We all expect our kids to eventually assume responsibility for keeping themselves clean, but the question is, when?
Like many Circle of Moms members, April K. and Victoria H. are both seeing their grade-school-aged children insist on bathing and washing their hair on their own. But neither mom is sure her child is actually ready. "Is 6 too young to teach [my daughter] to shower by herself or is that too old?" asks Victoria, who still washes and rinses her daughter's hair even though "she has gotten the body-scrubbing part down." And April frets, a little more directly, whether a child of this age is capable of "cleaning themselves well enough?"
Many Circle of Moms members find that while the transition to independent bathing can start quite early, it usually — and by necessity — unfolds in stages. Here moms trade wisdom on when a child can typically shower or bathe dependably and safely — and on when to stop helping.
Ages 5-8: Learning to Bathe on Their Own
Circle of Moms members who've weighed in on this question share that their kids generally start bathing on their own between the ages of 5 and 8, and most say that it happens gradually. In fact, the best way to help your child gain his grooming independence is to teach him to bathe, shower, and wash his hair in stages, says Rona B. She's taking this step-by-step approach with both her stepdaughter and her own son, who are both 5 years old:
"I started standing outside the shower door and eventually just walking out of the bathroom and peeking in every few minutes to make sure they were actually bathing and not just 'singing in the rain,'" she says. She advises initially hanging around talk them through "the shampoo and conditioner parts."
Rona counsels moms to be patient during this transition. "It's a long process and in fact it takes them almost an hour to wash their own hair. But I guess it's just one of those times that call for patience.
Melany G. let her 6-year-old take over once she was confident he could master his bath on his own, but that involved continuing to help him in small ways, like starting the water, and also checking in on him periodically "to make sure he is cleaning properly (i.e. ears, they sometimes forget to wash ears, etc.)."
Monica T. started letting her kids shower alone at age 8. She made it a point to teach them "the fine details," like getting the conditioner out of their hair, and also remained close by to help them pour out the shampoo and conditioner.
Learning to Wash Hair Takes Longer
Letting a child bathe or shower independently is an important step, but hair-washing can be a bit more tricky. There's the whole soap in their eyes issue and the fact that some kids are scared by water in their faces, say moms Karen D. and Kim. As Karen explains, "I let my 6- and 5-year-olds shower alone, but washing their hair was a little more complicated," and took some time. She found a product that helps kids get the job done correctly — a shower head designed specifically for younger kids that can be adjusted for height. "It doesn't spray really hard either, but is good enough to get them clean," she explains.
Kim's daughter initially couldn't wash her hair on her own because she was afraid of getting water in her face, but some accidental fun helped her over this fear, and now "she couldn't care less" when water pours over her head: "I bought her a pool for the backyard and we were playing with it one day and my husband poured a bucket of water on my head. When she laughed, he did the same thing to her and she thought it was fun."
Teaching Bath and Shower Safety
For many moms, safety is the most important factor in deciding whether to allow a child to shower or bathe alone. Olga K.'s 5-year-old daughter insists she doesn't need help, but Olga still supervises. And as Brenda A. explains, there isn't "an absolute age limit" for when this kind of supervision should end; rather, it's a judgment call based on on your child's awareness of safety issues in the bathroom:
"You need to use common sense and your own judgment as to your son's maturity level and as to whether you think he will be safe in the tub on his own," she reminds.
For Anneke C., this comes down to a child's awareness of how slippery the shower floor is and of the need to regulate the water temperature. When her oldest showers she sticks around to check the water temperature for him. Michele S. solved this problem by teaching her son to check it himself before he gets in the shower.
Ages 8+: The Need For Privacy
By around ages 8 and 9, kids may begin to disinvite moms to help with their bathing or showers. Privacy is a growing issue at that stage, says Sally M. It's a good idea to take your child's lead and let him have some privacy for personal grooming:
"My granddaughter, age 8, started going to another room to change into her PJs about a year or so ago. That was enough to let us know that she needed privacy. We have no hangups about bodies in this house but we do respect each other even to knocking on doors no matter what their age," she shares.
The modesty issue is one many Circle of Moms members believe is key to knowing when to let kids bathe and wash their hair alone, without your help, and more importantly, without you being present. Cheryl P., for instance, feels that by age 10, moms need to show respect by letting a child bathe or shower on his own: "At 10 there wasn't a chance I was going to be bathing [my son], he needs his privacy."
Elizabeth M. points out that sometimes there are special circumstances that require moms to help their childing bather or shower beyond this age, but barring these types of physical or developmental issues, kids should be grooming themselves independently by the fourth or fifth grade. Why is she so sure? When her son broke his collarbone at 11 and once again needed her help in the bath: "He chose to leave his underwear on while I was in the room with him."