Tub trauma

Why are children afraid of taking a bath? Our expert tells you why

Q: My three-year-old is terrified to have a bath. She screams and will not sit down (she even cries when we talk about it). She loved the bath until we tried potty-training her; now she associates that wet feeling with pee and won’t go in the tub. She’s even terrified to go swimming, because she thinks she’s going to pee. What’s going on?

A: During the toilet-training period, many children get the idea that losing control of their bladders is a bad thing, which at your daughter’s age is hard to differentiate from being a bad person. When she avoids bathing and swimming, she’s likely trying to avoid feeling bad about herself. Explain to your daughter that it’s OK if she needs to pee in the bathtub, and consider using swim diapers until she develops bladder control in swimming pools. Expect gradual progress and let her know that you are confident she’ll be able to control her bladder in the water when she’s ready. Encourage your daughter to use the toilet before getting into the tub or pool to decrease the likelihood of accidents. Praise her successes and be patient, forgiving and calm when accidents happen; don’t punish, scold or shame her in any way. It may be awhile before she can reliably control her bladder.