Toddler afraid of the bath? Talk amongst yourselves.

Karen Rani of Troll Baby needs our help:

What to do when your 2 year-old is terrified of the bathtub? Thomas the Troll Baby screams bloody murder, nearly making himself sick (this started about 4 weeks ago) and we can't seem to get him to like the tub again.  We think he is afraid of the drain (he keeps referencing it).

We're tried the following, to no avail:

- getting in with him
- Dora fizz tablets that turn the water different colours (he likes putting them in from outside the tub!)
- Bubble bath to hide the drain
- Soap crayons

Nothing is working at all. WILL HE BE DIRTY FOREVER?? Okay, that's a tad dramatic, but still.  He used to LOVE the bath.  Now, not so much.

What about one of those rubber drain strainer thingies? You could try covering the drain with it to see of that helps. Other suggestions?

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  1. Jill says

    How about showering together? “washing” toys and dishes in the tub (he might HAVE to get in to get them clean), wearing a swimsuit into the tub (to separate getting in this fun thing of water from getting into the tub he hates), or just letting him have sponge baths for a while until he decides he’s ready to try again.

  2. Moira says

    How about just a small amount of water in the tub…say, just enough to sit in? You could still have enough water to wash him, and maybe the lower level would put him at ease.

  3. Nathan says

    Bathe him in another place, like a kiddie pool outside with no drain. We did that while we were on vacation and it worked like a dream.

  4. moe berg says

    not that this answers karen’s question, but i actually did more harm than good with a pack of crayola bath fizzies.

    at the time, my twin boys were a little over two years old. they loved taking baths, and i figured this would just add a little bit of fun.

    the look on their faces when i dropped the tabs into the water and they immediately turned into two buzzing, bubbling, dark, blood-red spots at the bottom of the tub still haunts me. they were as scared as i’ve ever seen them since and wouldn’t walk into the bathroom for a week. each bath for a month after was like trying to wash a two-headed cougar that wouldn’t stop howling “no colors! no bubbles! no colors! no bubbles!”

  5. Meg says

    Is a shower any better? How about a kitchen sink? I assume you’ve tried all manner of toys? How do you feel about bribery? Ice pops in the bath tub? If all else fails remember, it’s just a phase!
    Best luck-

  6. kendra says

    How about put a washcloth over the drain and get one of those bathtub chairs and face it the opposite direction of the drain end of the bathtub?

    It might just be a two year old phase. While my two year old doesn’t mind baths, he has recently begun to think that diaper changes are pure torture. Every diaper change starts with a chase around the house, lots of ‘no!’s and plenty of screams. Good times, I tell ya!

  7. Beth says

    One of my good friends puts her 2 year old in a 5 gallon bucket with a tablespoon of dish soap and a bout a gallon of water. He thinks it’s a game!! He actually asks for it just about everyday. Just let him play. No drain to worry about and heck…you can do this one outside!

  8. Julie says

    Every so often, my daughter goes through a “no baths” phase. We’ve learned that the best thing to do is not make too big a deal of it or it just adds to the “drama”.

    We fill the tub and offer her the chance to go in. If she declines, we sponge bathe her without comment and move on to the rest of her bedtime routine. Eventually, she decides the tub (and the toys inside) are more fun.

    You can also try getting him to give one of his waterproof toys a bath until he feels more comfortable.

  9. Dot says

    Luckily I haven’t had to deal with the fear of the tub yet, but I second the shower idea. Especially if you have a big shower that’s not like a bathtub. BabyD loves to play on the floor of our master bath shower (which is big and square) while I shower myself off.

  10. Karen Rani says

    Thank you everyone. We have tried all of the above. He is terrified of the drain and no amount of covering it is helping. He screams bloody murder and the only way I can get him clean now is to endure about a minute of screaming and kicking while I get him with the shower hose.

    The cold weather is here now so hosing him off like a dog is not an option – ha ha…

    I might have to invest in a baby bathub and just hope that he will take to that. Maybe even a Rubbermaid container would work, in case he isn’t warm to that idea.

    If you’ve ever read Troll Baby (the website), you’ll know that what is wrong with Thomas is that I named him Thomas and he hates everything, including oxygen.

    Okay, I’m just being dramatic again. I’ll try the Rubbermaid container tonight and check back with you guys later. Thank you all for your suggestions! Keep them coming – and don’t be afraid of duct tape; it’s a parent’s best friend.


  11. MamaDuck says

    We have a big walk-in shower and he’s always just sat on the floor or been held by us. He doesn’t mind baths tho either.

  12. Amy says

    My 13 month old likes the bath, so this may or may not help, but one of her favorite things is when I blow soap bubbles over her in the tub. She has fun catching and popping them. Worth a shot. Maybe he’s old enough to blow his own bubbles? Or a bubble gun from a toy store, where it shoots tons and tons of bubbles? That could be cool. Whatever you do, make it a special bath-time-only activity thing. He can’t play bubble gun in the yard, only the tub.

    My daughter is doing the fight the diaper thing lately, too (she’s not two yet – just advanced, maybe?). Any advice for that would be appreciated. The best we’ve come up with so far is giving her lotion to rub into her hands, or a book, or a toy, or something else to hold… However, half the time whatever we give her ends up in the diaper. Fun times.

  13. oddharmonic says

    Whenever my daughter refused to get in the bath tub, she got to take a shower with Mommy. She eventually got bored of splashing on the standing shower floor with just one bath toy and wanted to go back to her tub with the trapdoor bathtub toy basket (we bought ours from the One Step Ahead catalog) and bubble bath.

    Now she goes through alternating phases where she wants to stay in the tub just long enough to get clean and not wanting to get out of the tub until she’s chattering.

  14. Julie says

    How about an explanation about where the water goes? We’ve a wonderful book called “Do Fish Drink?”. Amazon:
    I’d check your library, though.

    You could also do a demonstration about what fits in the drain and what will not. Show him at the kitchen sink first and then move on to the bathtub or shower. (From outside the tub.) It can be a fun game – Will this fit? Is it bigger than your toe?

    Good Luck!

  15. Kip W says

    When Sarah (4 now) graduated to the tub, she was scared, so we got an inflatable inner ring she could sit in. She liked showers, briefly. She sometimes likes bubbles or tub toys. She always seems to oppose whatever is next.

    Tonight, inspiration hit. I held up a mirror and asked if she wanted to see how she looked rinsing out her hair. Things went swiftly after that, with her checking the mirror the whole way.

    It may not work again, but it worked this time, and might work for someone else.

  16. AmyS says

    Our daughter was also terrified of baths around 2yrs. We got her to stand in the tub with a trickle of water (drain open so no water accumulated) and sponge-bathed her. She eventually (after many bathings) was attracted to the flowing water and began to play with a cup, then she asked for more water and after months and months she sat down and wanted water in the tub! I was so shocked, I rephrased her request several times before I closed the drain and let the tub fill — just a couple of inches at first. Now we have to fight to get the pruney thing out of the tub!

    Now if we could just get rid of her fear of the pool…

  17. Sherie says

    My almost 2-year old does fine in the bath–until you mention washing him. He screams, fights, and claws from the time the soap (Johnson’s) hits the wash cloth until he’s allowed to escape the tub. I’ve tried everything, but he just hates to get washed!

  18. Sandy says

    My 2 yr old went through a month where he hated the sight of a faucet or shower head – so baths or showers for 2 days. Then we got his sippy cup of milk, filled his bathtub with water and soap. Once we got the screaming and thrashing todd in the tub, we handed him his cup of milk and asked him to drink it. 2 months later it still works, he asks for his sippy cup and closes his eyes and drinks it, laying in warm soapy water. We have the Eurotub so it is pretty large and accomodates the 26 month old with no problem.

  19. Betsy says

    For the diaper change thing, what has seemed to work for us is giving a choice and a smidge of control to our tot. Firm voice: “It’s time to change your diaper. Do you want to do it on the floor, or the table?” Then follow up. Now, we have the WAH advantage of almost always being able to tag-team him if it gets rough, but it seems to be a lot better now that he’s got a bit of choice.

    As for the tub, I like the Rubbermaid idea – a friend of mine does that with her child who has eczema – the deep water (supervised constantly) gets to every nook and cranny that needs soaking. We may try that this winter for our little guy – the pool has taken care of it over the summer. Good luck!

  20. Karen Rani says

    Sigh….still NO DICE. I tried everything in the comments that I hadn’t tried before.

    That’s it – I’m using the backyard hose. Even in the snow.

    Okay kidding.

    I don’t want to traumatize the poor kid, but he STINKS after 2 days.

    Even the pre-school teacher said she would talk about baths in Circle time.

    *wearing a clothespin on my nose*

    Thanks everyone, but I’ll just have to be patient and keep trying.

  21. jellybean says

    We struggled with this for nearly a year and found 3 break-throughs:

    1. Do the dinner dishes in the bathtub. He gets in wearing a bathing suit and “helps.” Perhaps a bit messy, but toddlers love to help

    2. Watching another kid bathe or taking a bath with a toddler friend. You need a very cooperative, kind, forgiving friend here :)

    3. A hand shower and an empty bath. The kid controls what’s washed. Let them wash your arm first, then theirs; your foot, then theirs…

    Good luck! I can assure it will pass. Perhaps not quickly, but it will

  22. Caffryn says

    My sympathies. I’ve always used the rough enough tactic when this happens. I run two inches of water in the bath with a good quality bubble bath and clean him as best I can with a washcloth. I gave up on soap bars because it took longer and the aim was to reduce the time in the bath. I guess in your situation I’d be forgo bath time altogether and wipe different parts of him at different times of the day. As long as everything got a clean once in 24 hours I’d be counting myself lucky. Not great but better than dirty. Good luck.

  23. Jessica says

    You can get a very cheap ($5 about) inflatable tub that fits inside your own tub.
    My daughter will only take baths in there. They have fun ones shaped like a duck or more simple ones with pictures on the sides.
    It’s a very safe and “cozy” environment.
    As an added bonus it fills up in minutes and uses much less water. Plus it’s much easier to clean than a big tub.
    It’s worth a try!

  24. Karin says

    My daughter who is 3 was afraid of taking baths for a variety of reasons; the water, getting wet, water in the eyes, the dreaded drain. Although it was not a quick fix, what helped was swimming lessons. After a 6 week session she loved water and her only concern now with taking a bath is getting water in her eyes. Not an olympian but clean!

  25. Terri Turner says

    I have a 2 1/2 year old that is terrified of getting water in her eyes, and screams bloody murder over baths also. I have read all of these ideas and am planning on trying some. I have done the shower thing with her, with the removable shower head a couple of times and it has worked. She is afraid of the drain, but I have showed her that since her bath toys are too big to go down, she is too big to go down it too. That seemed to work as long as the drain stays closed the whole bath. Anyone have any suggestions on getting one to bathe who’s afraid of water in the eyes???? Swimming lessons haven’t helped.