By: Laura Petix, MS OTR/L

If you have a toddler who hates bath time due to sensory issues, keep reading for my top tips on creating a sensory-friendly bath time routine. *This blog post was sponsored by GloPals, but all of the information and opinions are my own. 

Toddler playing with glow up sensory toys in a bath tub


Be honest, do you sometimes feel like you’re summoning the spirit of Steve Irwin as you try to wrestle your sensory sensitive child into the bathtub?

If you said yes, trust me, you’re not alone.

I know tons of parents who have a toddler who hates bath time and are desperate for tips on making bath time easier. Keep reading to find out common reasons why toddlers hate bath time, best ways to set up a bath time routine and sensory friendly bath time strategies.

Reasons why your toddler hates bath time

To be honest, it’s a pretty common occurrence for most toddlers to start avoiding bath time at some point in their life. It’s quite on brand for toddlers to just out-right refuse to do anything that’s remotely good for their hygiene or safety!

But as a pediatric OT who works with children with sensory processing disorder, I want to bring your attention to some of the common reasons toddlers hate bath time, from a sensory perspective:

So if your toddler hates bath time due to any of those sensory issues, keep reading for my best tips.

How to change up your bath time routine

Bath time routine starts from the moment you say “It’s time for bath!”. Rather than having a toddler run away screaming from you, here are some ways you can make the transition to bath time a little easier (and dare I say, fun!)

How to create a sensory friendly bath time

purple box of GloPals Sesame Street character glopals
Sesame Street Glo Pals make bath time so much more fun for toddlers!

So you get your toddler in the bathroom and now it’s time for the headlining event: bath time.

When you have a toddler who hates bath time due to sensory issues, it’s important for you to understand that they are actually having a hard time tolerating the sensory input (see sensory trigger list earlier). They are not just being dramatic. Their brain processes the tactile, auditory or even visual input much more intensely than you or I.

That meltdown they’re having right before bath is not just about a power struggle, it’s about their brain perceiving danger from the sensory input related to bath time. While your logic of “it’s okay, you’re safe” script won’t help your toddler, the best thing you can do for them is try to make them feel safe, as much as possible.

To do that, make sure the environment is calm and regulating. For example

Always make sure you have some preferred, fun and engaging toys to include in the bath, such as:

Between bath time: creating positive associations with the bath

When all of the “tricks” don’t quite work and you’re still noticing a fear and avoidance of bath time, that’s a sign that you need to focus on creating a positive association with the bath, outside of bath time.

Think about it. If your sensory sensitive or anxious toddler only ever steps foot in a bathroom when they need to take a bath, and it’s always a negative experience, their brain neurons are going to classify bath (and everything that comes with it, like the sound of bath or hearing you talk about bath) as something that’s dangerous.

To “decrease the scare factor” of the bath, you need to offer your child some neutral play experiences outside of bath time.

Here’s what this could look like:

Unlike an actual bath, you can end these activities as soon as they start showing signs of dysregulation. This should always be a positive experience, and you shouldn’t force your child to engage with any activity. It’s better to end the activity on a positive, regulated note than force them through it and create another negative association with the bath.

This isn’t an overnight win. It takes consistency and repeated positive exposures to a regulating experience. Overtime, hopefully these continued neutral and positive experiences with the bath will override the negative experiences so that instead of entering the bathroom with their heart pounding, pupils dilated, completely dysregulated, they’ll enter the bathroom with a calm, regulated body.

young girl holding clear cup in a. bathtub, clup is full of purple and blue glopal cubes that are illluminating her face
scoop up the glo pals in a scooper and watch your child’s face light up!

Please note that if your child has extreme fears or extreme sensory sensitivities to bath time and other daily tasks, they could benefit from additional support from an Occupational Therapist. 

In summary, here are my top tips if your toddler hates bath time:

Looking for more tips on supporting your sensory child through daily tasks? Click here to consult with me 1:1. 

EXPLORE A RELATED CATEGORY:

Sensory Processing, Social/Emotional Skills

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MEET THE AUTHOR

Laura Petix, MS OTR/L

I’m an enneagram 6, so my brain is constantly moving. My OT lenses never turn off and I can’t “un-see” the sensory and other developmental skills that go in to literally every activity. I love taking what I see and breaking it down into simple terms so parents can understand what goes into their child’s behavior and skills.

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