How can you forget the first time you gave your baby a bath? Remember those tiny limbs that refused to uncurl, and how scary it felt lowering that little body into the water? It’s hard to believe that one day that very same child will be stealing your shampoo and maybe even your bathrobe—but trust me…sigh. That moment will arrive.
Of course, no child goes from infant tub to shower stall overnight—and the transition can be a messy one…filled with dirty puddles on the floor and more than an occasional unwashed elbow. Here’s how to help your child with this important milestone:
1. Don’t rush.
It’s quicker and much more convenient to have your kids hop in the shower every night, but bath time might be one of the last bastions of imaginative, independent play in our increasingly wired world…you can’t bring a Wii, iPad or DS into the bathtub, after all! I say keep the bathing tradition for as long as it makes sense in your household—and fill the tub with all kinds of toys, cups, plus relaxing essential oils, soaps and bath bombs. Encourage your children to see the bath as a place to relax, unwind and create.
2. Start with baby steps.
Obviously for safety reasons, your child won’t be ready to shower alone as a toddler or preschooler—but that doesn’t mean you should limit his bathing experiences to the tub alone. Shower together or supervise showering so he gets used to the idea of standing up for a washing and the noise and pressure of the shower head. Bring some toys along and use a fun, kid-friendly shower gel like Jason Kids Only Tropical Twist so it’s an enjoyable experience. If he seems scared or upset, cut the shower short, but revisit again in a few months. Try to treat these occasional supervised showers like a special experience, not a quick wash down, so it becomes something he learns to look forward to.
3. Help with hygiene.
The time to teach your child the right way to wash his body, including private parts, is when you’re still supervising showers—not after he’s gotten used to his privacy. Depending on your child’s age, it might feel more comfortable to have the same-gender parent take on this role. Also demonstrate techniques for keeping shampoo out of the eyes—a tear-free formula might be best until this skill is down pat—and for getting all of those little spaces between the toes and behind the elbows clean! A product like Kiss My Face Kids Orange U Smart Bubble Wash can make all of this cleaning more fun—and you don’t have to worry about chemicals, parabens or artificial colors!
4. Teach bathing safety.
When you run the shower for your child, take a moment to point out exactly where the dial is in between the “hot” and “cold” extremes so he’ll know how to set the water at a safe, comfortable temperature. Also, be sure to teach your child to dry off completely inside the stall before stepping out—and to always have a bath mat ready—to avoid slipping on wet tile.
5. Keep a watchful eye.
As your child gets older and shows other signs of independence and personal responsibility—brushing her teeth (well) without assistance, being able to pour out cereal and milk for breakfast, cleaning the room or play space without much direction—you can “test the waters” (excuse the pun) to see how independent showering goes. My daughter started this transition when she was in kindergarten and I remember standing by the linen closet just outside the bathroom during the first few weeks she showered alone. (I folded and re-folded a lot of towels during those weeks!) It’s a good thing I was nearby because she wasn’t so great about getting all of the shampoo out of her hair in the beginning. Eventually, I wandered a bit further away. But even now that she’s almost 8, I’m still always within earshot. There are lots of things that can go wrong in bathrooms, so stay nearby and never push shower readiness until you truly feel it’s the right time for your child to graduate from the tub to the stall.
6. Don’t throw out the bonding with the bathwater!
Bath time is an opportunity to bond with your child. There’s nothing quite as sweet as toweling off a tiny body, putting on clean jammies and tucking your little one into bed. As your child matures and becomes independent, obviously these rituals will change. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still use that relaxed, post-shower moment as a time to bond. Break out the sparkly nail polish colors (Barielle’s “Starchild” is my kid’s favorite) and have a “spa night” with your daughter, or grab some kid-friendly hair gel and help your son spike his hair into a fun “fauxhawk.” And be sure to give your kid a hug and a good night kiss, every single night, for as long as mommy affection isn’t “gross”—because take it from this mom of a 10-and-a-half-year-old-boy: these special moments are sadly numbered and one day, you’ll have to settle for a rueful high-five instead!
Jorie Mark is Vitacost.com’s Director of Marketing Communications and mom to three kids, ages 2 to 10.