Bath time can be one of the most favorite moments of a child’s day. The comforting, warm water, sweetly-scented bubbles, and layer of dolls or action figures that turn the tub into a toy box help them simultaneously wind down and retrieve to their imaginary realm. While it’s an endearing (and messy) part of childhood, it sadly won’t last forever.
The good news is parents can look forward to the exciting milestone that comes from their youngster transitioning out of bath time and into showering—and hopefully won’t have to clean up as many puddles on the bathroom floor.
But at what age is a child ready to leave behind splishing and splashing in the tub and can take on the big kid shower privilege? For some children, the curiosity and desire to start showering can kick in at an early age, especially if there are older siblings in the house. For others, they beg for a bubble bath every night, and let’s not even dive into those who want to avoid bathing altogether.
Tub or Shower? When Is The Right Time?
In 2012, researchers from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surveyed parents in the United States. They found that parents believed children could bathe themselves at seven and a half years old independently. On the other hand, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that five years old be the youngest age for unsupervised bathing.
However, these sources didn’t specify an age when kids can safely make the switch to showering. So we spoke to Dr. Joan E. Shook, the Executive Vice-Chair of Pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine and Chief Safety Officer of Texas Children’s Hospital, for a third opinion. She lays out when and how to make the change, tips to help youngsters embrace the new routine, and what to keep an eye out for in the process.
When can children start showering?
There’s no magic number for when the shower stage should begin, but a good rule of thumb is age six to seven, says Dr. Shook. At that point, kiddos are in early elementary school and should be interested in showering on their own and understanding how to cleanse their entire body by themselves.
“To take a shower by yourself, you need to know how to clean your body, wash your hair, and get in and out of the shower,” Dr. Shook explains. “You may or may not need to know how to turn on the shower, but you should know not to play with the faucet because the water can get very hot.”
Although it is not a major factor to consider when basing your decision, another indicator that your child may be ready for this next step is if they can dress and undress themselves without assistance. Remember that everyone is different, and ultimately trust your instincts; you’ll know when your little one is prepared.
“If a child enjoys bathing, don’t rush it,” says Dr. Shook. “There will be a time they won’t enjoy it anymore.”
How can you help kids during this adjustment?
1. Help them feel safe and comfortable.
Some children may jump for joy at the thought of the new milestone and can switch from tub to shower on the first try. Others may be reluctant to stop bath time and will require a little more nurturing, love, and support to help them feel comfortable. No matter the case, it’s best to put safety measures in place to avoid any injuries and help ease their nerves.
Place a shower mat in your tub or on your tile to prevent any slips or falls in the tub. To help get them excited about showering, buy your kiddo a few showering treats like a bath sponge, body wash, and new shampoo and conditioner.
2. Child-proof your shower.
As adults, there are many hazards in our shower that we don’t have an awareness of. So when doing a safety audit of your shower, remember the old saying, “monkey see, monkey do.” Stow any razors and skin or hair treatments, so your child isn’t tempted to use them.
“I’ve seen many times where a child will see the razor, and since they once saw their pop shave their face, they’ll shave their face,” says Dr. Shook. “Parents need to do child-proofing as they would in their house because it’s hard for children to see the boundary between what’s a toy and what’s real.”
3. Create a showering guide.
This may sound silly to an adult, but showering without a parent can be a confusing experience for little ones. Place a laminated card in an accessible spot on your shower wall with step-by-step instructions on cleaning themselves from head to toe properly. For example, wet head and whole body, scrub head with shampoo, wash out the shampoo, repeat the same step with conditioner, grab soap and bath sponge, scrub your neck, back, legs, and so forth.
4. Teach bathing safety.
It’s no surprise that children like to touch anything and everything in sight. Once you’ve made sure your shower is as safe as possible, you might be wondering, “How can they hurt themselves now?” When you run the shower, instruct on the differences between the hot and cold temperatures so that they can move the dial to a safe and comfortable setting.
If you prefer to avoid your child touching the dial, appease their inquisitive nature and explain what the dial does and how moving it can change the water temperature from one extreme to the next.
5. Discuss body parts.
While this may be an uncomfortable conversation for parents, it’s imperative to teach your children about hygiene and why they must clean all their body parts, including their genitalia. This can help lead to an even more important conversation about their private area if you haven’t already done so at an earlier age of four to five.
“Talking about body image and what shouldn’t be touched is a reasonable conversation to have at that time,” says Dr. Shook. “Generally, children will start to have questions about their genitalia, and that’s the perfect time and age for an appropriate discussion.”
Dr. Shook advises that parents should allow their kids to guide them in the conversation, so they can properly comprehend at their level. “They’ll ask up until the point that they understand. They all have limits on what they want to know,” says Dr. Shook.
6. Keep a watchful eye.
Your child may make strides within the first few weeks of their transition, but always leave the door ajar and stay close by. There’s always the potential they can get soap or shampoo in their eyes, adjust the water temperature to a place that is hurting them, or they may just feel scared.
There are several ways to lead them to independence where you, too, feel comfortable, whether it be starting by showering with your child, watching them shower and guiding them during the process, or waiting in the bathroom to provide support.
Whatever your tactic may be, be sure to cheer them on during this new stage. If your child continues to fight you on shower time and prefers the tub, that’s okay, too.
“I’m a big believer in that parents, especially moms, know their children more than anybody. So they’ll know when their child is ready.”