Google+ Authentic Parenting: When Getting Clean is an Issue

Friday, August 26, 2011

When Getting Clean is an Issue

My daughter used to love baths, and showers, and playing with water, to the extent that she sat in a large tub for at least a couple of hours a day (aside her showering and hand washing etc), suddenly that has changed. While she still likes to be in the water and play with water, the actual getting started with it has proven an issue.
So I decided to compose a list of tips that will catch their interest in getting washed up, for others out there who have a little dirt monster on their hands (I often find myself thinking: “oh, you’re that color” when she does wash up).

  1. First of all, it’s important not to make too big of an issue out of it. Generally, in the western world, we tend to wash ourselves all too much, and it takes a while before dirtiness really poses a health risk. Maybe the biggest challenge will be for you to relax a little.
  2. A little goes a long way: even if they just wash their hands, or feet, or face, it may not be what you desired, but at least parts got clean, so relish that and try again later.
  3. As with everything with small children, if it’s not fun, it’s not done. It’s up to you to make it fun for them, if they are reluctant to get in the tub. Nowadays, there are so many ways to make washing yourself fun that this is hardly an issue. We have colored soaps for our daughter that ‘paint’ her skin before the rinse. She can play for hours with them. Another great idea - which I have seen on Etsy - are soap stacking blocks. There’s also a multitude of fun bath toys out there.
  4. If the need is really high, you can offer an incentive: get out a little bath toy they haven’t seen before, or a new soap. It’s best not to have everything lying around all at once, and take out some of the stuff to reintroduce later.
  5. Maybe your child is just bored in the bathroom and prefers to play somewhere else? Why not put a tub or basin in the garden? Rinse her under the sprinkler? Wash her feet in the sink... Offering a different setting can spark their interest in water play and have them going for an hour, so even if they’re not washing intentionally, they are getting clean.
  6. Find out what it is your child doesn’t like about getting washed up. Maybe the soap is stingy or they don’t like the shower. There are always solutions to a problem. My daughter doesn’t particularly like the shower, so we got her a big tub, she can have a bath in the shower.
  7. Starting family rituals can also get the kids involved in washing: collective shower on Sunday, washing hands around a small basin on the floor before lunch and dinner, feet washing in the evening... If they see the whole family is involved, they’ll probably want to join in.
  8. Involve them when you are washing: maybe you can ask them to wash your hair, your feet...
  9. Make an effort to note important hygiene rituals: “mommy washes her hands after she goes to the bathroom, otherwise, she would be carrying around bacteria that can make us all very ill”. “Before we eat, it’s important to wash our hands, or all the dirt from our hands gets in our mouth.” Just noticing the small things you do throughout the day, having them witness them and telling them what they’re about, makes them aware of the importance of hygiene.
  10. Always remember that the world is big compared to your toddler. Maybe washing their hands at the sink isn’t interesting, because they simply can’t see the sink, and using it is too much of an effort. Keep little steps close to the sinks or buy a toddler one (which you can attach to the rim of the bathtub), you can also have little basins on a stool or table, to have a ‘sink’ at their height.

Image: Marcel Nijhuis on Flickr
I hope these helped. If you have any other tips or strategies, feel free to leave them in the comments below.



  1. theprogressivemamaAugust 26, 2011 at 8:49 AM

    my son has not liked bathes or showers since the day he was born. he is 2 now and we shower him about once a week, because it's a scream fest the entire time we are bathing him. luckily he loves to wash his hands though, and he loves to play in the sink. he won't sit in sink if it's full of water, but he will stick his legs in and let the water run on them. so i ate least get his legs cleaned quite often.

  2. Thanks for the suggestions! My 20 month old likes the bath, but washing his hands is another story. We're good about making the bath fun, but you've reminded me that I need to make more of the same efforts for hand-washing. I like your idea to try it in different locations. I'll give it a shot!

  3. I've not had that problem yet. I try to keep bathing time interesting. We change the settings : we have a bath tub and two showers, for 3 children, that makes a lot of combinations ! Sometimes, we have a bubble bath, sometimes, we have a pink bath, and I found some very fun cracking flakes that make cracking noise when in contact of the water. Sometimes the children paint on their bodies (or I make up their face) a bit before bath time.

    Enforcing it with coercion will only make things more difficult when teenage (and when hygiene is sometimes seen as a chore) will come.

  4. My son loves showering with his father and me. Lately he has taken to washing himself and then me with the soap, though he only gets the right side of my back (repeatedly). He also enjoys the tub with only a few toys, which is a relief. He's a hydrophilliac I guess.

  5. I have had a problem with 2 of my kiddos at different times. For my oldest what worked best was for her to wash her own hair in the bathtub. She would lie back in the tub and get it completely wet, then lie back to rinse it off under water when she was done. She hated me spraying the shampoo out. We never did figure out what the problem was but the solution worked for us. When my son was 3 we stayed in an apartment to be near my ill parents. We only had a shower. He was not keen on the shower, so I borrowed an idea from then popular Nanny Jo Frost. We used goggles in the shower. It kept the shampoo and water out of his eyes. I guess my point is one solution does not fit all.


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