Q.My 2 1/2-year-old used to love taking baths and playing with the suds, water and toys and she put up with her shampoos, too. But not anymore.
Now she has a fit as soon as she finds out that she needs a bath; she sobs hysterically while she's in the tub and she takes a long time to calm down unless I read to her right away.
I've also learned to bathe her only every other night; to wash her as fast as I can; to keep most of the water away from her face; and to use a washcloth to wipe some of the shampoo out of her hair before I rinse it. I thought of pouring just five small cups of water over her head and let her count them out loud as I do so she will know how long the ordeal will last. Would that help? Would anything help?
The whole thing is really getting out of hand. This morning she woke up and greeted me by saying, "I am not taking a bath today!"
A.Your question may seem minor in a few years, but it's a major one now. No one can yell more piteously than a 2-year-old who's getting a bath she doesn't want.
If this were summertime, you could let your daughter run naked under the hose outside for a while and then give her a quick sponging, but now you need tricks you can use in the house.
First of all, don't use the word "bath." It just invites tension.
Simply fill the tub with a couple of inches of water, add some bubbles or some lavender oil; use candles in the bathroom instead of flicking the switch -- because candlelight can mesmerize some children -- and then swoop your daughter in your arms, undress her quickly, sing a silly song and put her in the tub for five minutes at the most.
Your little girl will still probably howl, so only bathe her every other day, as you've been doing; let her wash her own face; and start reading to her when she's still wrapped in her towel. In time she will cry a little less and stay in the tub a little longer.
She will let you wash her hair more easily, too, if you use a baby shampoo that doesn't sting; if you only wash it once a week -- unless she's smeared it with peanut butter; and if you teach her how to get a shampoo and how to give one.
This begins with a haircut -- and a shampoo -- at the beauty shop. She may cry, but she probably won't cry too much if you tell her that the hairdresser never, ever gets soap in anyone's eyes.
Let her play hairdresser at home, too, by standing her on a stool to wash her dolly's hair in the bathroom sink. Tell her she can keep some water from her doll's face by dipping her forefinger in petroleum jelly and then drawing a line of the jelly across the doll's forehead -- to make a barrier -- and by tilting the doll backward when she rubs shampoo on its head, so the water will run down its back.
Let her wash your hair, too, while you sit in the tub and she stands on the floor, dressed and dry, like the stylists do in the beauty shop. Hand her a capful of shampoo to pour on your hair and then let her sculpt it into fanciful shapes before she washes the suds away. It's worth the mess she'll make.
To prepare for her shampoo, cut out the top of an elasticized plastic shower cap, leaving enough to make a brim when you pull it down below her hair, and then pin the elastic tighter if necessary. This funny cap -- and a line of petroleum jelly on her forehead -- will keep some water away from her face, particularly if she thrusts her head backward while you wash her hair.
And if none of that works? Don't sweat it. You can get her hair clean, or clean enough, if you rub absorbent cotton on the bristles of your brush, douse it with rubbing alcohol or a light cologne and brush her hair 40 to 50 times. What worked in olden days still works today.
Some folks might think you'd spoil your little girl with this gentle treatment, but there's no point in making a child confront a fear before she can handle it. Especially at 2 1/2.
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