Water aversion and bathing - Mothering Forums
Special Needs Parenting > Water aversion and bathing
WindyCityMom's Avatar WindyCityMom 10:57 AM 03-08-2012

My DD1 is currently going too long in between taking baths.  She's 4.  She has sensory issues and some other stuff going on.  I've contemplated posting this for awhile but have always figured I could handle it.  I saw a thread about it resurrected so here I am.  A lot of responses there were just "oh it's a stage", but for my DD, it is not a stage, so those replies don't really help winky.gif


She has a huge aversion to water, unless she's washing her hands in the sink or drinking it.  She freaks when it rains or snows and the drops touch her.  Her biggest aversion is water on her head and face, but hates it in general.  She has long (below her shoulder blades) thick and oily hair, and she gets quite messy when eating (won't wear anything to hold her hair back from her plate) so she needs her hair washed.  It is thick (straight) and needs to be brushed daily.  I can't brush it if it isn't conditioned.


Bathing her is a terror.. she flips, hits me, screams, flops around.. I have an extra large bathmat, but she still manages to slip and I need to catch her somehow.  It's hard on my back (she's over 45lbs) when she's flopping around like dead weight.  I'm pregnant and it is going to get increasingly difficult for me to bathe her and deal with all of this once I get bigger.  My husband can't help me as he lacks the appropriate tools to deal with her behavior.. he doesn't get that there's actually something wrong with her and she's not just being "bad".  He needs a reality check, I know, but let's put that aside for now.


What can *I* do to make this situation easier for myself?  It is so difficult.  I was contemplating getting waterless soap (the kind we used on patients who were confined to their beds) and doing spongebaths on a bed or the carpet where she can't bang her head on tile.. but she can't stand being cold or feeling a chill which is inevitable and will likely send her into another wild fury.


On top of this, her 2yo sister has seen and heard her put up a fight in the bath, so now she's doing it too (to an extent, just smacking the water cup of shampoo out of my hand.  we talk about it and she's okay, but it is getting incredibly trying!).

Jen Muise's Avatar Jen Muise 12:41 PM 03-08-2012

Both my kids have had bath issues at various times, altho not to the degree you're describing.  Maybe some of the things we did will give you some ideas tho.


1) Cool toys, bath additives (confetti and bath salts), soap crayons - we would fill up the tub as tho she was going to have a bath, but have no expectations of having one.  The idea was to get her to play with the water, and the toys in the tub and generally stop associating bathroom + water in the tub with anxiety.


2) Getting in with her, or having a bath and inviting her in


3) Getting a hair cut.  Making the hair routine less complicated helped tons, especially since rinsing and getting hair wet were highly anxiety inducing for my girls


4) having a towel within reach so they could easily grab it and wipe their face


5) Wearing a dive mask, goggles or foam visor to protect their eyes


6) Having private lessons at the local pool to deal with water anxiety

WindyCityMom's Avatar WindyCityMom 01:47 PM 03-08-2012

Thanks!  We actually do fill up the tub from time to time for her to give her bath dolly a bath in (she won't play with her when it's actually bathtime), but maybe I'll start offering more fun incentives to get her *in* the bath more easily.  Still though, it likely won't fix the fits she goes through :(  She won't keep any kind of towel, goggles, anything on her face.  When we see the OT I'm going to ask her advice too... 

WindyCityMom's Avatar WindyCityMom 02:08 PM 03-08-2012

Oh, and about the haircut.. I agree, I think it probably should be cut..  but I don't want to tromp on her wishes, yk?  In the past, the "natural consequences" me would say that if you don't wash your long hair when it is really dirty, and can't brush it, you'll have to deal with matted hair that looks unruly and is *acutally* dirty- or at least that "me" would've let her figure it out.  But ug, idk.  She wants long hair.  



IncompetentHousewife's Avatar IncompetentHousewife 02:41 PM 03-08-2012

I'm sorry to hear her water aversion is so trying. I hear you on people saying things are just a stage. That may be true for many kids, but kids with sensory or neuro issues.


I'll just tell you what works for me in case it helps. My 3yo is autistic and came to us through foster care, having experienced a great deal of trauma in his past. So I don't know exactly what he hated about the bath or why he was so frantic.


He would not handle water being in the tub. We'd try to set him in it and he'd pull his legs up and not let us put him in it. He raged. We tried a shower, but being enclosed in the shower seemed to freak him out, so the response was the same.


I discovered that he enjoyed playing in water when we turned on the sink, so it wasn't a complete aversion to water as you describe.


We went without many baths, but he had some poop-smearing and intentional vomiting behaviors.


Finally it hit me to try setting him in the bathtub with no water and just pouring a little on him. That didn't really work so well. Then I noticed when I was running a bath for myself, he came in and ran his hands under the faucet and really enjoyed himself.


Then I tried having an empty bath with the plug out, and turned the faucet on. At first he sat in the end of the tub opposite the faucet. Eventually he worked his way toward it and now he loves to sit under the water pouring down on him. It's a huge waste of water and energy to keep heating it while it runs right down the drain, but it's working to get him clean.


He doesn't like to be touched either with my hand, a bar of soap or a washcloth, so I don't get too picky about soaping or scrubbing him. I do wash his hair while he fusses, but I figure he's in there long enough that the water is doing the rest of the work to clean his body.

FarmerBeth's Avatar FarmerBeth 04:57 AM 03-09-2012

My youngest had extreme problems with water like this (oddly, my ASD son didn't).  Anyway, because he fought so hard we ended up sponge bathing him and washing his hair at the sink.  He eventually got over the water aversion (by about age 5 when he started school).  I think what helped is we started taking him when the older two had swim lessons and he just stayed on the edges and touched the water, put toys in it, splashed a little, etc.  Eventually he started to get in a little more.  Now (at 7) he actually loves baths and even learned to swim!

EarthRootsStarSoul's Avatar EarthRootsStarSoul 05:07 AM 03-09-2012

Just a couple more ideas - make sure the bathroom is warm enough.  Maybe you could get a small space heater and really warm up the bathroom beforehand.  Also my kids like these little tablets that color the bathwater.  Maybe try a reward chart?  Suave has a kids spray-in detangler that I use on myself and my kids.  And this might not help, but could you teach her other things about water to give her perspective?  -- the ecological water cycle, how a water mill works, animal life in a pond, Free Willy, the public water supply/ sewage system, the aquaducts, farm irrigation, get her her own a houseplant to water, fill the water bowl for your pets if you have any. 

Tigerle's Avatar Tigerle 07:25 AM 03-09-2012

Possibly a useless suggestion, but have you tried washing her hair the way a professional hairdresser does, sitting with her back to the sink and leaning her head back over a rolled towel on the rim? That way water touches the smallest possible area of her body.

mabe you can negotiate having her hair cut a little bit - like just over hte shoulders, every little bit less helps, and she may not hate having her hair wet as much. I am neurotypical, but remember hating having my hair wet and my hair getting my t-shirts or sweater wet, and the way it was cold around my head until it was almost blow-dried, so I had my mother wash my hair much less than I should have - but I wanted it as long as possible...now that my hair is much shorter, I still don't like getting it wet, but it is so much easier to stand. Still, it took me a decade to accept myself with shorter hair...

Would she accept for you to braid her hair before dinner without putting a hair band in, just letting it slowly dissolve while she eats? Might help with the mess.

Jen Muise's Avatar Jen Muise 08:51 AM 03-09-2012

warming the bathroom reminded me that we used to run the towels in the dryer for 5 mins to heat them for after bath snugglies. 

cristeen's Avatar cristeen 05:49 PM 03-09-2012

My ASD DS went through this, but seems to be coming out of it now, thankfully.  Mostly I gave him free access to the sink, which fascinates him.  He has free access to the bathroom when we're taking showers, and he'll come in and watch.  I'll occasionally give him a bucket of water to play with and a few toys out on the deck.  He actually loves water, but for some reason bathing freaked him out. 


Like a pp suggested - for a long time, the only way he'd take a bath is if I got in the bathtub first and sat with him.  Now he'll get in/out of his own desire (with a little help over the side), but if I leave the room he'll still usually freak.  But it took about 6 months of us not forcing a bath for him to get to that point.  If he ran away or screamed at the suggestion of a bath, we didn't take one. 


But really it sounds like you have more than one problem here, and maybe attacking them separately might be helpful. 


Bath aversion - Not a huge deal (at 4), in the grand scheme of things, IMO.  If the butt is dirty, a wet washcloth can deal with that.  Hands and face can be washed in the sink (doesn't sound like that's a big problem), and everything else can be on an as-needed sponge bath basis.  It's not ideal, but for the meantime, I'd stop making this a battle.  Unless she's playing in mud or similarly completely coated, I'd skip the bath for a while. 


Hair Washing - Natural consequences of not wanting to wash hair... there are many.  Mom can't take care of it, so it gets cut off - she can choose to wash or have it cut.  She can choose to tie it back during meals or it can be washed immediately after the meal (I don't give my DS a choice about tying back his hair, he hates it but I do it anyway).  If she's old enough for you to let her choose "long hair", then she's old enough to make those choices, also. 


I would also look into other options for caring for her hair, because it sounds like what you're doing right now doesn't work so well.  I don't shampoo DS' hair.  When it gets washed, I use straight baking soda on wet hair.  Scrub and rinse.  Ideally he'd get a vinegar rinse, but he won't sit still long enough for me to avoid his eyes.  A lot of people find that after an adjustment period, they can go a lot longer between washings when using BS over shampoo.  I can go a week for my hair.  DS goes longer - weeks usually.  It's not "clean" that entire time, but it's not nasty, either.  Regular brushing with a natural bristle brush really helps with the even distribution of oils along the length of the hair. 


Hair Brushing - DS also has curly hair, and I brush it a minimum of once a day, whether he likes it or not.  If he fights me about standing still so I can brush, then I'll wait until he wants snuggles and do it one-handed.  He's not crazy about it, but snuggles usually over-rule the dislike.  I also finger comb throughout the day when I get the chance, just to pull out any obvious tangles.  If you're unfamiliar with the technique to brush hair without pulling, I'd suggest learning it, because it makes a HUGE difference in the amount of fight I get over it.  A pp suggested a detangler, a common one used in conjunction with BS washing is coconut oil.  A tiny amount rubbed between your palms and then massaged into the ends of the hair can help it slide more easily against itself, minimizing tangles. 


You may also want/need to change your hair brushing equipment.  With my thick hair, brushes are a HUGE pain (both literally and figuratively).  A heavy wide toothed comb, finger-combing, even a heavy duty pick (don't get a brittle one, you'll just break the teeth) are all better options for detangling.  Once the worst of the tangles are gone, I can brush it, but if I jump straight to the brush, I'm going to be ripping out a lot of hair.  And a bristle brush isn't going to do anything for my thick hair either - it has to be a spikey brush, or a combo brush (both bristles and spikes). 


However, if you can do a sink washing without the fight, then I'd be doing that.  A sink hair washing and a sponge bath may get you to the point where you have a Dx, some ideas on how to proceed, and have moved past the trauma she's currently feeling over the issue. 



Tags: Special Needs Parenting