It's a toddler's job to get messy, but it's your job to get face paint, mud and mysterious sticky substances off of him after his long day of work. Bath time can absolutely be a struggle -- it would be easier to bathe a cranky cat than it is to get some toddlers scrubbed clean -- but it doesn't have to be a war. Factor in plenty of time for your curious tot to play with bubbles and floating dinosaurs and he won't throw a tantrum at the sight of the shampoo bottle.
Attach a faucet cover to the bathtub faucet head to keep your tot safe if he knocks into it. Fill the bathtub about one-third of the way up, so the water will cover your toddler's lap when he sits down. Add bubble bath if you wish. The water should be warm to the touch but not hot. Swirl your hand in the water to break up any pockets of hot water.
Set a folded towel in front of the tub to kneel on, or set up a stool on which you can sit while he plays. Set a clean hooded towel and washcloth within reach.
Undress your toddler and lift him into the tub. Though he may love to do things for himself, it's too easy for him to slip when getting in on his own. Hand him a collection of bath toys like plastic dinosaurs, floating foam letters and classic rubber ducks. Let him play and soak for a few minutes. If he melts down when play time is over, try setting a visible timer and explaining, "You may play for five minutes. When the timer beeps, it's time to clean your body." Give him a warning when he has one minute left.
Wet the washcloth and use it to gently rub your toddler's face. Skip soap unless his face is visibly dirty. Squirt a nickle-sized amount of children's body wash onto the washcloth and rub it over his entire body, washing his genitals and bottom last. Your toddler may wash himself, provided you supervise and go back over any spots he misses.
Pour cupfuls of water over your tot to wash away the soap. If you'd rather use water from the tap rather than rinsing him with bath water, ask him to move to the other end of the tub while you turn on the faucet and adjust the water temperature.
Wash his hair only every two or three days; any more frequent washing is unnecessary for a small child, unless he's rubbed something dirty into his hair. Help him tilt his head back and use a cup to gently pour water down onto the hair to wet it. Lather his hair with a small amount of children's shampoo. Ask him to close his eyes or hold a washcloth over his face while you rinse the shampoo out with cupfuls of water.
Lift your toddler out of the bath and wrap him in the hooded towel. Rub the excess water off of him before getting him dressed. Drain the tub.