When it comes to bathing your young children safely, the best solution is to start with a bucketful of common sense and a dollop of caution. Then add a pediatrician’s five tips to the mix, and you’ll never be in over your head.
When bathing an infant or toddler of 3 or 4 years of age, the first and most important step, says pediatrician Alan Rosenthal, MD, is also the simplest: “If parents use a good dose of common sense and moderation, that’s the best preventive medicine I can offer.”
Here are five specific tips Dr. Rosenthal suggests to help you safely bathe your young child:
Make the bathroom inaccessible to small children. Install a latch at adult height, so your child can’t get in when you’re not around to supervise. Make sure that you can open any lock from the outside, so that children can’t lock themselves in.
Avoid using bubble bath. While it may seem like a fun idea, the solutions can cause irritation in babies and infants.
“We often have to rule out urinary tract infections in children who’ve taken a bubble bath because they come in with symptoms of redness and burning,” Dr. Rosenthal says. “So those should be a no-no — especially for a child who’s had a history of urinary tract infections — but we discourage them for all kids.”
Do not leave the room — not even for a short time — when your child’s in the tub. Obviously, newborns will need you to support them in the bath. But you should not leave any infant or young child on his own, even if your 3- or 4-year-old seems independent, comfortable and confident in the bathtub.
“If your child is sitting up and playing nicely in the tub, it’s easy to think you can leave him or her alone,” Dr. Rosenthal says. “But accidents and disasters can happen quickly, so never leave your child unsupervised, even for 30 seconds.”
Experiment with different bathing products. Some children have more sensitive skin or dry skin; some children have eczema or different allergies or get more or fewer baths than a child in another family.
Use a trial-and-error period to find the right soap or cleansing solution that works for your child and does not cause any irritation.
“What works with one child will cause itching in another one,” Dr. Rosenthal says. “So start with the baby formulations that generally work for most children and go from there.”
Should your child play with toys in the tub? It’s OK to have certain toys in the bathtub, Dr. Rosenthal allows, but make sure they are age-appropriate to limit the risk of injury.
Washable markers might be OK for children who are old enough to keep them out of their mouths, but don’t use any toys that can be ingested in any way.
“If there’s any question with toys, ask your pediatrician, and he or she can work with you to make it as safe an experience as possible,” Dr. Rosenthal says.
As your child reaches the age of 5, Dr. Rosenthal recommends you begin to give them more independence and an understanding of privacy by teaching them that they need to wash and dry themselves and then dress themselves.
“You still need to be there for safety, but you can hover from a distance,” he says. “Parents really shouldn’t be washing, drying and dressing a 5-year-old. At some point, you need to establish healthy boundaries.”