It’s a battle of wills every time our cats, Jimmy and Juliet, get a bath.

There’s crying, scratching and gutteral sounds that sound like something out of the Serengeti during the evening of a full moon. Fortunately, cats have an innate ability to clean themselves and don’t need much human intervention. So, it’s only about once or twice a year that we wrangle our cats to the water.

Cat experts say that cats don’t like baths because their bodies do not have the ability to warm up; it’s really not the water that annoys them, it’s the chill afterward.

Some children are a lot like cats when it comes to bath time. While boys and girls may not be using their back paws as daggers to carve incisions into their parents’ forearms, bath time is nonetheless a battle of wills for many families.

Who knows – maybe children fear that washing away the day’s dirt, dried blood and Kool-Aid mustaches somehow erases that day’s mischiefs and battle wounds. It’s peculiar that soaking in a warm bath is a welcome relief to a wearied adult; it just clears away the stress. Yet, for a child, the prospect of a bath creates stress.

Well, children can celebrate the news that recently came out of the American Academy of Dermatology stating that they need only bathe a few times a week, and shampoo their hair just once or twice a week. Curly-haired children have even more reason to celebrate - they need only wash their hair every 7 to 10 days.

“For children, a few germs here and there are healthy, as this is how their bodies learn to fight off bacteria and build stronger immune systems,” according to Dr. Robert Sidbury from the School of Medicine at Washington University in St. Louis. There is a caveat – if they’re dirty, sweaty, stinky or have been in water, they should have a bath and shampoo.

When it gets to the point where living with a skunk would be less offensive to your nose, you can help to make bath time fun. At few times other than a bath can you capture your child’s undivided attention – and it’s the same for them with you.

When my girls were young, I’d twist their soapy hair into silly shapes - a curl on top like an ice cream or Pippy Longstocking with ponytails sticking straight out. With a handheld mirror nearby, they could adore their new coifs and I could buy a little more time in the bath.

Baths were a sweet time to share stories, or we’d play what we called the “Alphabet” game where we’d pick a topic then go through the alphabet and try to name something in the category that began with the letter.

A coy parent can kill two birds with one stone – bathing and educating their children at the same time. Bath crayons, foam letters and fabric or plastic bath books can also encourage your child to linger in the tub. If you don’t mind a little mess, shaving cream can also be a fun activity – children can create art and words on the tub or tile. Remember to never, ever leave a young child alone in the bath tub, not even for a second.

Especially in winter, the dry air can dry out a child’s skin. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends applying a moisturizer immediately after bathing and points out that ointments and creams tend to be more effective than lotions. Keep in mind that products with fragrances or an alcohol base can further dry out skin. Garments made from 100 percent cotton tend to be softer against the skin than wool (so wear a soft fabric under wool) to prevent skin irritation.

The pass on a daily bath only lasts until puberty. Then, experts contend that bathing every day is essential to keep body odors at bay and to wash away greasy hair and dirty pores that are part and parcel of the teen years. Adolescents and teens should wash their face twice a day to remove oil and dirt, in addition to the daily bathing.

Handwashing still needs to take place daily, and likely several times a day for most children. Before eating, after using the restroom, playing in mud or touching animals, or after sneezing into the hand (the crook at the elbow is a better place to sneeze). Sing “Happy Birthday” twice to make sure the soap and water gets a full 20 seconds to wash away the germs.

Of course, if your child has skin conditions that require special attention, such as eczema, follow your physician’s recommendations for bathing frequency and recommended products.

While some tears may be shed at your child’s bath time, at least you won’t need to have a supply of band-aids, antibiotic cream and hydrogen peroxide nearby like we do for Jimmy and Juliet’s baths.

Pamela Henderson is the director of development and communications at Dunebrook. To learn more about parenting and support programs at Dunebrook, call (800) 897-0007. Email Pam with parenting questions and comments at pam@dunebrook.org.

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