17 answers

3 Yr Old "Afraid" of Bath

Ok.. here is a new one for me... My middle daughter has all of sudden become afraid of the bath! She has taken baths practically every night without issue (she bathes iwth her 22 mo old sister) and usually loves it... however now, if my husband or I even mention a bath, she begins to cry and say she doesn't want one. If we put her in and make her take one anyway, she refuses to play, cries the whole time and makes us wash her as quick as we can so she can get out and get her diaper back on (all the while, her sister is playing contently.. so i know it's not the temperature)...

I'm wondering if this is somehow related to potty training. She is still in diapers and we've been trying to encourage her to go "on the potty".. but as soon as we take her diaper off, she gets upset and wants it immediately back on (she doesn't pee when we put it back on, but i swear if i didn't know better, i would think the air somehow hurt her) =) She's admittedly a dramatic little one, but this driving me nuts! I want to get her potty trained, but am perplexed as to what to do with this bath thing!! Anyone ever have a similar experience??

What can I do next?

So What Happened?™

Thank you to everyone for some really great advice! Last night, I didn't force the bath issue, instead she got a "special bath", which consisted of sponge bathing and washing her hair in the sink (she thought it was hilarious). I think some of you hit the nail on the head.. i think she's either afraid of peeing in the bath (the warm water probably gives her new sensations she unsure of) or she simply feels "vulnerable" without her diaper on. I talked with my husband and we have agreed to simply be supportive and to try and find some new and creative ways to get her clean in the meantime (i like the idea of the swim diaper.. i'll try that tonight)... I'm sure this will sort it self out soon enough =) Thanks again!!

Featured Answers

Is it possible that she saw the water go down the drain and is afraid that she will go down the drain too? There may be an association there if she has seen the toilet flush. You might want to demonstrate with her that some things are small enough to go down the drain, but she is way too big to fit.

1 mom found this helpful

You may want to change the subject when it comes to bathtime. Misdirection may help the situation. Maybe try themed activities, a favorite one. My girls love Barbie's or mermaids.

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Is it possible that she saw the water go down the drain and is afraid that she will go down the drain too? There may be an association there if she has seen the toilet flush. You might want to demonstrate with her that some things are small enough to go down the drain, but she is way too big to fit.

1 mom found this helpful

In 3 months, my daughter will be 3. She has always loved baths and has suddenly become very frightened of them, too. She is fine taking a shower with me, but not having a bath, even if I was sitting right there with her.
Last week, she said something along the lines of "no pee pee in bath" and I realized that she is feeling the stimulation to pee because she is potty training & noticing sensations.
So, I put her on the potty & she peed. I put her back in the tub, and nothing had changed! She started crying about "no pee pee in bath" again! So, thinking that she may be afraid to pee in the tub, I told her it was okay to pee in the tub, and that everyone does it sometimes. Still, she was upset.
Thinking she didn't like the pressure on her bladder area, I let all the water out of the tub & let the water run for her to "just play." That was a tiny bit better, but didn't last for long. That made me wonder if she was feeling pressure in her colon sitting in water, and was afraid she would poop in the tub.
I learned, many years ago, that children give up their bottles & diapers when they are ready to, and that you just can't force them to potty train. They will comply when they are ready. In the process, they become more aware of sensations in their body, and they don't like the open air vs. the diaper. The diaper is what they know, so that feels natural, comfortable, even secure. Learning to relax & let their pee & poop go "in the air" is like us trying to relax & pee or poop in our underwear. It's hard, and they are only 2 or 3!! We forget how young are children really are & maybe we expect more from them than we should.
Another thing is my pediatrician told me that at this age, children become keenly aware of many things, including new sounds & new sensations. Things that didn't bother them before will suddenly scare them. They have no control over their lives, so they grab at every chance they have. It gives them a feeling of security. (Who likes to feel totally under the control of someone else?) The first things kids can control are whether or not to eat & drink, and pee & poop in the potty. We can try to make them do something & it will become a bigger battle than before. Or we can be patient and reassure them that we are there with them, and that everything is okay. We have to adjust our lives to accommodate them for a little while. That is not the same as allowing them to be in control of our homes. It is helping them.
I've seen many people raising their children through the years (I am 50) and I've never seen a child go to school with a bottle or in diapers, no matter how lenient their parents were with their training.
I hope this helps you in some way. Just know that you are not the only one trying to figure this thing out. And love and hug and cuddle your little one as much as you can. The time just flies by way too fast!

1 mom found this helpful

It sounds to me like she's running the show. And as the middle child she might be trying desperately to get everyone's attention, and it sounds like it's working. I would first ask you though if anyone other than you or your husband has bathed her. Is there any possibility that she's associating the bath with something frightening that maybe happened? If not, and if she's acting the same about potty training, then I'd say it's about control. At 3, she should not still be in diapers. Maybe at night, but definitely not during the day. I have a 3 1/2 year old boy, and by 2 I did away with his diapers because on his own, they're not usually going to say they're ready to be in underwear. You have to be the one to gently tell them they're ready to use the potty. Have her pick out some pretty underwear. Take the control back in your home. Read some books by John Rosemond. He'll tell you like it is. Good luck.

I think this is very common at that age ( I know a little boy who went through it recently).... to develop sudden "fears" that did not exist prior... I would also try to take him to the toy store and pick out bath toys to make it more fun. Make an event out of it and have him participate fully, you could also take an afternoon to yourself (if possible) go to Barnes & Noble, get a coffee (or whatever) and sit down and read one of those books that offers advice on situations like this. I like the "What to Expect When Your Expecting : The Toddler Years". Its a month to month account of what to expect with your toddler. Makes me feel at ease to know some of the weird things that can happen are completely normal.

have you tried a shower with her?? maybe she'd prefer that?? it could be related to Pt too. just keep trying

Our daughter loved the bath and then took to hating it when she was about 2.5. I still don't know why but we got her a few new toys for the tub and concentrated more on playing than getting washed and it worked. Now she loves it and throws a fit when it's time to get out. Good luck.

My son became afraid of baths around the same age. I tried to fight him on it for a bit, but just let it go. We did sponge baths for a while, and before too long he decided he wasn't afraid of them anymore.

Perhaps reduce the frequency and give her some choice as to which nights she can take a bath? Figure out what your limit is: "you need to take at least two baths a week...you decide which night."

I guess my advice is to just realize this phase won't last for ever.

Hi R.,

When my daughter was about a year and a half, I went back to work and she started daycare. At the same time, she also started swimming lessons with my husband, which lasted one lesson. She decided she was afraid of the water. It took about 2 weeks of sponge baths to get her back in at all and baths were short for a while after that. We decided we had tried for too much transition at once and it was her way of asserting some control and letting us know she was feeling a bit overwhelmed.

Good luck with the move. Hearing of all of the transitions you're going through, her trying to assert control in some area of her life sounds normal. I don't have advice, but in the water realm, I found a book that my daughter loves. It's old, but you might find it on-line used. It's called Angelo the Naughty One. It's about a little boy who doesn't like to take baths. In the end, he looses that fear of water and becomes Angelo the Brave. It's a bit of an odd book, partly because it is clearly old, but my daughter still asks for it at age four. It helped us to have a book about another kid who didn't like baths.

Again, best of luck with the move and the potty training.

Maybe you can see if you can find a way to wash her without the tub? Have you tried a shower? When my son was refusing baths we did the showers (which was JUST like Daddy) and then we did a "shower bath" and worked our way back into the baths.

Your child is afraid. I know when my son is afraid, I try to console him -- I want to teach him that I'm there for him and his fears are real. I don't know if I would force the issue since daily baths are not needed at such a young age.

Hi R.. I have a silly idea for you that worked for my daughter when she all the sudden became afraid of the bath--to the point that my husband and I had to spell the word! What worked for my daughter was when we told her to pretend she was a mermaid. She finally started to have fun in her bath again, and now she even pretends she is a whale! Hope this helps!

That is so strange because when my now 5 year old was about 3 she became terrified about the bath as well. She HATED it, she would kick, cry, scream, and it was a horrible experience for us. She was already potty trained so I can't relate her experience to that, but we did end up finding out that her dad (she lives with myself and step-dad) had actually jumped in a pool with her scaring her severely because she went under the water. So she ended up relating the bath tub to the pool and kept thinking she was going under and hated having her hair washed because she didn't want the water going over her head and into her eyes. I would use positive reenforcements. See if that will work, you may already have a rewards chart for the potty training, not sure, but you could try stickers or use something she really likes and enjoyes to provide her for a job well done! Good luck and I am assuming this is just a phase and it will go away in due time, with our situation, I didn't feed into the fight, I just let her know that a bath was very important and if she didn't want to take a bath that was fine, but she NEEDED one and I explained why baths were important to good health/hygiene (well I put it into 3 year old terms) :)

we have gone though the suddenly afraid of the bath thing . but I think it was more afraid he would go down the drain. We used an inflatable tub in the middle of the kitchen and eventually we were able to get him back in the tub. However, if you think it has to do with the diaper I would try using a swim diaper and see if that works.

This sounds very similar to what my daughter went through too. I also think it had to do with potty training. She was able to verbalize to a degree that she was afraid she might have an accident in the tub. We basically just assured her that it was no big deal at all if that happened, that we could easily clean up. We also got a few more new bath toys that she was excited about playing with. Within about a week, give or take, she was back to having fun in her bath. Just constantly reassure her that it is okay if she goes in the tub by accident. Good luck!

Hi R.,

My 17 month old loved taking baths especially with his 4.5 year old brother. One day he started screaming and was refusing to get back in the bath unless I washed very quickly with him crying and screaming. I think his brother may have splashed him or something at one point to make him afraid. However, I gradually would put him back in by himself and would play with his toys so he wouldn't be so afraid. It worked and now he likes the bath again. I would try giving her one by herself and see if you can make the situation a fun one for her. Did you change anything from when she liked it?
As for the potty training, I wouldn't push the issue. I was told the more you push the more they revert and refuse to go. I waited until the summer with my oldest one. I let him pick out his own underwear and he put them on immediately. I knew that we would be playing outside a lot so I didn't mind so much if he had an accident. He hated being wet and that's how he became trained. Occasionally, he may have had an accident, but for the most part he was trained within a short time.
I hope some of this helps and I wish you all the luck.

Try letting her take a shower with you. She might enjoy the spray and seeing you in there might alleviate her fears.

Sounds like a power struggle over the diaper being off. Try finding a story about bathtime or introducing a new toy to the tub. You might even try a special story time with Mommy or Daddy if she bathes without crying. Best of luck!

You may want to change the subject when it comes to bathtime. Misdirection may help the situation. Maybe try themed activities, a favorite one. My girls love Barbie's or mermaids.

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