Whether you’re trying to coerce an energetic toddler into the bath or a less-than-energetic preteen into taking their (much-needed) daily shower, you may be facing what feels like an uphill battle to get your kids clean. Read on for tips—from real moms—that should help motivate everyone, from ages two to around 12, to get squeaky clean.
Like it or not, every parent knows that rewards work. Obviously, the incentives you use to get your child in the bath or shower are going to differ based on their ages.
For the littlest ones (up until preteen, to be honest), it’s hard to beat the magic of bath bombs. There’s just something kids love about these little soapy doodads, which come in all shapes and sizes, and fizz up and leave the bath in lots of cool colors. We’ve seen kids from ages one to 11 get seriously excited about them. Soap, toys, and bubbles are all good for the younger set, too, but seriously, nothing beats bath bombs. Trust us.
Laura, a mom of two toddlers, says she gets her kids into the bath more easily thanks to Crayola Color Bath Dropz. Letting them actually pick the color adds an element of fun and creativity to an otherwise sometimes monotonous task.
For those younger kids who are more than just hesitant to take a bath, and actually scared to go in, you may want to introduce them to some books in which their favorite characters (e.g. Elmo, Curious George, Five Little Monkeys) take baths. Mo Willems’ The Pigeon Needs a Bath! is characteristically clever, sweet, and educational.
For older kids, a shower radio or waterproof bluetooth means they can listen to music or podcasts while they shower. At a certain point, you may have a hard time getting your son or daughter out of the shower.
Some moms stress the reverse incentive (some might call it a threat). “With my nanny I tell her in the morning, ‘FaceTime me when you’re out of the bath or I’m not coming home from work,’” says Andie, mom to a five-and-a-half-year old daughter.
“No screen time until you are clean,” suggests Marni, a mom of two.
Make it really fun
Sometimes you can convince your (little) kids that the bath is a game. Audrey, a mom of two, says when she wants to get her nearly four-year-old moving, “we make it a race and see if we can do the whole bath before a timer that I set for five minutes goes off.”
“Sometimes we’ll have a dance party shower—singing and dancing in the shower together,” says Sara, a mom of one six-year-old daughter.
Make it a routine…and explain that one step builds on the other
As every baby book under the sun will tell you, creating bedtime routines is important; but the value of routine carries on past babyhood, and beyond the bath, too.
“Shower time has always been part of the evening routine,” says Alexandra, a mom two three kids, ages six, eight, and 10. “Dinner, then bath (or showers), then bed….As they finish their dinners, they go straight to the shower and cycle through one by one. Then there is down time before bed. There is no negotiating, no discussion, no option. It is simply established that it is the way the evening works,” she says.
“With my stepson (who just turned 12), we do natural consequences—meaning you need to shower, and then can relax and watch TV before bed,” says Gia, a mom of two. “The longer it takes to get in and out of the shower, the less time you will have to watch TV before it’s bedtime. It works. It’s not really a reward or a punishment, just a reminder that there is X amount of time, and if he wants to waste it complaining about taking a shower, it affects other stuff he wants to do before bed,” she says.
For bookworms: “I might say that the longer you resist taking a shower, the less time you’ll have for book reading,” says Lisa, a mom of two, ages five and seven.
Talk to them about hygiene
As your kids get older, it’s best to be honest and upfront about the importance of having good hygiene and showering with regularity.
“When you hit the teenage years…for some reason they forget how to play with water,” says Erika, whose son is 17. “It comes to a point where you just have talks, over and over and over again, reminding [them about] body hygiene and what happens when you are not bathing, and I’m assuming they get so tired of hearing the talk that they take a shower just to shut you up.” And by this age, with kids concerned about how they appear (and smell) to their classmates, you’ll have peer pressure on your side, as well.
This story was originally published in October 2017 and updated on January 8, 2021 to meet Lifehacker style guidelines.