If there’s one thing almost all toddlers have in common, it’s a profound dislike of having a lot of water poured over their heads. Most of the time, that’s fine. We’ll avoid getting hit in the face by a spray of water at the waterpark and play more gently with the water balloons. But dealing with shampoo can be a tricky problem when you’ve got a toddler who doesn’t want any water coming near his head. Do you force the issue or let it go? Here’s how to decide.

How Dirty is Your Toddler’s Hair?

Unless your toddler has smeared spaghetti sauce through it, spread glue-covered glitter all along one side or dunked the ends in her soup, it’s probably fine to go without shampoo today. Unlike adults and older children, toddlers don’t produce enough oil and sweat to make daily hair washing a true necessity. Shampooing once a week or even less reduces the conflict around shampooing and allows her natural oils to condition her hair.

Use a Washcloth Instead

If you do need to wash something gunky out of your toddler’s hair, try using a wet washcloth with shampoo on it instead of pouring water over his entire head. The wet washcloth approach is less likely to get soap and water in his eyes and it’s also less frightening than a big surge of water. It can take a little more time to rinse the soap out with a washcloth than by pouring water, but if it means your tyke will cooperate instead of screaming bloody murder, then it may be worth the effort.

Let Him Pour the Water Himself

For toddlers who have figured out how to close their eyes to avoid having soap and water in them, letting them pour the rinse water themselves can be a good solution. Strong, independent little people love doing things themselves, especially things that are usually adult tasks. Again, letting your kid pour the water himself may take a little longer, but if you take turns you’ll teach sharing skills and eventually get the suds rinsed off.

Get it Over With Quickly

If you’ve got a kid who’s got seriously sticky hair and who refuses the washcloth, won’t pour the water herself and isn’t having anything to do with games involving water on her head, you may just need to get the washing over and done with quickly. Keeping bathtime fun means it’s best to use this approach as infrequently as possible, but sometimes you just need to wash her hair. Wet her hair with the wet washcloth, then apply a small amount of shampoo and rub out the gunk. Rinse with one or two well-aimed pours of water followed by a soft towel for the eyes and a comforting hug to help ease the frustration of having her hair washed against her will.

When it comes to dealing with toddlers, parental flexibility and playfuless go a long, long way towards smoothing the road and gaining their cooperation. Save the “we really have to wash your hair tonight whether you like it or not” for when you really need it, and let the majority of your baths be about having fun and keeping the rest of her body clean.