Toddler Afraid of Big Tub

Is the big tub daunting for your little one? PSP members have some ideas on easing the transition.

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Hi there,

Does anyone have any advice for transitioning a toddler out of a baby tub and into the big tub?

My 19-month-old daughter loves bath time, but only in her baby tub. She loves to pop soap bubbles and play with her toy duck, and she'll even push my hands away when I try to lift her out at the end, just so she can splash around some more. Unfortunately, she's outgrowing the baby tub, and whenever I attempt to put her in the regular tub, she screams her little head off, and uses a viper grip on me to hoist herself out of the tub (Ouch! And wow, she is freakishly strong!).

What I've tried so far:
-Getting in the bath with her
-My husband getting in with her
-Both of us getting in with her
-Throwing a bunch of toys in there
-Adding a bathmat
-Playing music
-Playing videos
-Only an inch or two of water
-Water up past her belly button, where the water would reach in her baby tub
-Pretty much every possible combination of all of the above

I've even tried showering with her. Thus far, whenever I've failed to calm her down in the big tub, I would take her out, calm her down, and then bathe her in her baby tub as usual. Then I would leave the matter alone for a few weeks, before trying again.

Any advice? Will it just magically click one day? Do I let her figure out for herself that the baby tub is getting cramped? Should I steel myself against the screams and keep trying until she gets used to the big tub?

V., mom to 19-month-old Z





A summary of responses is posted below. Several people suggested putting the baby tub in the big tub, which I forgot to mention that I already do. Her baths have always been in her baby tub, placed inside the big tub. For those with the same problem that haven't tried that yet, I'm including a few of those posts below as well.




The only other thing I would try is if she has a friend (same age or older) or a sibbling (though that didn't seem to be the case) then let her watch them bathe in the big tub. If she wants to hop in with them then great but let her just watch a couple of times and then try to have them invite her in.


My younger son got over his fears quick because he could see his big brother having so much fun.


If you can't organise this then just let her watch you have fun splashing in there while she plays nearby. She might get the same idea.



My toddler was the same way. He is 21 months now, just slightly older than yours. I tried several times to put him in the big tub and he would refuse to sit down (I was staying with my parents for two months, with no other alternative, so he took many baths standing up!). I returned to using his toddler tub, and just this week tried the big tub again and he finally cooperated and seems quite content. All this to say that maybe just give her a bit more time? You don't want to form negative associations with the bath, so maybe just keep her happy and try again in a few weeks/ months? It helped him when I held his hand and helped him sit down on his bathmat. I wonder sometimes if he had to get used to the water temperature too, as it always feels hot at first? Its always a guessing game, but this was my experience. Hope that helps :)



when our twins were little, we filled the bathtub and put the baby tub in it, so they could sit in the baby tub and get used to it. it was a few months before we were able to ditch the baby tub completely. our daughter got used to it long before our son did, so we'd just let him sit in the baby tub until he was ok with it. i think they get a little freaked out because it's so much open space around them, which they're not used to. he had the same issue with the paddling pool that we filled up that summer, so we also transitioned him into it by letting him sit in the baby tub in it!



we recently had a similar problem with our little boy at 12 months. I tried several different things and nothing worked until one night I made a simple bath, no bubbles and a little cooler (so maybe the water was too hot before) and gave him 2 new toys he'd never seen before - one a wind up fish that swims and another a battery operated tug boat that spurted water out of the top. He got so distracted he couldn't complain.



there are inflatable tubs that fit in the large tub but feel more secure from the babies perspective. i have found that they are a great transition between the baby tub and regular baths. the one we have has a suction so that you can hang it up on the wall between baths.



I know you tried music alreay ... but maybe good ol' Ernie can change her mood? If she loves this classic song as much as my kids, you might have a chance getting her in the tub with a yellow rubber duckie. I recommend casually pointing out that Ernie is sitting in a big kid bathtub ;-)

Good luck. In any case, this will be just a phase ... and many more to come.



First, you have my empathy! My daughter slipped in the tub at 15 months, which resulted in stitches on her lip, a fat lip and a surprise reprise of nursing because she was so upset. The big tub was a real issue for a while there.

What finally worked for us was time, ultimately. Other things that helped: I got in with her a lot at first, we painted on the sides if an empty tub with finger paints - just to hang out in the tub, we put a no-slip mat in the tub so she wouldn't slide around, we would play at giving her dolls baths and talking how much fun they were having, and also we had one bath with her same age cousin who loves baths. All helped, I think. Who knows? :)

I should also say that while my now 2 year old daughter loves the tub, my other nephew finally left his toddler tub when he was almost 5, no worse for it. He finally says he just liked the smaller space. To each his own!



About 3 months ago, my previously bath-loving then-15 month old suddenly developed an extreme fear of the tub. At that point she was still in the baby tub. All of sudden it was like we were trying to dip her in acid or something. She screamed, cried and tried to claw and scrape her way out of the tub so desperately that I was worried something was actually going terribly wrong with her. Anyway, my sister told me she went through this with both her kids and they just got over it.


Here's what we did, and she got over it pretty quickly. The first night, I got in the bath with her (so took the baby tub out) and just washed her as quickly as possible. It was not at all fun. The shower was also a disaster. What worked perfectly for us was to get some new toys (a bucket of foam letters that stick to the sides of the tub), make a big deal about opening them and then dump them directly into the tub. I then got into the tub (with no water) and played with them for a while until my daughter was begging to get in too. Then she got in with me (still no water) and we played for a while. For the next day or two we'd go sit in the empty bath tub and play with them and when we'd go past she'd say "letters".  But she only got to play with them in the tub. Then, when bath night rolled around, I put some water in the tub, dumped some letters in and started playing with them (from outside the tub). She quickly asked to get in and it's been no problem ever since.


We did recently go on vacation and she was terrified of that tub. I found some plastic cups to dump in there and she was happy from then on.



Hi, did you try putting the baby tub in the big tub? Start with no water in the big tub, then add more and more water?

Alternatively: for a long time after my daughter outgrew the baby tub, I washed her in the kitchen sink, no baby tub. This was due more to MY fear of the "big bathtub" than hers!



get in without water! make it a playspace for a new (water-safe) toy, water-safe books, a set of cups, a special snack (yes, food in the tub), with or without clothes on. once you're having fun in the tub, talk about turning on the water, get her to help, if she's ready. if she's not, wait and try it again later, tomorrow, etc. once she's ok being in the tub w the water running, then deal w taking off the clothes (yes, they may get wet), diaper, etc, slowly, moving towards the full routine in as much time as she needs to get acclimated.


i had a cousin who slept in the bathtub bc it was the only quiet place and she had 3 sisters. make it a special spot in the house.



Maybe let her sit in her baby tub while you fill up the big tub? My son loves pretending like he's in a "boat" like that.



OK, I admit you've awakened my love of a mommy challenge. Brainstorming here for what it's worth:


-- First, I am thinking very very gradual is the way to go here.


-- Second, also thinking back off the big tub for a while to give her a calm-down-breather.


-- Then, after a breather of a few days or a week, ....


Have you tried using the toddler tub IN the big tub, with no water in the big tub yet?  (Maybe even work gradually towards this, i.e. start with using toddler tub on the bathroom floor next to big tub.)


If that works, once she's in the toddler tub one day (in the big tub with no water) maybe try a very enticing bath toy or two located outside the toddler tub, but in the big tub. This just helps her feel comfy about reaching out or climbing out into the dry big tub to get the toy.


If that works, next step might be, halfway through a relaxed successful bath, get a pitcher of water and pour an inch or so of water into the big tub. Invite play within and without the toddler tub.


Etc. etc. I know, by the time you get there, she'll be 5 feet tall. But remember, children's fear of water is a true mortal fear. I guess one should check -- is there any chance at all that there has been a bad experience in the big tub, outside of your or your husband's awareness?


Another thought is change of venue / change of scenery. In other words, maybe a first bath in an inch of water while away on vacation could be easier to handle, if the home bathtub has become sort of a charged location.


When I was a very young child, I had a wonderful bath toy that involved pumps and sprayers. You might look for something very magical that really wouldn't work except in a couple of inches of water in the big tub. But careful about letting her play with it from outside the tub -- if that's allowed, then that may just become the new battle field. Maybe introduce after she's comfy in the toddler tub, within the big tub, with an inch of water all around. Then pop the new toy in.


Related reading on Park Slope Parents:

Bath time: How to wash your toddler's hair?

Resolution of Bath Fears