When can children bathe themselves?

Bath time with a toddler is an exciting time. Between splashes, suds, and shrieks, it can be a soggy, silly experience. It also takes skill and practice to get those grimy little feet clean after a day of exploring.

But as wild as bath time can be, it’s also one of a parent’s most serious responsibilities. According to the United States Consumer Products Safety Commission, more children between the ages of one and four die from drowning than from any other cause of unintentional death, and drowning can occur in just a couple of inches of water.

Constant, adult supervision is the best form of prevention against in-home water-related incidents, so parents repeatedly hear that they should never, ever leave infants and young toddlers by themselves during a bath and should stay close enough for “touch supervision.” But what about growing toddlers? As toddlers get older, more mobile, and more independent, it’s easy to start to wonder when they might start to move towards more bathtime independence, too.

Moving toward bath time independence

There’s no magic number for when children can begin unsupervised baths. Kids vary in both behavior and maturity levels, so there’s no way to point to one specific age that works for all. More than that, children who have medical or developmental issues may follow an even more varied timeline towards safe solo baths.

Usually, by the time children reach age five or six, they’re ready to have a little more independence in the bath. But that doesn’t mean they can safely take a leisurely soak in the tub with no adult nearby. Instead, an adult should be nearby, and should check in often, and keep the door open. This can also be a good time for young children to switch to showers, so the water can’t accumulate.

Strategies for parents of young toddlers

Since Baby is still a few months short of their third birthday, you’ll still need to supervise bath time for a few more years. Remember these tips to keep baths safe and secure.

  • Take time to prepare: Once Baby gets into the tub, an adult (and not an older sibling) needs to stay in the bathroom with them throughout the entire bath, no matter what. Do an inventory of the supplies you need beforehand and make sure you can reach everything without moving.
  • Stay focused: Many older toddlers love spending a little time splashing around in the tub, so it can be tempting to relax a bit during this phase of the bath, but it’s important to stay 100% focused on your toddler until you remove them from the tub and drain all of the water.
  • Look beyond the bathtub: The bathroom can be a tempting and dangerous place for a toddler, and it’s not just the tub or the medicine cabinet that can pose danger. Keep little hands away from the hot water faucet or off those perfect-for-swinging towel racks. Ensure Baby’s feet are dry, so there’s no slipping or sliding on tile floors, and always keep the toilet lid closed.

With a relentless focus on supervision, bath time for your nearly-three-year-old can be a safe and enjoyable experience.

  • Children’s Health Team. “5 Best Tips for Babies, Toddlers at Tub Time.” Cleveland Clinic. Cleveland Clinic. May 8 2015. Retrieved September 5 2017. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/2015/05/5-best-tips-to-keep-infants-toddlers-safe-at-bath-time/.
  • Committee on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention. Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatrics, 2003. Retrieved September 5 2017.  http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/112/2/437.full.
  • Todd R. Porter, MD, MSPH; Lori A. Crane, PhD, MPH; L. Miriam Dickinson, PhD; et al. “Parent Opinions About the Appropriate Ages at Which Adult Supervision Is Unnecessary for Bathing, Street Crossing, and Bicycling.” JAMA Pediatrics. July 2007. Retrieved September 5 2017. http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/fullarticle/570724.
  • “Home Water Hazards for Young Children.” TIPP – The Injury Prevention Program. Healthy Children. American Academy of Pediatrics. November 21 2015. Retrieved September 5 2017. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/at-home/Pages/Home-Water-Hazards-for-Young-Children.aspx
  • “Where We Stand: Water Safety.” Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5, 6th Edition. Healthy Children. American Academy of Pediatrics. November 21 2015. Retrieved September 5 2017. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/at-play/Pages/Where-We-Stand-Water-Safety.aspx.
  • “Bathroom Safety – Children.” MedlinePlus.National Institutes of Health. March 10 2017. Retrieved September 5 2017. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000154.htm
  • “Drowning Prevention.” CDC.gov. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. April 30 2016. Retrieved September 5 2017. https://www.cdc.gov/SafeChild/Drowning/index.html
  • “In-Home Danger: CPSC Warns of Children Drowning in Bathtubs, Bath Seats and Buckets More Than 400 Deaths Estimated Over a Five-Year Period.” CPSC. U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission. September 27 2012. Retrieved September 5 2017.  https://www.cpsc.gov/content/in-home-danger-cpsc-warns-of-children-drowning-in-bathtubs-bath-seats-and-buckets-more-than.

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