How to Have Happy and Cooperative Toddlers During a Diaper Change
Always ask permission as a sign of respect and consideration for the child’s experience and perspective.
May I check your diaper, please?
Approach with a gentle stride and a calm demeanor. Place your hand on their back and sweetly ask, “may I check your diaper? Then wait for 7 to 10 seconds, giving them time to register the question. Some children will say “yes or no” others will shift their bottom out, as a non-verbal “sure,” and now you can gently pull the diaper out to peer in. If the diaper does not need changing, say, “Thank you, looks good.” Always, always say thank you.
May I change your diaper, please?
When a diaper is due for a change, ask in a way that communicates to the child that it is their choice. Their body, their choice. Most children will allow a diaper change when you ask with respect and kindness because they feel honored, safe, and valued and want more than anything to be in partnership with you.
When a child says “no” and it is necessary to change it, honor the “no” by responding, “I hear you, you aren’t ready, I can come back in a few minutes and ask again.” When you return, the intent and verbiage should be different. “I am back. It is time to change your diaper now. Are you ready?”
If a child says no again, honor that again by saying, “You still aren’t ready, I understand, hmmm, I am worried if the pee or poop stay in your diaper, it may give you a rash, and I want to keep your skin and body safe, it is time now.” Then acknowledge the disruption by explaining how you will support them. “I see you are busy playing, so I will do it quickly so you can come right back to play.” More respect and acknowledgment of them and their perspective. You are building partnership and modeling respectful behavior in relationships.
This would be when most caregivers would pick up the child and carry them against their will to the diaper changing table. Quickly and forcefully move their body around to change the diaper, then put them back on the ground in a hurry. It’s this style of aggressive experience that makes children resist diaper changing.
Stick with respect and offer choices, so they feel like they are in control. “Would you like to walk to the diaper table, or would you like me to carry you?” This is a crucial moment for the child, you, your relationship, and future diaper changes because still, you are honoring the child’s perspective, and this detail is not going to be lost on them. In fact, they are taking it all in, making notes on what respect feels like. You are planting some serious and powerful seeds in these moments.
Would you like to walk or would you like me to carry you?
The power of choice is important for all of us. When we feel like we don’t choose or aren’t in control, we feel anxious, which often leads to feelings of lack and then depression. The Whole Brain Child goes into the importance and power of giving your children, even babies, choice in a grand a glorious way.
In my experience, most children will choose walking to the diaper station because they want to stay in control. They have already told you “no” twice, and yet still, you are pressing on with this pesky interruption.
As soon as they say “walk,” celebrate and honor their choice. “Great!” If they choose to walk but then are not walking, support them by gently turning their bodies towards the table and giving a loving assist of movement. Translation: “This is happening now.”
If they resist moving and plant their feet or throw their body down, say (and this is a gem that you will use often) “Ah, I heard you say you wanted to walk, but now you are choosing to stay still, you are telling me you want me to carry you, I would be happy to help.” Then bend down, still with love and kindness, pick up their body and carry them to the changing table.
Some children will start walking once you begin to pick them up, and some will wiggle around, making it very challenging to move them. If you have a wiggle worm, pull them in firmly and say, “I’m holding you tight because I want to keep you safe. You are moving so much I do not want you to fall” More love and kindness.
The key in these moments is to avoid engaging in this resistant behavior. Your only job is to steady the course, no matter what attempt at distraction, your little throws your way. This is a stellar opportunity to practice acceptance of all choices. Whatever the child does, accept it, take it in, and adapt but steady the course. This diaper change Is happening, buddy.
Steady the Course
Children want us to be leaders because it permits them to be leaders in their own lives. Even though they are making it hard for you, they are testing your relationship. They are tracking the following outcomes:
- Can I trust this person to follow through?
- Does this person care enough about me not to give up on me?
- Did they mean it when they said they didn’t want me to get a rash?
- Am I worth all this hassle?
- Who is in charge here? Me or them?
When you steady the course and don’t let them pull you into their distraction, they feel loved by you. When you let them distract you or wear you down and/or abandon your mission, they question your commitment to them, and you become untrustworthy.
May I pick you up?
So, you are at the table, the child chose to walk, now you are both standing at the table, and it’s time to pick them up and lay them down. Here is another opportunity to model respect and ask, “May I pick you up?”
Typically they will raise their little hands to say yes. Asking if you can pick allows them to prepare their body to be picked up. As soon as you ask the question, their brains communicate to their bodies to flex the necessary muscles to prepare to be picked up. This enables your child to feel strong and participate when you pick them up. Grabbing a child to pick them up without warning is shocking and scary. Asking and waiting until you have their attention and permission will support them physically, mentally, and will build more trust between you both.
Now, the child is in your arms, gently and lovingly laying them down, supporting their head and entire body until they are lying comfortably.
Once the child is laying comfortably, take a breath, lay your hand gently on their belly and look into their eyes. Smile sweetly and ask, “Are you ready?” Wait for them to respond and then begin the diaper change.
First: Ask them to help while you remove their bottoms. “Will you please lift your legs in the air so I can remove your bottoms?” then watch as they gleefully shoot their legs in the air. Gently pull the band down from their waist and lovingly remove it from both legs. Stay connected and say, “Thank you. That was so helpful!” Stay present and say, “I am going to take off your diaper now.” Unlatch diaper velcro, and open diaper, then ask for participation. “Will you lift both your legs in the air, please?” When they do, remove the diaper from under their body. Stay connected, make eye contact, and acknowledge their assistance. “Thank You, that was very helpful.”
Second: Tell them what you are doing next. “I am going to use this wipe to clean your body. It may be a little cold.” then gently wipe them and, if necessary, hold their legs up with a gentle, respectful grip.
Third: Hold the new diaper and show it to them. “I am going to put this fresh diaper on you now. Will you please lift your legs again?” They are usually thrilled to assist you in this way, and their legs go flying in the air. “Thank you! That is so helpful.” Then slide the diaper under their bottom and ask them to please lower their legs back down. If it is necessary to move the diaper, or their center body, make sure to tell them or ask for more help. “Will you please move your hips (gently touch the hip) a little towards me?” (motion in the direction you are referring to) then, when they do, more celebration. “Thank you! Now I am closing your diaper.”
Fourth: Hold up the bottoms and say, “Will you please left your legs again?” When they do, “Thank you!” begin slipping the bottoms back over their legs and gently slide them up to their legs. “When you reach the hips ask, “Will you please lift your hips up?” and when they do, slide their pants up and say. “All done, that was so helpful!” Then ask them if they are ready to be picked up, and when they respond by lifting their hands and flexing their abdomen, you will know they have said yes! Lift them gently, place them down lovingly, and thank them for all their help.
This level of commitment to respectful interaction around diaper changes will create a beautiful relationship between you and the children you care for.
They will rarely resist having a diaper change because the experience will be rich in connection, and connection leads to cooperation.
What to avoid
Avoid giving children electronics to distract them during a diaper change. You will be teaching them to check out when someone is touching them.
Avoid negative responses to how their poop smells or how much they pooped. It is embarrassing and disrespectful to make fun of how a child’s body creates smelly or gross things. They will interpret it to mean they are gross or smelly. Stay neutral, a matter of fact, no big deal, all in a day's work.
Stay present with your little one when changing a diaper. Stay off the phone and avoid interruption until the diaper change is complete. Make eye contact as much as possible and talk with them about the details. They love you. They trust you. This is a beautiful time to honor them, teach them, and model kindness.
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