. Wetting her hair by having her lean back into my hand and dipping the back of her head is the same...she's very emotionally uncomfortable in this position. (Once, I even put her on her back in the empty bathtub before turning the water on, and she panicked and got up very quickly.)

I imagine this goes back to something we must have done earlier - my wife suggested that we might have gotten water in her ears when she had ear infections. Either way, the real question here is, what can we do to help her overcome this?

  • 4
    Update: at 30 months one day I gave her a shower instead of a bath (she'd been playing in the sandbox). It was her first one and I think she liked the novelty and the fact that it's what mommy and daddy do. During this shower, I managed to get her to tilt her head back ("look at the ceiling") and rinse her hair with the shower head. I think I sprung it on her quickly enough that she didn't have time to think it over. Anyway, it's definite progress...
    – Kricket
    Commented Apr 25, 2013 at 14:17
  • i feel like giving up im physiologically hurting her but shes so distressed it makes me uncalm to and i get it over with :'( she literally screams and tries to jump out of the bath no matter what i try shell be calm then scream and shut down as soon as she sees water coming on her or a tool to help! i just had to quickly get it over with tonight but i cant keep doing it to her ive bought all this crap it does nothing she wont even let me try and ive done it on dolls her sister NOTHING WORKS!! I feel like the worst parent and im crying now.
    – user16699
    Commented Jun 8, 2015 at 13:45
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    Update: around 60 months, I actually saw her briefly put her face in the water coming out of the shower head, without even being asked. We've been working on her and water, being patient, and slowly but surely she's coming around...
    – Kricket
    Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 13:34
  • I think you should count in years instead of months after the first year :P Commented Aug 23, 2022 at 2:27

11 Answers 11


We had exactly the same situation with our daughter, until very recently (she is three years old now). The best recommendation I can give you is:

  1. Patience..
  2. Patience..
  3. Patience...

We were always firm about washing her hair regularly, even though she protested quite strongly. On the other hand, we always told her before, that we would wash her hair today (like, at noon, when we usually bathe her shortly before night-time, and repeatedly during the afternoon). That did not make her like it any more, but I believe that it is important to be honest to your child in those things. When it was time to wash her hair, we informed her again of what was about to happen, and addressed her protests ("I know you don't like it, but it has to be done, I'm sorry sweety") instead of ignoring them. I believe that this is important, because we want our child to know that we listen to her, so that she can confide in us.

It went like this for almost two years, and suddenly, about 6 weeks ago, she started rinsing her hair herself. Miracles do happen... ;-)

Anyway, it your daughter's reaction does not necessarily have to be caused by something you did earlier, maybe she just doesn't like it, period. Don't beat yourself up because of this, thinking that you are bad parents, because you aren't!

  • I tend to agree with the last paragraph, our daughter never had water in her ears or something like that and still didn't like water on her head when we moved to the big bath tube (instead the baby bath) so guess it's just an unpleasant feeling for toddlers. Thanks for the reassurance though! :) Commented Aug 13, 2012 at 6:22
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    Why does it have to be done? My daughter has only had her hair washed a handful of times in her 4.5 years of life (mostly because she used to be afraid) and she has beautiful hair. Hair is quite capable of taking care of itself.
    – Jem
    Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 12:59

With my 22-month-old son, the complete opposite approach works best. If I take water in a pitcher and shout: "Wooooo SPLASH!" as I let it all fall on his head, he laughs and asks for more. If I try to do it slowly and patiently, he complains.

In general, I find that adding sound effects to the activities he dislikes helps a lot (such as going "bzzzz CLIP! bzzzz CLIP! bzzzz CLIP!" when cutting his nails). It might be worth a try if you run out of patience :) Of course, back off immediately if it doesn't work. But in any case, you can try to make it into a game in some other way that she might enjoy.

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    Yes! Making a show of things being fun is better than demostrating that you're trying to be (over-)careful. Commented Feb 13, 2013 at 22:02
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    +1: This approach worked for us in other areas. One negative side-effect, however, is that now I tend to add sound-effects to activities when my son isn't actually present. This gets me odd looks at work...
    – Kramii
    Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 9:04
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    I used to be patient, carefull, feel sorry for the kid, telling him it's ok... I've red your answer with skepticism than decided to try it "why not!". and... it worked! Now, when I say "wooooo" he braces himself and smile, when I pour the water "SPLASH!" he laugh! I also think it's because I don't need to hold his head anymore.
    – the_lotus
    Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 16:53

I have dealt with this fear as a babysitter and this always works. Kids never cry when I wash their hair. First get or make some bath puppets. Puppets make a great distraction and kids would rather have the puppets washing a rinsing their hair. Buy a unbreakable mirror. At lunch or anytime way before bathtime show your son the puppets have them talk to him about having fun in the tub and allow him to play with them a bit. Tell your son you understand why he doesn't like to wash his hair. Tell him you know a way to keep soap and water out of his face that is fun. Tell him that you will use a puppet to wet his hair. He gets to make coyote calls. Demonstrate how. Tell him this will make all the water and soap stay out of his face. Also tell him you will be making him soapy animal ears and have him pick out what kind he wants eg cat, dog,. Tell him you can looka at them in the mirror. Have fun! You can do animal ears, puppets, coyote calls, and toys in 20 minutes or less and no screams

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    This is actually a really good idea. Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 1:42
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    Cute idea! I'll give it a try.
    – Kricket
    Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 8:17

We had this problem for long long time, and it only became worse in each passing day.

Week ago we started combination of two suggestions we got from friends and it appears to be working so going to share here.

  1. Put water in small plastic glass, either from the tap or directly from the bath and tell the child you are going to use the water to clean his/her head.

  2. Slowly spill the water on the child's head. As it's not a stream of water and is done with a glass the child knows from before and maybe even love using to drink from, the child would probably not protest.

  3. In case water reach the child's face, ears or eyes and he/she is about to cry use small towel to instantly dry the water and tell him/her that you "fixed" it.

  4. Repeat steps #2 and #3 as long as needed, both before and after using shampoo.

The combination of glass and towel appears to be working fine, although it cause the time spent in bath to increase dramatically, think it's worth that time and the effort. Head gets cleaned, and much less tears.

Update: for couple of months now, we are using something called Waterproof Eye Shield Cap Hat Shield and I can wash her head without a squeak as no water leaks through to her face.

For those interested, this is how it looks like: (not my kid, just a cute pic I found :))

  • Thank you very much: the method with a glass of water worked like a charm. Your advice relieved my son (and me:D) form a stress that haunted us for 3 years now :) I've added step 0: a week before I asked my son what does he think about the idea of using a transparent glass of water. He was very enthusiastic! So his mental model somehow knew that this should work. I wonder if this is somehow connected with slatestarcodex.com/2017/04/05/the-case-of-the-suffocating-woman - I mean the idea that all histeria can be linked to a fear of suffocating.
    – qbolec
    Commented Dec 4, 2017 at 21:05
  • @qbolec cheers! Interesting enough, the second child (male) did not have such a problem, and the third (female) who is already 10 months old does not show any signs of fear from water too, though she still use the baby tub which is different. This leads me to believe it's something "personal", e.g. something that happened to my first daughter only, e.g. maybe at very early stage she got water in her eyes, and it was very traumatic. Commented Dec 4, 2017 at 22:11

Treb makes some wonderful points that I hope you find reassuring. In addition to these, we had the same problem with our little one for awhile too. The way we solved it was by giving her a choice to let us do it or she could do it while we monitored and made sure all of it got rinsed. She learned how to lean back somewhat and use the a cup while she sat up (this required a lot of time because we had to say the parts she'd missed and help her learn to angle her head so she could get them). She eventually realized how hard it was for her to do it herself with the cup and became okay with laying back and rinsing it (herself).

It really worked out wonderfully because now she is that much more independent and the fact that she'll lay back made learning to float on her back in the water feasible too.


I am convinced that for children who don't like showers, it's because they don't like it on their face.

I heard too many stories from friends about their child hating showers. Many of them also say their children don't like swimming at the beach. Water at bathtime is fine, but when it's in a bit more of a chaotic situation, their children are not happy.

I live in Hawaii, and I have always grown up around the beach, so being afraid of the beach is kind of a problem. So I decided that I would teach my daughter to not fear showers or the beach by doing something very simple during bath times.

As soon as she was too big for sink bathing, I started bathing her in the bathtub with me. We had a shower head that allowed me to gently wash her down while I held her on my lap. At every bath time, I would intentionally spray just a bit of water on her hair at first. Just a small amount. Oh, she didn't like it at first but eventually we got to the point where I was able to spray just a bit on her face as well. Not very much water, mind you. Almost an instant, gentle spray of water. Not a face full or anything. Just enough to get her used to water on her face. That was the secret -- getting her used to water splashing on her face.

I did this over and over again, every time I bathed her, which was every day. Eventually, she didn't fuss about it. Eventually, she just got used to it.

By the age of 4, she was able to wash her own hair in the shower. I mean, put her face under the shower head, eyes closed with shampoo. Washed her own hair and everying. She's awesome at it. Friends wanted to know how she was able to do that.

She's now 6 and isn't scared of waves at the beach (even choppy waves like Waimanalo Beach). She even wants me to take her into the water, even though she actually doesn't know how to swim yet. The splashing of water does not phase her.

For you new parents out there, give this technique a try when they're young. I am willing to bet that your child will not have a problem with shower time using this technique.


I believe the child is afraid of suffocation or rather a blocking of air by the water. She goes into panic mode in different positions because she doesn't have any control over the amount of water you are going to pour on her.

Have you ever experienced gasping for air when too much water falls on your head? That is a panic moment. I experience it even now (at 28 years old) whenever I pour excess water on my head. As a small child, from one of her past experiences, she is afraid about water blocking her breathing.

I would suggest to rub the water down her nose as soon as you have poured water on her head so that her nose is cleared. And please make sure to pour little amounts of water in one go.

  • Hmm, I don't think it has anything to do with suffocation. She'll flip if we get water in her eyes, even if they're closed. She also doesn't like water in her ears.
    – Kricket
    Commented Apr 25, 2013 at 14:14

My granddaughter (who is 3 years old) has what I call phobia of getting her clothes wet. If any liquid wets her clothes she panics and I have to change her. Same thing with her hair. I have tried everything. She doesn't like wet hair on her back, can't stand the shower, doesn't want her face wet you name it. So what I do now is tell her specifically...I am washing your hair today and even though she doesn't want to she knows I am going to protect her face by telling her to tilt her head back while I wash her hair. I also let her know when I am almost finished and I have a towel ready to wipe her face. It is difficult to understand how she feels so I try to be gentle. You don't have to wash their hair every day. Set a time and day that your child might agree with and make it look like it is that day. Strong will children do better when they think they are in control. Be understanding and patient. Good Luck


Wetting her hair by having her lean back into my hand and dipping the back of her head is the same...she's very emotionally uncomfortable in this position. (Once, I even put her on her back in the empty bathtub before turning the water on, and she panicked and got up very quickly.)

It may be possible that it is all about the "position" in which you make the child sit while bathing, since lying down completely in someone's arms or in front of someone is a way of surrendering.

In India, we don't usually have bath tubs in houses. We have taps. So, I have spent all my life by now by sitting in the squatting position on a Chowki with my head bent down. I shut my eyes tightly. Bring the hair down and try to keep it all in front of the ears rather than behind or over them. This way when I put the water with a mug on my head, I know exactly how much quantity can I tolerate at one go, and how to put the water carefully so that it doesn't get in the ears, when to stop and when to start etc.

Give her the control and see if that helps.

  • Giving her control doesn't work - I can tell her to wet her hair, but she refuses to do anything beyond wetting her hands then putting them in her hair.
    – Kricket
    Commented Apr 25, 2013 at 14:09
  • @KelseyRider That's probably because she is already afraid from her past experiences. Did you try to force her to try doing it herself "at least once"? Commented Apr 25, 2013 at 22:31
  • Not sure how to force her to do something that she must voluntarily do, but she generally panics even if she gets wet accidentally. But like I commented above, she's been getting better.
    – Kricket
    Commented Apr 26, 2013 at 14:49

I'm not a parent but when I was young, I was scared of water. One thing that helped was to put swimming goggles on.

You can also make your child think you're playing a game with them, such as to say "Here comes the whale!" when you have to put water on their head. Although no-one tried that with me, I think that if they like whales they might like it.

After you pour water on somewhere they ask for like their neck head or face then you could say "The whale sneezed on you!". Once they get into the game, they might splash water onto you and while they're laughing they might just ignore you washing their hair.

  • Something else, I've seen toddlers crying on their own... so it might not be the water it might be cause they don't like sitting maybe they like standing...
    – user19183
    Commented Sep 27, 2015 at 4:00
  • My 3.5yo son also seems less stressed when wearing swim goggles during washing his hair. He also covers his ears with hands.
    – qbolec
    Commented Nov 27, 2017 at 21:41

Our 2yo daughter has recently developed several fears, including that of water on her face. When splashed, she will tremble in fear and reach her face to remove the water. Usually with wet hands, which makes things even worse.

She also knows that, occasionally, when we wash her hair, some water will reach her eyes. And she started fearing washing hair, and told us that the problem was the water in her eyes and on her face.

The solution turned out to be a cloth, a small towel, which she holds and with which she protects her eyes from water. It appears that it both protects her from what she fears and gives her a sense of influencing the process somehow. Anyway, she is happy afterwards. After the first time we used this method to wash her hair, she said "Juliet is pleased!" (she still sometimes addresses herself in third person).

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