Tips to Improve Washing and Grooming for the Sensitive Child

Often, children get frustrated when they try to bath, wash, and groom . They don’t always know what to expect, depending on the specific sensory challenges they face. Allergies, poor balance, and fear of water are just a few of the issues they may deal with as they approach these tasks.

Here are some useful tips to help your child adjust to daily washing and grooming activities:

  • Try using a visual schedule, including picture symbols for each task. Setting predictable routines will help your child know what to expect for everyday self-care tasks.Little boy resistant to taking a bath
  • Use a heavy washcloth and slowly apply deep pressure to clean the face and body. Do the same while shampooing. Slow deep pressure is more organizing than light touch.
  • Allow the child to choose shower or bath. If your child is fearful of balance-related activities, try showering rather than bathing. If your child has poor standing endurance or visual perceptual difficulties, bathing may be more tolerable for your child.
  • Dim the lights and minimize sound if your child is easily overwhelmed.
  • Use unscented soap to decrease sensitivity towards smell. This may also help with skin irritation if your child’s skin is sensitive.
  • Use a small hand towel (again, with slow deep pressure!) to dry, as it is less bulky and easier to manage. Dry off in front of a mirror and talk about each body part as you dry it to increase your child’s body awareness.
  • Use motivators and music. Praise small accomplishments and make bath time fun with toys/ games!

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3 replies
  1. tanna
    tanna says:

    thanks for the article. we are having a really tough time with baths with our three year old right now. He has SPD and is high functioning autism. It seems as though most of his problem with the bath is just washing his hair but he does not seem to have a sensitive head any other time. He appears to be extremely sensitive by his ears which is why I think washing his hair is such a problem. It’s made it to the point that I can’t physically do bath time without my husband or someone else there to help. He does not seem to understand that if he lays down (on a baby mat that is elevated) he won’t get water in his ears. I’m not sure what to do. We have an OT that comes once a week to work with him and she has helped with 2 baths so far. She said to give baths every day and do a picture schedule with a reward at the end and we have been but it doesn’t seem to be helping. Any other idea’s?

    • Dana Pais
      Dana Pais says:

      Thank you for reading this blog! I also agree that a picture schedule is crucial for non-preferred activities. This will help your child know what to expect during higher stress activities (those he does not prefer or those where he demonstrates sensory sensitivities). Be really specific with your schedule. For example, with hair washing, tell him exactly how many times you will run water through his hair to rinse the shampoo. After each rinse, you can let him have 1 minute of “free play” in the bathtub. This will definitely increase your bath time, but eventually you can start to decrease the specificity of the visual schedule.

      Another suggestion that I have is to let him wear earmuffs or hold washcloths over his ears when it is time for hair washing. This may give him the sense that his ears are protected from the water.

  2. Samantha
    Samantha says:


    Thank you for the helpful
    My 4 yr old is hypo sensitive
    And on high function austic scale
    Her grooming issue is Brushing Teeth a vibration tooth brush has helped but she gives fight every time to brush any helpful tricks ?

    Very appreciated


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