Bathing Your Toddler (2-4 years)
How to Bathe Your Toddler
You know what your baby likes by now — and certainly what he doesn’t. You’ve figured out what toys he likes best before a bath, which ones he likes during, which soaps irritate his skin, and even which towel is his favorite. But even type-A moms can get harried and forget something, so it is important to make sure everything is ready for bath-time to keep your toddler safe and happy.
- A baby bath towel washed in appropriate baby detergent
- Sterile cotton balls to clean his or her eyes
- Two soft washcloths – one for soaping, one for rinsing. You can start using washcloths to wash the eyes at this point as well.
- Baby body soap and tear-free shampoo. Your toddler is now at an age where you’re washing her with a very mild, gentle, baby-formulated soap and using tear-free baby shampoo for her hair.
- Fresh diapers and ointment for diaper rash (if your toddler is still in diapers)
- Brush and comb. Your baby’s hair is getting thicker so you’ll need a child’s brush or brush and comb set.
- Clean clothes
- 1-3 hooded towels. A towel with a hood will help you keep your toddler’s head warm just out of the bath — and these are some of the cutest towels you’ve ever seen.
- Extra cotton balls or squares and Q-tips. Cotton balls and Q-tips are convenient for cleaning behind ears, under arms or anywhere that needs closer attention.
- Baby skincare. Beyond a gentle soap, you don’t need much, but many parents use sweet smelling lotions, cleansing cloths, powders or other goodies. Just make sure to always check for any skin reaction. Young, delicate skin can sometimes respond differently than adult skin to fragrances.
Additional items: You may want a few more items to make baths easier or more fun.
- Thermometers make sure the bathwater isn’t too hot.
- Bath toys
- A spout cover to protect your squirmy toddler’s head.
- Tub treads to keep a tub in place on the bathtub surface.
- A container for bath toys.
How Much Water
Don’t put too much water in the tub – never more than waist-high (in sitting position) for toddlers. And remember to never keep the water running while your child is in tub, as the temperature can change quickly and you always want to control the depth.
Toddlers don’t need to soak like we do, so there’s no need to submerge them. But if your child seems cold, you can pour warm cups of water over her, slowly, to keep her from getting a chill.
Toddlers still won’t like a bath as warm as you do, so testing the water is very important. Even if you’re climbing in, gauge it for your baby.
- Make the water warm but not hot. Your hands are tougher than your toddler’s new skin and therefore won’t feel heat like a soft young bum will.
- Test the tub by dipping your elbow into the water; it’s more sensitive than your hands.
- Mix the water around with your hands or a cup to ensure there are no scalding spots.
- A lukewarm tub is perfect for your toddler, anywhere between 90ºF and 100ºF. You can even get a baby bath thermometer to ensure comfort.
- For comfort, carefully pour small cups of water over your toddler regularly to keep him from catching cold.
How Often and When
Some parents choose to bathe little ones every day at this point, but unless your toddler has spent the day getting messy, sweaty, or dirty, a daily bath isn’t really necessary. A full bath should be given at least twice a week, and on the days in between, just wash the little face and ears and thoroughly clean the genital area, especially after accidents or diaper changes (if your toddler is still in diapers).
Your toddler has transitioned into the big tub at this point, which is perfect not only for your toddler, but for family baths as well. It’s also still appropriate to give your toddler a little sponge-off between baths if he’s fussy about tub time. Make sure you have plenty of washcloths on hand.
You’ll want to use a washcloth with warm water and a mild baby wash. The best soaps for toddlers are ones without added perfume or dyes, which can be hard on sensitive baby skin. Foam up the washcloth before you start.
Avoid anti-bacterial cleansers, soaps and products containing alcohol, which dry out the soft toddler skin.
Your toddler’s hair only needs to be washed once or twice a week. Use a gentle, tear-free baby shampoo. There are tons of varieties, but stay away from scented ones.
Soaps, shampoos, and bubble baths can dry your child’s skin and may cause rashes, so use them sparingly. They may also be irritating to the urethra, which can increase the risk of urinary tract infections. To keep your toddler from sitting too long in soapy water, have toy time at the beginning of the bath, and save the washing for the end.
Holding and Positions
It’s still important to always keep at least one hand on your toddler. By now you’ve learned that they can get quite slippery and wiggly in the bath tub.
- Place your toddler in the tub, or let him step into the bath with your help. Always hold onto him tight for this.
- Make sure your toddler sits immediately and does not stand in the tub.
- Be careful lifting your toddler out of the tub. You’ll want to make sure to support his back, and to get a good grip before lifting him out.
- Wash him with your free hand, and let him try washing himself.
Now is the time to start teaching your toddler about cleaning himself. It won’t be safe to leave him alone for another few years, but it’s never too early to start teaching good hygiene.
- Start with the face. Use one sterile cotton ball for each eye, gently wiping from the inner eye outward. For the rest of the face, wash using just water. Then move to the chest and neck. Use a small dab of soap, especially if your toddler is particularly dirty for some reason. Do the same for the hands, feet, arms, legs and back.
- Make sure you always clean in all of those adorable folds; scary things can be hiding in there.
- To wash your toddler’s hair, use a cup to pour warm water over the scalp, and then wash the hair with just water or with a small amount of shampoo. Have your toddler close her eyes as you rinse. Shampoo visors can be used for protection, or you can hold a washcloth over their eyes to save some tears.
- Lastly, wash the baby’s genitals. For girls, wash front to back with water. Teach children not to rub these sensitive areas too vigorously (a good tip to apply to all parts, as young skin is sensitive all over).
Bath time is an amazing bonding time for you and your toddler. Some of your own rituals have probably already started to form. These bath time rituals are personalized for your family and something you all can look forward to. Maybe it’s making a puppet washcloth talk, singing a special bath time song, or maybe even a little dance while drying off.
- Scheduling bath time also makes a difference. You’ve probably figured out a peak time for your toddler’s bath, but you’re always welcome to continue trying new things if what you’ve been doing isn’t going as smoothly as you’d like. Some parents prefer morning baths as it can be a great way to start the day for your toddler, especially if your tiny tot is a hot sleeper. But most parents seem to agree that evening is the best time for a bath as it can be quite calming and can help to give your toddler a good night’s rest. There is no wrong time of day, so find the time that works for everyone.
- Your toddler will start getting interested in bathing herself around this time. Let her try it and help her along the way, but make sure that she doesn’t get too rough.
- Your toddler is surely interested in toys, so be sure to add fun and interesting playthings into every tub. If you don’t have any tub toys, plastic containers and spoons excite little ones.
- Making your own rituals will happen naturally. Whether it’s singing a certain song or climbing in there too, bath time can be a real bonding time. Enjoy it!
Your toddler’s post-bath routine can take just as long as the actual bath — and certainly has as many steps. Try to keep the routine short and sweet, especially if baby’s next stop is bed. Here are a few tips to speed things up without forgetting anything.
- Dry your toddler well and apply any needed ointment before diapering, if they’re still in diapers.
- Find clothes with snaps or zipper closures and wide openings for the neck. Now is not the time to be fumbling with buttons.
- Take the opportunity to sing and talk to your little one, both for distraction and bonding. Explain what color the shirt and pants are, count how many snaps you’re fastening, and label each body part as you kiss them. Toddlers are listening and learning every second.
- Instead of trying to pull sleeves and pants over flailing limbs, try reaching into the openings and pulling his or her extremities through.
- Try to keep wardrobe changes to an absolute minimum. The laundry will pile up fast enough as it is.
- Don’t over-dress your toddler at night. Believe it or not, babies are comfortable in 61°F to 67°F, dressed in light pajamas and a sleeper blanket.