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My daughter, who is 3 years old, all of a sudden decided that she is not going to take a bath. This has gone on for a couple weeks and it is so frustrating. What can I do?


Christine Hierlmaier Nelson Replied: First, do not argue with your 3-year-old. Don't show her that this issue is a problem. She is testing boundaries and trying to learn how to control her world. She may have also developed a fear of water, which is normal. Don't talk about bath time all day. When it is bath time, offer two options. Be enthusiastic and make it seem really exciting. "Tonight, you get to decide how you are going to get clean like a big girl! You can play with a super sponge or a bubbly bucket." Sponge option: Get a colorful sponge and fill the bath with kid-friendly bubbles. Use a baby doll to demonstrate how you take a sponge bath. Let your daughter use the squeezed out sponge on her arms and legs. As she's having fun, get a washcloth and finish the job at the end. Option two: bubble bucket. Use a fun container to let your daughte r pour water on her arms or hand or leg by herself. Let her do it herself. If she wants nothing to do with the bathtub, fill the sink with water. (This is a last resort.) She can use the squeezed out sponge while standing on a towel. To use the bucket, tell her that she can play with it while standing in the dry tub. You can "deliver" the water to her like a delivery truck. vroom vroom! You may have to skip the hair washing for a little while, but you can use a wet comb and comb-in conditioner(if her hair is long or snarly.) Ultimately, she needs to pick one or the other option. The choosing is what gives her the control. Stay calm while repeatedly offering option one or two. Once she chooses, make bath time fun time with mom or dad. She won't hate baths forever...or be 3 forever. It's a temporary assignment. Also, avoid bath time when she's tired or hungry. That won't help her mood about baths.
Posted On 2009-08-04 15:41:54
Janet Whalley Replied: It is frustrating when your child appears to suddenly change behavior. Usually, a three-year-old child is more cooperative than before. However, differences in temperament and your child's development will affect how she responds at this age. Also at three, your daughter may still have problems with transitions from one activity to another which makes it difficult to stop playing to go take a bath. You could try giving her plenty of warning before she needs to stop one activity and move on to the next one, such as, "in five minutes we will be getting ready for your bath." If her bath time precedes bedtime, it's possible that she is smart enough to know what comes next - and some three-year-olds experience trouble sleeping. Many threes whine more when they are tired or bored. Could you make bath time more fun? What about changing the bath time?

Another possible reason for this problem could be that three-year-olds are more aware of their bodies. This usually manifests itself when a child doesn't feel in control of their rapidly growing bodies and avoid activities that make them seem awkward or clumsy. This doesn't seem like the reason for avoiding baths, but this body image awareness may contribute to it. You might try giving her more privacy when she is undressing. I remember when my son was a little older than three, that he was more embarrassed if we saw him in his underpants than if we saw him naked.

In addition, your daughter may be reacting to some other changes in her environment (like a new sibling) that is affecting her behavior for awhile. Or, it could be a short term period of "chaos" that often precedes a new step in her development. These periods of disequilibrium occur normally throughout your child's life. If these issues might be the problem, you need to help your daughter deal with her stress and help her adjust to her new "normal".

I know that you have probably tried my previous suggestions, so I suggest that you try them again. Pretty soon she will be taking her bath without a fuss again. A couple books that might help include:
"Is This a Phase? Child Development and Parent Strategies, Birth to 6 Years" by Helen Neville, BS, RN.
"Touchpoints - Three to Six: Your Child's Emotional and Behavior Development" by T. Berry Brazelton, MD.

Posted On 2009-07-30 13:54:43
Amy Adams Replied: This is a typical scenario, but I would suggest you explore the dynamics of your relationship and who you feel has the upper hand. If you are confident that you are the one in control, then she is testing her perameters and you will need to reassure her that YOU are the parent, that YOU make decisions that are best for her (like bathing) and that SHE will have consequences if isn't going to follow your rules. You may try reading to her, while she's in the tub or singing with her. You may even explore using the shower, for a change of pace. The best thing I can suggest without knowing much of your situation is that establishing a difinitive schedule that you follow nightly (ie: play time, dinner, bath time. get dressed for bed, brush your teeth, story time in bed), will teach her to learn the routine and she will learn what to expect each night and she will begin to anticipate and maybe even prepare for the next activity without you having to tell her. At every turn, you have to be willing to offer praise for following the rules and punishment for not. If my suggestions don't work, feel free to give me more detail and I will be able to give you more pointed assistance. Best of luck Amy A. Adams, M. Ed.
Posted On 2009-07-27 12:44:29
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