Some kids love bath time and enjoy splashing in the tub and playing with their favorite floating toys. But other children dread bathing. For these sensitive kids, the water is always either too hot or too cold, or frighteningly intense as it sprays out of the showerhead. They may be agitated by the sounds, smells, and lighting in the bathroom, and may be very particular about the texture of the towels. If your child balks at getting clean, here are some tips for making bath time more enjoyable.

If your toddler hates the bath, start small. Place your naked child in a dry bathtub along with a dishpan or plastic bin filled with warm, soapy water (have another one filled with warm water nearby, for rinsing). Let her use bath toys, a washcloth, and soap to play with, and perhaps provide a doll that she can wash. Wash your child using the soapy water and rinse with the water from the other container. Or, bathe her in a plastic tub-within-a-tub. (Never, ever leave a child unattended in the bath.).

Fill the tub with the bathroom door closed. Some children find the sound of rushing water filling the tub irritating and upsetting. Try filling the tub with the door closed and don't bring your child to the bathroom until the bath is ready.

Make the bathroom a quiet haven. Bathrooms are often echoey. If your child is sensitive to sharp, harsh sounds and echoes, place plenty of towels and rugs in the room to absorb these sounds.

Change the way you rinse his hair. Many kids hate having their hair rinsed because they have to lean their head backward, which can feel awkward. Have him lean forward so that his face is downward while rinsing (a tear-free shampoo is a must). Use a visor, washcloth, or goggles to prevent the water from flowing down his face and into his eyes.

Alter the temperature. Let your child regulate bath or shower temperature, within reason (be careful with small children who are tempted to adjust the faucet by themselves). For safety's sake, set the temperature on your water heater to a safe maximum level. Then too, you can have your child take a bath or shower after others in the family do so that the room is already warmed up. You might want to warm up the towel in the dryer for a few minutes, too.

Provide different textures. Some kids find soap and shampoo unpleasantly slimy but love soap that's foamy. Your child may prefer to wash with a rougher or softer washrag. Experiment with a nylon net puff, body brush, shower mitt, or bath sponge to see what he tolerates best. Rub him vigorously with a towel or pat him gently and hold him tightly, whichever feels more comforting to him after his bath.

Watch the artificial ingredients. Some children react badly to artificial colorings not only in foods but in bath soaps and shampoos as well. If you suspect this is a problem, look for products without these colorings. Be forewarned that "natural" baby and kid-care products sold in health food stores are often not tear-free.

Vary the pressure. Just as you might find it uncomfortable to shower with less or more pressure than you're used to, your child might prefer to have his hair rinsed with less or more pressure. Use a large container of water for rinsing; the extra weight of the water might feel better on his head than sprinkling from a shower or a cup. Or, sprinkle water from a sprinkling can (often available in kids' beach toy collections) or cup to rinse.

Massage her head. A deep, gentle massage of her scalp beforehand may help your child feel more comfortable having her hair washed and rinsed. Some parents swear by using a vibrating hairbrush or hand-held vibrator pressed gently to the child's head just before hair washing.

Help her to feel secure. Sometimes a child is afraid of falling over or being unaware of where her body is in space when she closes her eyes to have her hair rinsed. If so, use a small amount of tear-free shampoo so she can keep her eyes open if she likes and have her hold onto you. Or, press down on her shoulders to help her know where her body is when her eyes are closed.

Give him a sense of control and predictability. Talk him through the steps of the bath. Warn him that you're about to rinse his hair; count down to when he rinses. Allow him a chance to feel the temperature of the water on his hand before you wet his entire head. You might use a hand-held sprayer connected to the faucet so your child can control the spray when he rinses himself (the force is often gentler than that of a showerhead) or let him be the one to dump a pitcher full of water over his head to rinse.

By gently working with your child to make bath time more pleasant, you can encourage good hygiene and good fun too!

copyright 2010 Nancy Peske

Author's Bio: 

Nancy Peske is an author and editor and the parent of a child who at age 2 was diagnosed with sensory processing disorder and multiple developmental delays. Coauthor of the award-winning Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Processing Issues, available from Penguin Books, Nancy offers information and support on her blog and website at and sends out a newsletter of practical strategies and tips available at Nancy has been active in the SPD community since 2002.