Bathing in the second year

Splish-splash, Baby has been taking baths since they were a much smaller fish in the pond that is your bathtub. Now that they are officially a toddler, though, how has bathing changed?


Just like when Baby was very young, they probably still have pretty sensitive, easily-dried-out skin, and doesn’t need to bathe more often than every couple of days. The American Academy of Dermatology advises that, before children start to approach puberty, they bathe at least one to two times a week, but the real frequency of Baby’s adventures in the bathtub will probably be dictated by how often your little one ends up getting themself messy.

Aside from mud-puddle accidents or particularly explosive experiments with trying to teach them to use silverware, part of how often Baby breaks out the rubber ducky is just their personal skin and hair composition. If you think Baby looks like they could use a bath a bit more often, you’re probably right, though most babies don’t need to bathe too often unless they’re getting messy out in the world just as often.


My how Baby has grown – but they are still little enough to need your close supervision when they are in the bath. Though when children can start to bathe unsupervised varies from child to child as they mature physically and emotionally at their own pace, children under 5 are rarely ready to start bathing themselves, and many physicians recommend waiting to start to give a child bathtime independence until somewhere around 7 to 9 years old.

Baths vs. showers 

Most discussions of toddler bathing center around, well, bathing, in baths, but toddlers are as capable of taking well-supervised showers as they are able to take well-supervised baths. Toddler showers tend to come in one of two flavors – either a regular shower that’s shared with one of their parents, or a shower with a hand-held, detachable showerhead, which you or your partner can hold to exactly Baby’s height. This method has the benefit of giving you the control to keep a water-shy child from getting water in their eyes, but the cost that you have to hold the showerhead yourself the whole time. On the other hand, shared showers can be more orderly, cutting out any splashing mess, and can give time-strapped parents or children who don’t like to let them out of their sight the chance to get clean.
Baths can be great for exploration and play with water, and can be a fun, relaxing way to wind down at the end of the day, but they’re not the only option for getting Baby clean, and since the toddler years can be a tumultuous time, it can be important to know your options.

Fear of water

Some days bath time may be Baby’s favorite time of day, but that doesn’t mean they won’t declare war on the tub the next day. Fear of water isn’t uncommon in toddlers, even a sudden fear, and some families handle it best by sticking to their bathing routine while others feel it’s better to cut down on baths, and substitute in some sponge baths, until the fear passes. In either case, introducing some fun playtime with water outside of a bath setting, maybe by teaching them to water plants outside or by introducing bubbles or some splash time in the kitchen sink, can help children start to become more water-friendly again.

Another toddler fear that can get in the way of a smooth bathtime is fear of the shower, which can sometimes be cured by moving a removable showerhead out of the tub or by teaching them more about how it works. The fear of being pulled down the drain when the water drains out of the tub is more common than it sounds. This last fear has to do with the fact that Baby doesn’t have a very clear idea yet of what size they are in comparison to the other things in their world. As they start to get a better sense of their physical reality, this fear should fade, but until then, some gentle explanations and maybe a new tradition of moving Baby out of the tub before draining the water can help.

  • “AAP Gives Updated Advice on Drowning Prevention.” American Academy of Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatrics, May 24 2010. Web.
  • “How often do children need to take a bath?” American Academy of Dermatology. American Academy of Dermatology, 2016. Web.
  • “How often do children need to wash their hair?” American Academy of Dermatology. American Academy of Dermatology, 2016. Web.
  • Children’s Health Team “5 Best Safety Tips for Babies, Toddlers at Tub Time.” Cleveland Clinic Health Essentials. Cleveland Clinic, May 8 2015. Web.
  • Raising Children Network. “Fear of the bath.” Raising Children. Raising Children, 2006-2016. Web.

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