How to Wash a Toddler’s Hair When They Hate It

Your bundle of joy turns into a little sneaky escape artist at the slightest inclination of being subjected to bath time. You run the bath with your toddler hanging back in the doorway, watching your every move. You look over your shoulder and speak to your little one, who always loved bath time with all the floating toys, but it’s no longer the happy splash time it used to be.

You’re done with the prep work, and you turn to your toddle only to stare at an empty doorway. It’s hide and seek time again, and you know the tears will flow even before you get your toddler into the bathroom. What went wrong?

Water is fun for toddlers, isn’t it?

A toddler boy is having fun with the water in his bathtub.

All young children love water, or do we just choose to believe they do? Well, watching how much fun kids have with water is a sure sign of how much enjoyment they get from it; so, what’s the big snag with bath time then? It’s mostly about things that can and do burn their eyes, but the lack of control they experience shakes them up a bit.

The first thing you need to do as a parent is to check and actually test the shampoo you are using to wash your toddler’s hair with. The label might say “no tears” with a claim that it will burn if it seeps into the eyes. Test it on yourself, so you know first hand what your toddler feels when shampoo gets into their eyes. You might go through a few different brands but getting the right shampoo means you’re off to a fine start.

Children do love water, but only when they feel they are in control, and there is a lot you can do to give them enough control over the situation. This will help them overcome the fear or anxiety of being submerged in water or having water run over their face, into their eyes, and interrupting their breathing in the process. Moms, you have to create an environment to restore your toddler’s confidence to enjoy once again being in the water and getting their hair washed.

Slip control in the bathtub

BEEHOMEE Bath Mats for Tub Kids - Large Cartoon Non-Slip Bathroom Bathtub Kid Mat for Baby Toddler Anti-Slip Shower Mats for Floor 35x15,Machine Washable XL Size Bathroom Mats (Blue-Octopus)

Check price on Amazon

The transition from their baby bath to using the full-sized bath in your bathroom may have caused a lot of slipping that could have dampened your little one’s sense of control. The more soap and shampoo in the water, the greater the odds become of slipping.

To prevent your toddler from slipping in the bath, you can either go back to using their baby bath so they have sides to hold on to and can easily stretch their legs to stop slipping, or you can get a non-slip bath mat.

This will help your toddler regain their confidence. I know you are always there supporting and helping them get squeaky clean, but somehow this doesn’t register with toddlers. They need to feel that they have a degree of control.

A good water level for washing hair

A toddler girl is having fun in a very full bath tub.

Most toddlers sit in the bath, and the water level is usually at about their belly button level, which is not too full but full enough for them to have some fun and get clean as well.

As a training exercise that can include hair washing at a later time, you can reduce the water level by half, so it just covers their legs. Help your little one lie on their back in the bath. Support their head and back while you gently lower them into the water.  Use cotton wool or earplugs to prevent water from going into their ears. You will be hovering over your toddler, making eye contact, and speaking to them.

If they like the position, let them splash around a bit and scoop some water in your hand, wetting their hair without getting any water in their face. Do this for about two or three minutes but not longer because you don’t want to lose the fun element of the exercise. Use the time to gently massage your toddler head and body, scooping water over them.

Wash time – building confidence with water playtime

A toddler girl and her baby brother are having fun with play time in the bath tub.

Give your little one the opportunity to learn about washing and cleaning things. Arrange a basin of water either in the garden or in your bathroom and gather a few toys that need serious cleaning. Pop the into the tub and have tour toddler help you wash the toys.

You can use a bit of their soap or shampoo, so they get used to the feel of it. During this time, speak to your little one about how nice they look when they are clean and repeat the conversation at their bath time.

With enough repetition, your toddler will see the fun and appreciate the value of being clean and having clean toys to play with.

How swimming lessons may help combat your toddler’s bathtime stresses

A toddler is getting comfortable being in the water with her new swimming lessons.

It’s an excellent idea to keep water associated with fun, so if you can, swimming lessons with a knowledgeable and recommended coach are the way to go. Swimming lessons do not only teach your toddler to swim but also teach them to control their eyes in water as well as their breathing. These are the two main things that cause so much bath time stress.

Once your toddle realizes that they can hold their breath and close their eyes, then you have basically won the battle. Learning how to swim and stay afloat in water is a life skill that will always be useful.

Hair wash days

What you have done to this point is turn bath time back into fun time again, but the hair washing still remains somewhat of an issue. Your toddler has gained a degree of confidence but still puts up resistance on hair wash days. To solve the problem, you need to include a few different distractions. Use only one distraction repeatedly, and your little one will be onto you in no time, so have a few and invent more as you go along. 

Have your little one stand up so you can wash their body and, in the process, use a little bit of shampoo to wash their already wet hair. Try not to create too much lather from the shampoo as it will drip down over their face. Keep a facecloth handy to wipe clean their face if need be.

Most kids like standing up in the bath, so if this works, why not have a few stickers of their favorite cartoon characters just a little higher than their eye level, so they have to tilt their head back a little to see them. A perfect stance to quickly wash their hair while keeping them focused on the stickers.

Toddler eye goggles (swimming goggles) or a visor can help to protect their eyes, and many kids enjoy using them. You can also try bath crayons as a distraction. While your toddler scribbles all over the bath or wall tiles, seize the opportunity to lather their hair.

Teaching your little one a fun bath time song or perhaps have your toddler wash your hair for a change will definitely spice things up a little. You can also play hairdresser by using a small but sturdy stool on a non-slip mat in the bath and speak to your little one in different voices about what hairstyle they want. As you learn more about your little ones’ likes and dislikes, you will be able to find a loophole that will make hair washing less stressful and more enjoyable for you both.


How often do I need to wash my toddler’s hair?

It depends on whether your toddle has managed to get food and other stuff stuck in their hair but generally, once or twice a week is sufficient with a water rinse on the other days. This is just to get rid of some dust that may have settled on their hair during the day.

If my toddler really hates hair wash day, will cutting their short help?

Feel free to give your toddler a fitting haircut; a bob for a girl and a short back and sides for a boy, but you will still have to wash their hair. Having a little less to wash will help a little, though.

Can I wash my toddler’s hair with baby soap?

Yes, but it’s not ideal as it may dry out their scalp from prolonged use. Rather use an all-body baby wash product to replace the shampoo you are currently using. When you do use toddler shampoo again, begin with a small amount, just enough to wash your toddler’s hair properly without too much lather that may run down your little one’s face.


A resistance to bath time and especially hair washing can be the result of a bad experience like burning eyes, or it can be that your little one reacts to different types of touch, and the sensation associated with hair washing is unpleasant for them.

Gentle scalp and body massages help to calm your little one down, so use the same gentle touch when washing their hair. You might want to sing them a nice song or pop a blob of lather on the tip of your nose to keep them entertained. The hair wash blues is just one of the phases that kids go through, and if you’re lucky, it won’t last too long.

Was this article helpful?

Hi! I'm Jennely. My hands and mind can't be still; neither can my three-year-old. So I'm either chasing him or my next project. I like to work smarter, not harder. This is why I write on topics that will help parents solve problems and enjoy precious moments with their little ones.

Leave a Comment