Washing a child always seems to be a fairly straightforward task: put the child in warm water, scrub gently with a soapy washcloth, rinse and repeat — in a couple days. But sometimes the things that appear most simple do so on the back of eons of misconceptions. In the case of washing one’s offspring, misconceptions were built on millions of parents scrubbing millions of children, guided by generations-old information about germs and clever marketing tactics. Sadly, busting myths of kid cleaning, like how often it should be done and what products to use, doesn’t necessarily make the task any easier. Happily, though, it doesn’t make it any more difficult either. In fact, after taking down the six biggest historical bathtime blunders it all sort of comes out in the wash.
READ MORE: The Fatherly Guide to Bath Time
Myth #1: Daily Baths Are Necessary
Adults are deeply concerned about their stench and the perceived cleanliness connected to body odor. Due to this predominately social construct, many have adopted a policy of washing daily. It’s only natural, then, to unconsciously extend the policy to kids.
But kid’s bodies are different than adult’s and they don’t actually need daily baths. That is, they don’t need them until either their activity level or hormonal changes actually cause them to produce body odor. Which means a kid’s bathing needs will change over the course of their life.
Infants have minimal bathing needs. They shouldn’t be placed in water until their umbilical stump has fallen off (which takes approximately ten days). In the meantime, the occasional sponge baths will do in most cases. After the umbilical has dropped off and thoroughly grossed everyone out, then a twice-weekly trip to the infant tub should keep a baby shiny.
When the toddler years begin, parents can transition to a big tub and baths can happen based on their relative griminess. A day of mud bathing and lawn running will necessitate a bath. Otherwise, unless they’re smelly, they’re probably good.
While daily baths won’t necessarily harm a kid’s skin, it’s important to note that getting dirty is generally good for a developing immune system. So maybe it’s best to take it easy on the baths and stick to hand and face washing when necessary.
Myth #2: You Can’t Use Adult Hygiene Products on a Kid
The idea that kids need kid products is one largely birthed by crafty marketers. It’s not as if children didn’t use soap before “no tears” found its way onto a label. Nope. Kids got soap in their eyes and they cried like adults with soap in their eyes.
That said, modern personal hygiene products are chemical concoctions that probably aren’t that awesome to slather on anybody, young or old. If shopping for bath products like soaps and shampoos that are suitable for all family members, look for fragrance-free versions which will be much more gentle on skin.
There’s also no need to buy a separate toothpaste. Just limit the amount of paste on the brush — rice size for kids under three, pea size for kids over three — and make sure it has fluoride.
Of course, this shouldn’t preclude a parent from buying special kid products. There’s nothing wrong with them, as long as parents are cool with being hustled.
Myth #3: You Don’t Have to Clean Bath Toys
Bath toys are grosser than most parents realize. Particularly those toys that can be squeaked or squirted. That’s because in order to work their particular magic they need to let water inside of them. This leads to a warm, damp, dim interior perfect for mold. And mold could ask for no better way to get to a kid than a bath toy destined to be mouthed.
In short, the squirters and squeakers need to be cleaned. This can be accomplished by emptying them of any excess water, filling them with a solution of warm water and vinegar and letting them sit for 10 minutes.
Bath toys can also be modified to keep internal mold from taking hold. A dollop of hot glue will be enough to seal holes, but will also stop the squeaks and squirts. Enlarging the hole with a drill bit will allow for better drainage, keep the squirting action and aid in the ability to clean the toy. However, either modification will render rubber ducky voiceless.
Myth #4: A Bath Should be Abandoned the Second a Kid Pees in the Tub
The nice thing about urine is that it is relatively clean compared to other bodily fluids. Also, once it has diluted into a bathtub’s worth of water, the only thing that is really getting soiled is a parent’s perception of the bath’s effectiveness.
Still, it’s best to make it a habit for a kid to use the bathroom before hopping in the relaxing warm waters. And if they happen to be relaxed so much that they produce a brown floater it is time to remove them from the tub, dispose of the turd, wash the tub quickly with soap and water, rinse and begin again.
Myth #5: Parents Shouldn’t Bathe with Children
A child is unlikely to be psychologically damaged from seeing their parents naked body. Even if that body is sharing a tub or a shower. In fact, the lack of parental privacy can help a child understand a lot about their own body and how it functions.
Of course, for parents who are predisposed to squeamishness, or shame when it comes to their bodies, there’s little that will convince them to relax. That said, it’s important to know that adults have lived lives that have placed nudity in a context of sexuality. Kids totally lack this context. So for them, parts are parts and their curiosity about the human body is more scientific than lascivious.
However, parents who have opted to bathe with kids should be watchful for signs their kid is feeling or embarrassed or seeking privacy, which is a good sign it’s time to stop the practice. Parents can also take a cue from natural transitions and start moving a kid towards solo bathing around Kindergarten.
Myth #6: Toddlers Can Take a Bath Unattended
A toddler may look newly independent with their penchant for exploration and standing up on their own, but when it comes to the bathtub, there will be years before they can be truly independent. Sadly, just because a kid can wander around the living room on their own does not mean they can keep themselves safe, even in the shallowest of waters.
It’s best to keep an eye on the kid until they are able to bathe themselves independently. That age will be different for every child, however, they should be on the road to less supervision by 5 years old.