Bathtime may sound like fun, but there’s a lot to watch out for when bathing kids. So only give a baby or child a bath if the parent asks you to and if you feel comfortable doing it. Some kids can be extremely active, and that might make it hard to keep them safe in the tub. If a kid struggles or resists being put in the tub, don’t force it. Instead of a full bath, clean the child up as best you can with a washcloth and let the parents know when they get home.
What if a parent hasn’t said anything about bathing but a kid gets dirty while playing or eating? If that happens, wipe the child with a wet washcloth and change his or her clothes. If a child pees, poops, or throws up and it soaks through clothing enough that you think the child needs a bath, call the parents and ask what they’d like you to do. (You can also be prepared and ask this question when you first start babysitting for the family.)
If parents ask you to bathe their kids, ask if you can be there during bathtime to watch and learn before you do it yourself. That way you can learn the routine and find out where all the supplies are kept.
Top Things to Know About Bathing Kids
- Never leave kids unattended in the bath, even for a second. Children can drown in a few seconds.
- Stay focused on a baby or younger child during the entire bath.
- Make sure towels and other bath supplies are within easy reach.
- Test the water carefully to be sure it’s not too hot, especially for babies.
- Only give a child a bath if the parents ask you to.
Bathing Babies: What You’ll Need
First, gather all the things you’ll need, including:
- a clean washcloth
- mild, unscented baby soap and shampoo
- an infant tub, if using
- a clean diaper (plus diaper rash cream or lotion if the parents use it)
- clean clothes or PJs
Bathing Babies: Sponge Baths
If you’re not quite ready to give a tub bath, give the baby a sponge bath instead. Here’s how:
- Pick a warm room and a water-resistant, flat surface (such as a changing table or the floor).
- If you use a changing table, use the safety strap at all times. Don’t leave the table while giving a baby a sponge bath.
- Undress the baby and wrap him or her in a towel.
- Wipe the baby’s eyes with a washcloth dampened with water only, starting with one eye and wiping very gently from the inner corner to the outer corner. Use a fresh corner of the washcloth to wash the other eye.
- Clean the baby’s nose and ears with the washcloth. Then wet the cloth again, and using a little soap, wash the baby’s face gently and pat it dry.
- Next, using baby shampoo, create a lather and gently wash the baby’s head and rinse it with a wet washcloth.
- Using a wet cloth and soap, gently wash the rest of the baby, paying special attention to creases under the arms, behind the ears, around the neck, and the genital area. Once you have washed those areas, rinse the washcloth and wipe any leftover soap from the baby’s skin.
- Make sure the baby is dry, including all creases in the baby’s skin. Then diaper and dress the baby right away.
While bathing a baby, smile and talk in a gentle, soothing way.
Bathing Babies: Tub Baths
If the family has a special “infant tub,” use it. This plastic tub is sized for an infant and fits in the bathtub to make bathtime easier to manage.
- Be sure the room is warm.
- Fill the infant tub with 2 to 3 inches of warm — not hot! — water. Test the water temperature by feeling the water with the inside of your elbow or wrist.
- Undress the baby and put him or her in the infant tub right away so the baby doesn’t get cold.
- Use a washcloth to wipe the baby’s face and hair.
- Using baby shampoo, gently massage the baby’s scalp with the pads of your fingers or a soft baby hairbrush.
- When you rinse the soap or shampoo from the baby’s head, cup your hand across the forehead so the suds run toward the sides and soap doesn’t get in the eyes.
- Gently wash the rest of the baby’s body with water and a small amount of soap. Throughout the bath, regularly pour water gently over the baby’s body so he or she doesn’t get cold.
- After the bath, wrap the baby in a towel immediately and cover his or her head.
Never leave an infant or young child in the tub alone for any reason. If you need to step out the bathroom, wrap the baby in a towel and take him or her with you.
Don’t answer the phone or a text while a child is in the tub. Babies need your full attention during the entire bath.
Kids aren’t as vulnerable as babies, but they are a lot more active. So be prepared for splashing!
Watch toddlers and young kids at all times. You’ll want to be sure they don’t slip and fall in the tub. If you’re worried about kids hitting their heads on the tap, wrap it in a washcloth so they don’t hurt themselves. To avoid falls, don’t let kids stand up in the tub until it’s time to get out.
Washing a kid isn’t much different from washing a baby — make sure you wash hands, feet, faces, and hair well. Even at a young age, some kids can feel self-conscious about bathing in front of strangers. If you have a bashful kid who’s embarrassed to be naked, draw the shower curtain to give him or her some privacy. Or you could bring a book or magazine into the bathroom with you and “read” while the child takes a bath, covering your face if you have to.
If you’re looking after an older school-age child, ask parents how they want to handle bathtime. Depending on the child’s age and maturity level, he or she may not need supervision.
Reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD
Date reviewed: March 2013