Trying to avoid a tearful end to bath times or a screaming protest over washing your toddler’s hair? The ‘trick’ to hassle-free hair washing with your kids is to minimise the fuss and remove the fear.
We’ve gone through the tricky process with our three kids (aged 4, 2, and 1) without using any gimmicky tools like these hilarious hats and come out the other side with toddlers that don’t panic when it comes time for their hair wash.
Step 1: Get the set up right to avoid fussing mid-bathtime
Fail to prepare, then you prepare to fail goes the saying. And avoiding screaming toddlers mid-bathtime largely relies on you having got everything ready before you start.
In part this is because you shouldn’t leave young children alone in the bathroom during bathtime for their safety. But avoiding fuss is also about being able to be quick. Few kids love having a hair wash to begin with, so the best you can do is make sure the deed is over quickly. They don’t have to love it, but don’t make them endure it for long while you’re busy trying to get something to stop soap running in their eye while also holding their back.
Here's how to prepare well so you’re not fussing at critical times:
Prep 1 - Always have a dry towel to hand.
You’re going to need this anyway when they get out of the bath, but you’ll inevitably need it mid-bath as well. Have it to hand, not just hanging up in the bathroom, but by the bath so you can grab it easily (or your kids can grab it themselves) to dab eyes or dry hands.
Prep 2 – Use the Pebbl bathtime brush
We’re biased of course, but we designed this bathtime brush to replace regular sponges and cloths and haven’t looked back since. Pebbl makes it easy to prep your hair wash or shampoo, massage their hair and even helps kids learn to do it for themselves. Plus it’s got super gentle silicone bristles which makes it great for massaging scalps and scrubbing behind ears.
Prep 3 – Get a large rinser at the ready
It can be tempting to go for accuracy with a small cup to remove soap and avoid it going in your kid’s eyes, but volume beats accuracy for a quick hair wash. Getting over the process quickly is much better than dragging it out. If you’ve got a screaming baby or a toddler that’s thrashing about, having one jug you only need to fill up once to do the rinsing is pretty key. It stops you faffing about with refills which take more time.
Bonus – Set the room up right
Peaceful bathtimes with your kids are definitely in large part about getting the hair washing done without much hassle. But you can also make the whole atmosphere more enjoyable by setting up the room right.
Warm room – This is always neglected. We’re lucky to live in a small London flat with a bathroom without windows (okay, so not that lucky!), and the advantage is that it’s warm. You don’t get them chilly Sunday evening baths on a rainy night in January because you’ve got an old Victorian home with no insulation. It’s always cosy and that means the bath water’s not going cold too quickly and the kids aren’t complaining when you get them out.
The right bath temperature – You can read more about getting a safe, comfortable bath temperature for your kids here, but this makes a big difference for enjoyable bathtimes. One trick (more on this below) is to not worry too much about getting fresh water for hair washing and fussing about trying to get the right temperature again while soap is streaming into your child’s eyes. Either use the bathwater they’ve been in (maybe a little bit less kind to their hair), or take a jug of the fresh water and put it to the side before they get in the bath so it’s on hand at the right temperature when it’s time for rinsing their hair.
Sensory underload – This is a big reason why toddlers hate bathtime. You can read more about how to stop your toddler hating bathtime here, but a key part is just turning down the feast for the senses that we’re so often giving our kids. Simpler toys, less bleeps and flashing, less bright lights. Keeping it chill really does look like winding them down, not over stimulating them (especially if it’s a bath before bed).
Bubbles – Linked to sensory overload, bubbles are actually great at making water less worrying for kids. They hide bits of dirt or muck in the bath once the kids are in there and they distract from the kids being in water.
Step 2: Apply a small amount of shampoo and massage the scalp
Hair washing should really be called scalp washing. Applying shampoo to your child’s heads and concentrating on rubbing it in there – even if they have long hair – is far more effective.
Shampoo works because it strips out the natural sebums and oils your hair creates to protect itself. Shampoo as a detergent has one part that sticks to the sebum in your hair and another part that stick to water so that as you rinse with water, it washes out the sebum along with the shampoo. Oily sebums and water don’t stick together so, without shampoo a rinse with water might get rid of dead skin and salt, but it wont really change the look of ‘dirty’ hair.
We love shampoo because it leaves our hair shiny and full of bounce again, but really the oily, dull and lifeless look to your hair is your body’s own natural defences to keep your hair from being overly dry or getting damaged.
Of course when it comes to kid’s hair, they are far more likely to have genuine dirt – and all sorts of other food stuff creating a sticky tangled mess, so a proper wash for their hair feels more important.
So we designed the Pebbl brush to make the whole job easy enough for a toddler to do themselves. We’re used to using the Pebbl to make sure we don’t use too much soap, while still getting plenty of the fun from a good lather and gently exfoliate our kids’ scalp.
Pro tip – How much shampoo should you use on your kids hair?
The amount of shampoo to use depends on the length of your child’s hair. Think about it in terms of the amount you put in the palm of your hand.
Short hair – 1p piece size
Shoulder length – 10p piece size
Long hair – 50p piece size
If you’re using our Pebbl brush, you’ll want to squeeze shampoo directly into your brush rather than the palm of your hand and then add a little water before shaking. That mix with water is another reason why the Pebbl is a great option for your kid’s hair. It reduces the direct impact of shampoo on your hair which takes away some of the harshness of chemicals on their hair.
Step 3: Rinse quickly, don’t worry about being thorough
This is the most painful part of hair washing if you get it wrong, and the bit that kids get in a pickle about. Get it wrong and you’ll have fights over hair washing for months, if not years after. Get it right and you’ll ensure bathtime is the peaceful wind-down time that we’re told it’s meant to be.
Some options for a pain-free hair wash rinse:
- Jug or bucket carefully poured is better than a small cup that you have to keep pouring.
- Have a jug or bucket prepared with safe temperature water so you don’t need to fuss with filling one up.
- Ask a partner to lay your child back horizontally so you can use both hands to pour and keep the water from running in their eyes.
- If you’re on your own, lay your child back in the bath in the crook of your elbow to rinse them. Don’t fuss with trying to get them to look up. It takes longer and they’ll keep looking down and allowing the water to run in their eyes.
Crucially, keeping the process quick when your children are little, makes a big difference in their enjoyment. Don't worry about getting every last bit of soap or their hair being super clean. Concentrate on getting them enjoying the routine and encouraging them to own it for themselves. The getting good at it can come later when they're more comfortable.
Pro-parenting tip: Few kids love water to begin with, so help them grow to love it.
The best thing we did for our kids was give them swimming lessons. While they’re still young and in no way have mastered swimming, their fear of water totally changed in just a few months of regular swimming.
A nice side effect of this is that it made bathtime a whole lot more pleasant. Rinsing hair, once a physical battle over when, how and whether it would happen at all, is now a non-issue. Yes, avoiding getting soap in their eye is still important (the set up being right is still key), but being unafraid of water opens up a bunch of other ways to rinse their hair. They’re much happier to lay back in the bath and the thought of water in their eyes is much less of a pain for them.