Reader Humreet writes:
My niece is 15 months old and up until recently, bath-time was an enjoyable time where she would love to sit and splash about. Recently, she now completely freaks out if you try and put her anywhere near a bath. She’s ok if you hold her over the edge so she can dip her hand in but if you get anywhere close to putting her in, she goes into meltdown. It’s gotten so bad that she almost stops breathing because she is crying so much. This is obviously taking its toll on my sister who can’t understand where this fear has come from.
We’ve tried pretty much everything, from numerous bath toys to my sister getting in the bath with her to try to show her there’s nothing to be afraid of. The fear doesn’t seem to be water-related, as she loves swimming and isn’t afraid to touch or splash water. It just seems to be a fear of bath-time! Any advice you can offer will be most helpful!!
Let me start by reassuring you and your sister that this is actually quite a common issue. There might be no reason for your niece’s fear of the bath; it could just be one of those unexplained and passing quirks of childhood.
I remember one of my charges was terrified of the plug hole, and used to think that if you took the plug out whilst he was still in the bath he was going to get sucked down with the water. So I would just take him out of the bath before I took the plug out, and leave his toys so he could watch the water disappear but not the toys. It didn’t take long before he understood that there was no danger.
I think, first of all, if your sister and niece are finding bath time stressful, don’t try to force the issue. For a week, don’t take her anywhere near the bath. You can give your niece a body wash or maybe wash her in the sink. You could even use a baby bath if your sister has one or can borrow one from a friend (you wouldn’t be using it long enough to justify purchasing one at this stage).
After a week, start to encourage your niece to take a bath - take her to the bathroom, explaining what you are going to do and how much fun she is going to have. If she starts to get agitated, let it go. Let her put her hands in the bath if she is comfortable doing that; it’s a very good idea. Maybe when you take a bath, leave the door open and let her come in and play – but really don’t force it, because there is a risk that it may eventually become more a battle of wills than an actual fear of bath time.
Humreet, I hope some of this information has been helpful to you and your sister. Even if at first your niece doesn’t respond to any of the tips I have given, I am confident that with a little bit of time this phase will pass and you will all be onto the next one.