How to Get Your Toddler into the Bath without a Tantrum

Ever since Gavin was a baby, he has loved water.  He enjoyed bath time and we never had any problems getting him to take a bath.  It was only when he became a toddler and wanted to exert his own autonomy that bath times became more challenging.  It wasn’t that he no longer enjoyed playing with water, because he still loves water.  Whenever he’s in the bath, it can be a real challenge to get him back out again.  Unfortunately, it is also a challenge to get him to take off his clothes and get into the bath.

I believe there are two main reasons for this reaction:

  1. A need to exert autonomy and make decisions concerning himself.
  2. Sometimes toddlers are so busy learning something new or engaged in something that consumed their attention that they resist being taken away from it even if it is to do something they ordinarily enjoy.

Since this began, I have discovered new and interesting ways to encourage Gavin to take a bath that don’t require me to drag him screaming and crying into the shower.  Here are some of the methods that have worked for me.

1. Creative Suggestions

It’s all in the marketing… Even little children respond well to creative marketing. Sometimes the way you phrase “bath time” can make all the difference between a toddler rushing to take a bath and one who steadfastly refuses to be “told what to do”.

Here is an example: Gavin is mad about Thomas and Friends.  Sometimes a suggestion to “go to the wash down so we can be a clean and shiny engine like James” can help encourage him to take a bath.  Just in case you aren’t familiar with Thomas and Friends, James is one of the engines who loves going to the wash down (the place where all the engines are cleaned), and he is also very proud of being shiny and clean.

Alternatively, rather than say “take a bath”, you can talk about “playing with water” or even “playing with bubbles” because both suggest engaging in a fun activity that appeals to some toddlers. 

2. Let’s Play with Bubbles

In my limited experience I have yet to meet a child that doesn’t like bubbles.  Sometimes the mere suggestion of playing with bubbles is enough to bring your toddler running towards the bathroom instead of away fro mit. If you can, try to entice your toddler with a bubble bath first. If that doesn’t work, you will still have the leeway to increase the ante with more bubble fun.

For instance those bubble solutions where you can blow bubbles with a special looped stick might be the added incentive to entice your headstrong toddler into the bath. Alternatively, you can invest in a bubble gun that shoots high speed bubbles with a minimum of effort on your part. Your toddler, who hasn’t quite learned how to blow bubbles will also find the bubble gun more interesting since it is easier for a child to press a trigger than to learn how to blow bubbles. The ability to make their own bubbles can be more appealing to toddlers who enjoy exerting their independence.

We had a buble gun – courtesy of my SIL2 – one of the best bath time investments ever.  Unfortunately, I accidentally bumped it off the sink and it broke.

3. Bath Toys and Water Games

Special bath toys like rubber ducks or boats can add an extra dimension of fun to bath time. These days, there are a myriad of bath toys you can purchase to engage little ones in the bath. You can also buy bath books and interesting, colour-changing toys.

Returning to our earlier example with Thomas and Friends and the trains, one method which we used to get Gavin to take his bath would be to ask him to “take his engines to the wash down for cleaning”. While he was busy cleaning his engines, I would bathe him.

Alternatively, there are plenty of water durable objects around the house that you can introduce into the bath. A fun and educational activity is to offer your child cups and small bowls in the bath to practice pouring water from one receptacle to another. This serves to fulfill your toddler’s desire to learn how to pour liquids in a suitable environment that doesn’t require you to clean up after.

Another activity that some toddlers might enjoy is getting into the bath with a t-shirt on and later “washing” the shirt in the bath. One mother whose daughter hated bath time found that the only way she could get her daughter into the bath was to put her in fully clothed and slowly remove her clothes after she was in the bath.

All of these methods have worked with Gavin at one point or another.  Some of his favourite bath time toys have been his rubber boats and ducks, and the cups.  The only gripe I have with the rubber boats and ducks is that they eventually build up a lot of mould inside which can’t be removed and have to be discarded.

4. Pictures in the Bath

Sticking plastic stickers onto the walls of the shower cubicle or onto the bath tiles, especially of characters that your child likes, can also be another way to entice your toddler to take a bath more willingly. If you don’t have or can’t get stickers, you can laminate pictures cut out from magazines, toy catalogues, CD covers, etc. Tell your toddler to “wash” his friends to keep him occupied while you get busy with soaping and rinsing your toddler.

Gavin’s godmother bought him Thomas and Friends bath stickers which we stuck inside the shower cubicle.  Sometimes Gavin enjoys splashing water onto these pictures.

5. Sweet Rewards

Rewards usually work better with older toddlers that understand the nature of a reward. Some effective rewards are stickers, small toys, and sweet treats, especially the normally forbidden ones. Sometimes the promise of being able to do a special activity after the bath can be quite effective, too. For instance, “After your bath, you can watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.”

Initially, when you are introducing the concept of a reward, you might have to offer a treat as a “taste test” then promise another one after the bath. When you toddler gets a hang of the idea, you can reserve all treats for after the bath.

For instance, with Gavin, I would offer him a little piece of chocolate before he gets into the bath and then another one after he comes out.  The other bribe that works pretty well is the promise of letting him play one of his Thomas and Friends games or watch a tv show he enjoys.

6. Giving Options

Sometimes the objection to taking a bath is not necessarily the activity itself but the feeling of being imposed upon. This is especially important to a toddler who is learning to express autonomy over self. By offering an option and letting your toddler make a choice, you can still achieve an amicable end result.

Here is an example of offering an option for taking a bath: “Do you want to take a bath with the yellow bubbles or the blue bubbles?”

Sometimes negative options can work more effectively than offering a reward. For instance, “Do you want to take a bath now and watch Mickey Mouse after, or do you want to play for another ten minutes and have lights out after your bath?” Most toddlers don’t like the thought of having to go to sleep and will try to avoid it almost as much – if not more so – than taking a bath.  I’ve found that the “lights out” trick works remarkably well with Gavin – although I try not to over use it to avoid it losing its effect.

7. Cleaning Up After Getting Dirty

Some toddlers have a natural predisposition to dislike getting dirty, although that fact itself may not stop them from engaging in fun activities that require them to get dirty. Allowing them to engage in these activities prior to bath time can be extremely effective in getting them to hop straight into the bath right after. For instance, finger painting is a fun and dirty activity that Gavin enjoys, and washing up afterward usually brings Gavin quite cooperatively to the bath.

There have also been a few occasions where all it took was simply to take Gavin to a mirror and point out the food stains on his mouth and shirt.  After that, he willingly took off his clothes and got into the bath.

Bath time doesn’t necessarily have to be about a battle of wills.  Sometimes being a little creative about how you get your toddler into the bath is all that is required to make bath times with toddlers more pleasant.


Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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