Why do some toddlers hate having their hair washed?

Whether your toddler is pretty prim and neat or she turns into a grimy gremlin now and then, there’s a good chance that you end up washing her hair on a pretty regular basis. If Baby is a water baby, and bathtime is a dream every time, you may not have noticed this problem. If, on the other hand, Baby seems to take hair-washing time as a personal attack, you probably know by now that it’s not just your family, but a significant number of your friends, relatives, or friendly strangers on the internet that are dealing with the same problem. So why is it that so many toddlers are afraid of washing their hair?

The truth is, if you look at it from a tot’s-eye view, there are actually a lot of things to be afraid of during hair washing. The sound of the drain, the smell of the shampoo, the stinging feeling when shampoo gets into little eyes (because no matter how careful you are, if you’re wrangling a squirmy toddler, there’s a good chance a bubble or two are going to slip past), the sense of water running into her face, or the way water can get in her ears, all can contribute to making a toddler a little nervous.

If Baby can tell you exactly what she doesn’t like about hair washing, you may be able to come with a solution that will reassure that fear, whether that means letting her hold a dry washcloth over her eyes to protect them from soap, or using a soapy washcloth to clean her hair without dripping water on her face or into her ears. If your little reluctant sailor won’t or can’t tell you exactly what it is about this part of bath time that bothers her, you may need to try out a few different possible solutions to see if you can find one that works.

  • If your toddler doesn’t like the submersion of the tub, or is just more likely to give hair-washing a second chance if there’s a new and exciting way to try it, offering a shower, or even just attaching a detachable, child-sized shower head to the bathtub faucet, can be a great game-changer.
  • Look! Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a fun picture you’ve taped to the ceiling to convince your toddler to lean her head back so you can rinse her hair without getting any water in her eyes? She will never know until she checks.
  • Sometimes it’s the simplest solutions that work the best. If your toddler has been burned before by soap in her eyes, or she just doesn’t like the feeling of water on her face, or she even just doesn’t like the lack of control that comes with someone else washing their hair for them, giving them the option to hold a dry wash cloth in front of their faces can make a big difference.
  • In fact, lack of control is the reason for a lot of seemingly-irrational dislikes in the toddler years, and just offering a few options – like the type of shampoo, the cup you use to pour water over her head, and whether to wash her hair at the beginning or the end of the bath can help her feel a bit less out of control of the situation.
  • Once hair-washing starts to turn into a battle, it’s hard to stop yourself from bracing for it before you begin, but toddlers are perceptive people, and if you’re nervous and upset when you start to wash her hair, there’s a good chance she will be, too, whether she started out that way or not.
  • Depending on what it is Baby is afraid of or upset about, you may be able to limit her fear. If it’s the roar of the faucet when you turn it on to rinse her hair at the end that scares her, try lining up a few glasses of clean water when you’re first filling the bathtub. If it’s either the sound, smell, or threat of soap in her eyes, you can use less shampoo, or even the type of shampoo that comes out of the bottle foaming, so that it can go in and out of her hair as fast as possible. You also might not need to wash Baby’s hair as often as you might think. For most toddlers, one or two washes a week is plenty, with an extra hair-wash for especially messy days. Since fear of hair washing is something that generally passes before too long, just limiting the experience as much as you can until it passes is often a good way to go.
  • It’s easy to fall into being very careful about hair-washing when it’s been difficult for a while, but sometimes, having a little bit of bolder fun is a better way to get past having trouble with bathtime. Warning your toddler that she is “about to get caught in the rain!” before rinsing her hair and then making the sea she is sitting in a little stormier for her bath toys might go over better than tense, careful hair-washing. If Baby is caught in a rainstorm, she might even get distracted by doing the sound effects enough that she barely even notices her suddenly-cleaner hair.
  • Having the right tools is an important part of every hazardous activity, from skydiving to bathing your toddler’s hair. From toddler swim-goggles to plastic visors designed to keep water and soap away from little eyes, there are a wealth of bathtime accessories to choose from – it’s just up to you to find the right one.
  • If Baby continues to hate hair washing, it may be time to start to think about starting swimming lessons or a beach trip to start building positive associations with having her head under water.

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