Q: My 2-year-old absolutely hates baths, screaming and struggling the entire three minutes it takes to get her a little less dirty. What can I do?
A: I once asked my favorite child psychologist, the great Dr. Fay Levinson, for her advice on this fairly common situation. “Top and tail,” she told me. In other words, keep it simple and keep it brief: Wash her bottom and hair and forget the rest. Also bathe her only when necessary. The basic concept is that every unpleasant bathtime experience reinforces your daughter’s negative feelings. She needs a nonthreatening way out of this phase, and her 2-year-old mind can’t find it. You, with great patience and a tolerance for grubby feet, can help her: Read books about tubtime, sing songs about baths and let her watch you bathe. She’ll eventually get over her fear. The same principle holds true for kids with a fear of dogs, cats, aunts and uncles, or even broccoli. Pushing them too hard into contact with things they’re afraid of (or simply dislike) creates scarier moments, and their fears are strengthened, not “fixed.” Books, songs and watching dogs (or family members) from a distance will slowly decrease a toddler’s aversion to a situation.