Increasing Independence with Bathing and Grooming

Guest Authored By Ashley M, MS, OTR/L

Bathing and grooming can feel like challenging skills to tackle. Here are a few ways that you can make learning these daily life skills less stressful and help your child succeed: 

Bathing and Grooming Milestones 

  • 1-2 years:   
    • Enjoys bath time  
    • Wants to help with washing face, hands, and body parts  
    • May resist grooming activities, such as having his face washed or teeth brushed  
  • 2-3 years  
    • Helps with washing in the tub  
    • Wipes face with a cloth  
    • Washes hands with some help  
    • May resist grooming activities, such as toothbrushing, face washing, nail cutting  
  • 3-4 years   
    • Washes self in the tub with supervision (except washing hair)  
    • Washes hands and face at the sink independently  
    • Helps with brushing hair  
    • Wipes nose independently  
    • May resist grooming activities, such as nail cutting, face/hair washing, toothbrushing  
  • 5-6 years  
    • Needs supervision for washing (with reminders for thoroughness)  
    • Bathes with help to fill the tub and wash hair (and for safety)  
  • 7-9 years   
    • Independently completes bathing and grooming, with some reminders  
  • 10 years  
    • Begins to shower daily  
    • Begins to use deodorant 

  • Break the routine down into small steps. Break down the routine into smaller steps and support your child through each step so that they can do more for themselves with each attempt.  
  • Use a mirror. Dry off in front of a mirror and talk about each body part as you dry it to increase your child’s body awareness. This will help them gain an understanding of what areas of their body need to be washed.  
  • Use a heavy washcloth/hand towel and slowly apply deep pressure to clean/dry the face and body. Providing slow deep pressure is more organizing than light touch. 
  • Use a visual schedule. Use a visual support with pictures to represent each step (e.g., what gets washed first, second, third, etc.). This will help your child understand what comes next and stay on task.  
  • Practice the steps.  Consider practicing the sequence on a doll beforehand. This is a fun way to practice the routine and incorporate play! 
  • Offer choices. Offering choices is a great way to increase your child’s sense of control over the situation. 
    • Allow your child to choose a shower or a bath   
    • Allow your child to select a soap product that smells good to them 
    • Allow your child to select water temperature  
    • Offer your child the opportunity to wash his/her own hair or complete other bathing tasks   
  • Set up the environment. There are several things you can do to help your child learn and enjoy the bath time/grooming routine.  
    • Consider filling the bathtub with water prior to bringing the child into the bathroom. Some children may be hypersensitive to the noise of the water rushing out of the faucet. 
    • Dim the lights and minimize sounds. This will help create a calm environment for your child. 
    • Number supplies in order of use. This will help your child understand the order in which to use different items/products. 
    • Use motivators such as toys or music. Make bath time fun!