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Early years

01st Nov 2023

Why won’t my toddler let me wash their hair without a battle?

Aisling Keenan


Taming the toddler hair-washing battle is not easy. But maybe, just maybe, with these tips for success, bath time won’t be such a bloody nightmare…

Bath time can quickly turn from a relaxing ritual into a battleground when you’re dealing with a toddler who vehemently refuses to let water near their precious locks. Sometimes I wonder if my daughter has recently gotten a perm (and we all know the first rule of perm maintenance, taught to us by her majesty Elle Woods in Legally Blonde). 

The struggles of washing a toddler’s hair are a common challenge many parents face, but understanding the reasons behind this resistance can pave the way for a smoother hair-washing routine. 

Why the struggle? 

Toddlers, though small, are complex beings (!). The roots of their issues might be caused by sensory sensitivity  (many toddlers are hypersensitive to new sensations, and the feeling of water running down their head can be overwhelming) a fear of water (some children may have developed a fear of water due to past experiences, like accidental splashes in their eyes) or a loss of control (toddlers are discovering their autonomy and might feel a loss of control during hair washing, triggering resistance). 

Likewise, just the pure unfamiliarity of it all can throw them – I know that’s what does it for my daughter. Routine changes can be unsettling for toddlers.

Tackling the challenge

Conquering the toddler hair-washing issue requires serious, serious patience, a bit of creativity, and a gentle approach. Here are some strategies I have found effective:

Gradual exposure: Introduce water play outside of hair washing, letting your toddler play with cups and containers in the bath. Slowly incorporate gentle hair wetting over time.

A predictable routine: Create a bath time routine with consistent steps. When toddlers know what to expect, they might feel more comfortable. 

Distraction: This one is my favourite, for many different scenarios. Provide toys, songs, or even a story to engage your child while you wash their hair. Keeping them occupied can reduce their focus on the water. 

Empowerment: Give your toddler a sense of control by involving them in the process. Let them pour water on their own head or hold a washcloth to their forehead. 

Praise: Praise and reward your child’s cooperation. A small treat or extra playtime after hair washing can make it more appealing. 

Use child-friendly products: Use mild, tear-free shampoos and soaps to avoid discomfort and stinging.