When my daughter was very young, she would scream and through a full blown temper tantrum right in the water when I attempted to wash her hair. It is worse than trying to keep a cat in a tub of water. Although the biggest improvement for her ability to deal with a bath, and actually now request them, was an anxiety medication, there are several tricks that we learned before that and still use today to keep this a manageable activity.
1. Run the water in the tub before bringing them into the bathroom so they don’t have to hear the water. You may want to start with just a little bit of water and work up over a period of time.
2. Find a mirror that you can put in the tub for self discovery. Mirrors sold for the purpose of high school lockers work because they have suction cups, don’t have sharp edges and are often made of plastic. As they get older, ask them to scrub their own hair with shampoo while watching themselves in the mirror.
3. Find something fun for them to look at on the ceiling above the tub. This will come in handy when you are trying to get them to look up while you rinse their hair.
4. Blow bubbles. We don’t usually think of blowing bubbles as an inside activity, but it makes no mess during a tub and can keep them distracted for enough time to have the other parent quickly wash them.
5. Keep certain toys for the bath tub only. This helps keep a clear reward for taking a bath and can help you convince them to get in the tub willfully. If they like to line things up, find small bath toys that they can line up along the edge or on a bath tray.
6. Get a good bath mat. Be ready to receive their feedback on it and be able to adapt. They may not like the texture so you will need to experiment.
7. For children that are learning to write, use a plastic cutting board and shaving cream to create a tray that they can trace letters on with their fingers. After they write something, smear it again and let them do a different word.
8. Read books to them while they are in the tub.
9. Use scent free soap and shampoo if possible. If you do take them to the store, stop in the shampoo aisle and smell the different shampoos with them. Have fun and laugh, plug your nose at some and see if they have one they like.
10. Most importantly – If you child is anything like mine was early on, don’t take the task on by yourself. Get your spouse, friend or grandparent to help. Put them in and work to clean their hair and body as fast as possible. Don’t take the screaming personal, just work fast and safe with a partner.
11. Put bathtime into a routine and use a visual schedule to prepare them. Sometimes, doing this on a more regular basis is more helpful than procastinating and doing just as needed.
12. When getting out of the tub, wrap them in a large towel and hold them tightly. You might as well brush the hair as soon as possible and get it over with because they won’t like that either and there is no sense for you or them to drag out the experience.
13. Use social stories or children’s books or videos that discuss bath time.
14. Use a reward. Find something that they really love to do (watch a favorite movie, play with a certain toy, video game, etc.) and put the bath just before that on the schedule.
I hope this is helpful and welcome any tips you can share of what worked for you.