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There was one thing left on Candace Derickx’s to-do list before she could send her then- six- and seven-year-old daughters off to sleep-away camp: a thorough lesson in showering. “I wasn’t going to be there to clean them anymore,” she says. “They needed to be able to take a shower on their own.”
How to transition from baths to showers is something most families will face at some point. You may want or need to introduce showers to your kids because you’re moving into a house, condo or apartment that doesn’t have a tub. Or maybe you’re looking to shorten your bedtime routine or use less water as a family, either to bring your water bill down or for environmental reasons (or both!).
Whatever the reason, transitioning from baths to showers may be more difficult than you imagined. Showering can be an exciting, older-kid privilege, but some parents will find that their child will resist the switch. Some children may still be worried about water or soap getting in their eyes or their ears while showering. Others may have a heightened sensitivity to water in general, and showers can push them over the edge.
There’s no magic age at which children should transition from baths to showers. “A child in grade three might be able to run her own water, but you’re not going to let a kid in grade one do that,” says Flanagan. The family routine—and how much children still enjoy their bath toys—will factor into when they are ready. It could be as late as nine or 10 years old, although some kids are ready by age six or seven. Children with special needs will likely be older when they’re ready to transition.
Paediatrician Sanjeev Luthra from Brampton, Ont., says a child’s readiness largely depends on their exposure to independent hygiene. Whether or not they have taken showers with their parents or at swimming lessons may also play a role. He recommends parents start with supervised showers, making sure kids are cleaning themselves properly. “Set all that up and complete independence comes a little bit later,” he says.
Janine Flanagan, who is a developmental paediatrician in Toronto, warns that water temperature and slips are safety concerns parents should be aware of. See if you can set a temperature limit on your home’s water heater and place a non-slip mat on the shower floor to prevent falls. Although the risk of drowning is greatly reduced compared to baths, shower time still “requires constant supervision,” she says.
While hygiene for prepubescent children is mostly about washing off surface dirt and establishing routines, there’s no hard and fast rule about how often kids need to shower, says Flanagan. Showering in the summer should happen more frequently than winter because kids are outside more, she adds. “On average, showering every three to four days makes sense, unless they get really dirty during their activities.”
Of course, a certain amount of hygiene avoidance is a normal part of childhood. If you feel your child isn’t choosing to shower on their own often enough once you make the switch, Luthra says this could mean you might be rushing into hygiene independence and should consider more supervision—or even a return to baths. “Become a little more involved for a while,” he suggests.
Ultimately, if your child isn’t loving the shower yet, you don’t need to push it. Let them play in the bath and they’ll get there eventually. Derickx learned not to stress about it. “My daughters can let their hair get a little dirtier as long as they use a washcloth to clean all the important parts,” she says. In the end, her worries about teaching independent hygiene didn’t matter: Her daughters were having too much fun at camp to bother with bathing. “They basically didn’t shower,” she says, laughing.
While cleaning our bodies may seem pretty simple for adults, some kids may feel lost without a parent to guide them. Put a laminated card with step-by-step instructions (for example: Wet hair, add shampoo, wash out shampoo, grab soap, wash neck, then torso, arms, legs and genitals, rinse off soap) up on the shower wall with a suction cup. Giving them a clearly defined routine will help them learn what’s expected and teach them how to wash themselves independently.