Development FAQ: 18-24 months – Behaviour

Over the past few weeks it has become a daily battle to get my 20-month-old daughter out of the bath. We have resorted to just lifting her out and getting her dried and dressed as quickly as we can, over the screams and kicking. We have tried to reason with her, telling her that story time is coming next, but nothing seems to work. Have you any ideas on how to make this time of day more pleasurable?

Toddlers of this age live in the present with little concept of the future. Although story time is probably enjoyed by her once she is dressed and calmed down, while she is playing in the bath, she is not yet able to anticipate how good it will feel to be snuggled up with you and enjoying a story.

Begin to give her some warnings that bath-time is ending. About five minutes before you want her to get out, tell her that she will be getting out in “five minutes”. She has no concept of time as yet, but she will learn to associate “five minutes”, “three minutes” and “one minute” with what happens next. Use the same short sentences each day so they become familiar to her. Ask her to finish her game and to hand you the toys and make a game of putting them away until tomorrow. Tell her it is time for the water to go and give her the option of pulling out the plug herself and saying “bye, bye bath”. But if she hesitates or refuses to do this and continues to play, then say gently but firmly, “I’m sorry, but it is time to get out now”.

Giving your daughter a chance to participate in ending her bath-time may help her, rather than just announcing that it is time to get out and removing her straight away. She will learn the sequence is always the same, which appeals to a toddler’s love of routine. Some toddlers like to remain in the bath until all the water has drained away. Providing your bathroom is warm enough that she won’t become chilled, you could let her do this if she wants to. To prevent her from slipping in the bath, make it clear that she must remain sitting until all the water has gone and then help her out.

If she begins to understand when the end of bath-time is coming, it should make getting her dried and dressed a lot easier as she will not be so cross. Get her involved by asking her to hold out her legs and arms so her nightclothes can be put on. If she wants to try dressing herself, then let her have a go, even though it may take longer. While drying and dressing her, talk about the books you are going to enjoy together or remind her of the fun you had earlier in the day. Some parents like to sing the same song each night to help their child get ready for bed. You can make up words such as “This is the way we get ready for bed” and sing it to a familiar tune.

Scenes at bath-time are not uncommon at this age, as your toddler will be tired after a busy day. Setting a routine in place will help to make the transition from playing in the bath to getting ready for bed easier, as your daughter will learn to anticipate what is going to happen next. Keeping things calm and peaceful should help her to settle and make the time enjoyable for you both.