Bath basics

Bath basics
It’s bath time! How to bathe your child and gradually teach them to bathe on their own.


Although most children love taking baths, it’s usually not necessary to bathe them every day. Here are a few tips to help guide you through bath time.

How often should a child be bathed?

Most children do not need a bath every day. Unless your child has gotten dirty from playing or eating, taking 2 or 3 baths a week is sufficient until puberty. However, this doesn’t apply to young children who suffer from eczema. Specialists generally recommend they take a lukewarm bath every day, lasting no more than 10 minutes, unless otherwise advised by their doctor.

Preparing the bath

Don’t use cotton swabs to clean your child’s ears. Use a washcloth instead. Only clean behind and around the outer parts of the ear.
  • Make sure the bathwater isn’t too hot. A temperature of 34°C–37°C is usually ideal.
  • Don’t overfill the tub. The water shouldn’t be higher than your child’s belly button.
  • Avoid using bubble bath and bath oils. These products will irritate your little one’s skin and mucous membranes, and are especially irritating to your little girl’s vulva.
  • Choose a mild, unscented soap, not an antibacterial soap. Children have sensitive skin, and antibacterial products can be irritants.

Washing the genital area

For boys

If your child’s foreskin is still attached to the glans, clean only the visible part with water. You can gently pull back the foreskin to clean any discharge that is not visible, but never force it.

Whitish secretions may appear at the tip of the foreskin. Wipe off the secretions, but do not attempt to remove what is under the foreskin. This whitish substance, called smegma, is neither pus nor dirt. It’s a natural secretion that helps the foreskin separate.

By age 3, most boys have a foreskin that will completely retract. If you are able to pull back the foreskin without straining, retract it to remove any secretions that have accumulated there. A buildup of secretions under the foreskin can cause inflammation and may cause the foreskin to tighten. When you’re done, pull the foreskin back over the penis.

When he is 5 or 6 years old, teach your child how to clean his penis on his own.

For girls

After your daughter’s bath, gently part the lips of her vulva. Wipe away any whitish secretions that may be present, using a wet washcloth or bath mitt. Don’t use soap.

At what age can a child learn to wash themself?

A child can start learning how to wash themself by the time they’re around 2 years old. For example, you can ask them to wash certain body parts they can easily reach, such as their arms and legs. By the time they are 3 years old, your child is partially able to wash themself with your help.

By age 4, many children are able to wash themselves, with supervision. Double-check to make sure they’ve washed everything and help them with some of the hard-to-reach areas, such as their back. You should also make sure they’ve completely rinsed off all the soap.

By age 5, most children are able to wash themselves completely on their own. However, children this age should never be left alone in the bathtub. By age 6, most children are also able to wash and dry their own hair without help.

Bath safety
  • You can place a non-slip mat at the bottom of the bathtub to prevent your child from sliding around.
  • Before age 6, a child should never be left unattended at bath time, even if there is very little water in the tub.
  • Never allow your child to play with the faucet, as they could get seriously burned. See our fact sheet on burns (in French).

Things to keep in mind

  • Unless they are dirty as a result of eating or playing, children don’t need to take a bath every day.
  • Children have sensitive skin, so it’s best to use unscented soap and avoid antibacterial soap and bubble bath.
  • By age 5, most children are able to wash their bodies on their own, and by age 6, they can also wash their hair.

 

Naître et grandir

Scientific review: Dr. Jean Turgeon, Pediatrician
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: September 2020

 

Sources

Note: The links to other websites are not updated regularly, and some URLs may have changed since publication. If a link is no longer valid, please use search engines to find the relevant information

  • CHU Sainte-Justine. Living with Eczema: A Practical Guide to Help You Understand Eczema and Better Treat It. 2022. www.chusj.org
  • Collectif. L’ABCdaire, Guide de référence du praticien. Canada, December 2005.
  • Doré, Nicole, and Danielle Le Hénaff. From Tiny Tot to Toddler: A practical guide for parents from pregnancy to age two. Quebec City, Institut national de santé publique du Québec. www.inspq.qc.ca
  • Labbé, Jean. Pediatric bulletins (birth to age 5). Quebec City, Université Laval faculty of medicine, 2006.
  • Eczema Society of Canada. Managing Eczema. 2020. eczemahelp.ca
  • Talbot, Gisèle. Batterie d’évaluation Talbot. Montréal, Hôpital Sainte-Justine, Centre hospitalier universitaire, Université de Montréal, 1993, 124 p.

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