When a child learns to bathe on his own, it's a major milestone of independence. However, just because your child can handle a washcloth and soap doesn't mean he is old enough to be left alone with a bathtub of water. While many kids are able to physically bathe themselves by age 3 or 4, they still need adult supervision until at least age 6.
Safety Issues in the Bath
Drowning is the major safety concern during bath time. According to a report in the journal "Pediatrics," about 78 percent of infant drowning deaths occur in bathtubs or large buckets in the home. Even leaving a child alone for a few minutes can lead to a dangerous situation. Bath seats can tip over or entrap an infant or toddler, while older children might fall into the water when they attempt to stand in the tub. Small children may also be at risk of burns should they accidentally turn on the hot water tap while left without supervision, while older kids may slip and fall on the slick, wet floor after exiting the bath.
Official Recommendations for Baths
According to Medline Plus, kids under age 6 should not be left in a bathtub alone or left alone in a bathroom with water in the tub. Until that age, a supervising adult should watch the young child at bath time. Older children should not be left in charge of bathing a younger child.
Typical Bath-time Independence
By age 5, your child should be able to undress himself and perform basic washing tasks, such as washing his hands and drying off after a bath. Because of this apparent independence, it is easy for parents to forget that a young child still needs bath-time supervision. A 2003 study published in "Ambulatory Pediatrics" found that 7.7 percent of parents reported leaving their children to bathe alone before the age of 5, and 1.5 percent left children as young as 2 years old to bathe on their own. A full 37 percent of parents reported leaving their young child unsupervised in the bathroom for short periods of time, often when the parent left the room to answer a phone call, cook, or retrieve a towel.
Reasons to Continue Bath-Time Assistance
In some cases, children older than 6 may still require help in the bathroom. Kids with medical difficulties, such as childhood seizures, may continue to need supervision. Kids who are sick with the flu or something else that could make them dizzy should be left alone while taking a bath. A curtain can be pulled back part-way for privacy. Older children with long hair may need an adult's help with shampooing. Children taking medications, whether over-the-counter cold medicine or a prescription, that make them drowsy should be supervised at bath-time.