“Scared of the plug”: How do you help a child who is frightened of the bath?

Posted in Preschool.

When the mum of a toddler called the Kinderling Helpline with a curly bath time question, mothercraft nurse Chris Minogue had answers.

“Scared of the plug”

Megan says her two-and-a-half year old daughter has suddenly become afraid of some very common objects and situations and she’s not sure how to support her through it.

“Birds, bugs, dogs, the wind and in particular … the bath,” a frustrated Megan explained. “She has never been scared of these things before. I’m hoping it’s a phase, but I am at a loss.”

She’s tried lots of strategies to coax her child into the tub, but nothing seems to be working.

“I’ve tried getting in with her, having a bath on my own and even brought all new bath toys, but she refuses. She says she is scared of the plug.”

Megan’s at her wit’s end trying to work out what’s brought this on – and how to get her little girl back into the tub.

“She has a nine-week-old little brother who has thrown her world into a bit of chaos but apart from that nothing different.”

Read more about toddlers and preschoolers:

“Very common”

Chris says these kind of preschool worries are really normal – and very common.

“I actually think a lot of the things that she’s frightened of are very common in this age group,” Chris told Megan, “and especially the plug! The plug fear commonly happens where she’s been really happy in the bath and you’ve accidentally pulled the plug and she’s still in the bath.”

Chris says small children see things very differently and things that seem benign to adults are terrifying in the hands of preschool imaginations.

“They think they’re going down the plug hole, so it’s pretty scary,” Chris explained.

Empathise and take it slowly

So how can parents turn this fear around and turn little frowns upside down? It’s a good idea to take baby steps, Chris says, and tackle one worry at a time.

“The bath is a good one to pick, to help fix the others,” she suggested to Megan, explaining that it’s also really important to let your child know you’re taking their fears seriously.

“So what we do is just stop even talking about the bath for a little while,” Chris said. “Give her a shower … if she doesn’t want a shower, just give her a hand wash and let it go for a few days, then slowly get her back into it.”

Mum in bathroom with toddler

She suggested a clever strategy that re-familiarises kids with water, boosts bonding opportunities and builds their confidence.

“I’d start with the baby bath, and just fill the baby bath up with an inch of water beside the big bath and pop her into the little bath, and you might get into the big bath. You’ve just got to restart her back with the bath again.”

When she is ready for the big bath again, reassure her that you’re not going to take the plug out otherwise you’ll end up back at square one. 

“Just take the pressure off for the moment, and choose one thing and go with it. Remember to empathise with her about all of her other fears that she has, and then try and distract her back into the right behaviour.”

Genius suggestions, Chris! 

Do you have a question for Mothercraft nurse, Chris Minogue? Join Kinderling Conversation host and mum-of-two Shevonne Hunt for friendly advice, interviews and insightful tips every Monday at 12pm.


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