A Tale of Two Toddlers: The Hair Wash Day Blues


Following a crazy car journey resulting in a happy day out in the park with friends, I now find myself blogging about two rather different events this week. One of the most self control testing situations I face as a mother, the other, possibly the most encouraging breakthrough in my parenting journey so far! This week’s post is therefore a bit of a saga I’m afraid. Bear with me here…

First, let me take you back to that happy trip to the park, specifically the sandpit – the one where the Little Chap decided to throw the sand…all over him!! Moral of the story: always take something for him to play with in the sand! I am not joking when I say that he came out of there with so much sand in his hair that I couldn’t actually see his scalp! Luckily, we had just had his hair cut the previous weekend, so there was less hair to wash it out of, but nonetheless I resigned myself to the fact that tonight, neither one of us could escape the hair washing!

I don’t think I’m alone when I say that the toddler in my life hates having his hair washed.

The Little Chap has hated it with an increasing volume(!) and sense of panic for about the last year. As a result, I can’t say I’m the biggest fan of it either. It truly upsets me.  Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a “What’s wrong with my child?” blog. I know it’s just a phase and that virtually every child will hate something about bath time at one time or another. I totally empathise with him. I still remember absolutely loathing getting water and shampoo in my eyes at his age (I don’t think we had a No More Tears formula shampoo in the Dark Ages?).  What I hated the most, was feeling I had absolutely no control over the water or the shampoo getting in my eyes (and yes, my mother offered me a dry flannel too)!

I clearly remember the sense of panic, of danger even, and of needing to get away. I am not saying that my parents were evil tyrants or maltreated me in anyway. No, on the contrary, I clearly remember my mother getting as upset as I did at the state of sheer terror I presented to her but also (with greater respect now!) her absolute determination not to give in to my pleading and whining. Luckily she wasn’t the type to insist on a daily hair wash (although, who knows, that may have ‘cured’ me earlier)! Therefore, I’ve deliberately tried to empathise and be as calm, sensitive and careful as possible and to build the Little Chap’s trust in me and not let him down.  My own hang-ups aside, it turns out I’m quite good at setting out unachievable parenting goals!

We’ve tried everything to stop water running into the Little Chap’s eyes. In no particular order; there was the special ‘helmet’ to shield his eyes (it doesn’t fit!), the jug that flexed to fit his forehead as we rinsed (it was too big!) and simply offering a flannel so we/he can keep his eyes dry (that just compounds his fears). Of course, a No More Tears shampoo formula goes without saying, but we’ve also tried sponging his hair with minimal water (hard to rinse the soap, but if he can live with the cradle cap, that’s fine with me)!

We’ve tried getting him to take charge (not up for it!) or to use the power shower (hates the noise!). We tried to use a gentle shower off the taps instead (still not keen)! Finally we tried to make it a game – “What animals/vegetables can we find in your hair today?!”. Overall, this last tactic yielded the best results, but the Little Chap is bright enough to have cottoned on to us already! In short, nothing has worked effectively for all of us. Even encouraging the Little Chap to wash our hair for us hasn’t helped. I even issued an SOS on Facebook for goodness sake!

I know we’re the lucky ones – the Little Chap has been talking for long enough now that we know how he feels about it in words, not just from the lip trembling and screams! We still end up resorting to doing what all the books say, though, which is just to get on with it and as quickly as possible. Trouble is, when the little monster soaking you to the skin (not important, just saying!) is wriggling away from you or trying to climb out of the bath, it can be hard to do this calmly! You virtually end up just chucking the water over his head to ensure some of it might actually come close enough to washing out the shampoo. Not to mention having to scream right back at him, just so he can hear me over his own yelling!

Yeah right, way to build trust and encourage him to try again another time! I swear the neighbours must think we have a torture chamber…

Anyway, you’re getting the picture of a screaming toddler, trying to scale the side of the bath to escape, with Mayfair Mum and increasingly, lately, Mayfair Dad, trying to pacify, calm down and cajole a by now hysterical little person with all three of us soaked to the skin! Well, after the sand in the hair bit this week, we just plain old gave in. No hair wash. We had the biggest tantrum/panic attack yet and frankly just didn’t have the heart or stomach to pursue it.

So that night and the following day, every time the Little Chap lay on the changing mat, he left a spoonful of sand behind. The next morning, there was sand on the sheets in the cot too! Yeugh! My floors and carpets felt distinctly in need of a good hoovering by the end of the day!

BUT! And this is the exciting bit! Maybe it was the right thing to do? (Though both parents felt like dismal failures at the time, I can tell you). Because the very next night, at bath time, while Mayfair Dad (who’s always my calming influence in this situation) was still on his way home from work, the Little Chap and I had a breakthrough moment. I gave him some bath toys to play with and said to him “Come on you, how are you going to wash this sand out of your hair then?” I handed him his little sponge soaked with water and he put it on his head and started to soak his hair…!!! Like aliens had abducted our son and a lookalike was sitting there in his place.

The water dribbled down his forehead a little and straight into his eyes. A moment at which, I have to say, I held my breath. Would this provoke tears? Panic? The usual hysterics? I looked at him and pulled a funny face and he chortled as I mopped him dry.

“It’s all running!” he said through nervous laughter and picked up the sponge to repeat the exercise. Praising him quietly but wholeheartedly, I encouraged him to carry on; pointing out where to sponge next. Then, to my utter amazement, he said “No Mummy, you do it, I just want to play now.”. Was that an INVITATION!?

Out came more bath toys and, as he happily distracted himself with the penguins and the fish and the little boat, I gingerly sponged the rest of his hair wet and lathered it up gently. I wanted to do it thoroughly because, even a day later, there was still enough sand in his head to build a sandcastle (way to get rid of cradle cap!).  All soaped up, we then got to laughing about how I was making his hair look like meringues. To explain that a little, in case you think I’m bonkers as well as a total wuss (possibly true, let’s debate later!), we had been making Mayfair Dad a birthday cake just the day before and talking about things we can make from eggs (perhaps another future post?!) and then, his little voice quaked just a tiny bit.

“I don’t like the shampoo getting in my eyes Mummy…”  No tears, just shivering aplenty and shed loads of big old fashioned bravery.

Now that’s my boy!

I told him not to worry, it would all be out in no time, just to keep playing and he would hardly notice. I sponged the back thoroughly and worked forwards from there. Miraculously, he even stayed calm enough for me to remind him to look up at the ceiling so it didn’t run down into his eyes/face, and we almost managed it. We had a bit of a dribble and a few quiet tears but my goodness it was so different from the previous attempt just 24 hours before. The Little Chap was so much calmer and braver; I just couldn’t praise him enough. Big rewards, lots of bedtime stories and cuddles ensued that night I can tell you.

This week’s blog is therefore something of a tale of two toddlers. One in the throes of the terrible twos last Thursday night and the other a carbon copy replaced following an alien abduction! So could a mild dislike of sleeping on sand have been all it took to cause such a dramatic change in behaviour? He doesn’t like it in his sandals on the beach so it is quite possible… What do you think?

Apparently, we don’t form habits until we’ve done something at least three times in a row, so I’ll let you know how we go from here! In the meantime, if you’re having similar problems, just take your toddler to play in a sandpit – oh, and leave the toys at home!

Mayfair Mum x

© Mayfair Mum, 2011

3 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Toddlers: The Hair Wash Day Blues

  1. it is tough isnt it. My little one seems ok with the hair washing but we have tantrums at nappy change time… hard to explain the ultimate benefit to them when they are so focused on what is going on now to them. We have a really mild shampoo (Earth organics I think – from Waitrose and lots of other places). Anyhow I think it is Q. good as she has never complained. I dont think any of the devices work – she does not like it but we just fill the big jug up and pour quickly over her head a couple times without a word and its over.

  2. Pingback: It’s been a year already? | Mayfair Mum

Comments make me happy. Share a link to your own post on the subject or just have your say here. I always try to respond x

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s