I’ve had mothers tell me that changing diapers is a nightmare. “By the time we’re done,” said one “I’m sweating and exhausted.” Some just get frustrated and angry at having to “fight” a baby or toddler at every change.
And this could all be easily avoided. Honestly. I’ve changed 7 babies so far, and it doesn’t have to be a struggle or a fight.
This is what I teach my children about getting a diaper changed: We’re going to do this thousands of times in the coming years, so you’re going to have to put up with it.
Obviously, try the gentlest method first. If you can distract your baby or toddler with a toy, snack or singing songs and making faces, fine. If you want to make things go more smoothly by having all your supplies ready and by working quickly, fine.
But suppose you HAVE tried distraction and suppose you DO work fast, and you still have a little one that’s fighting you? Then it’s time for discipline. Yes, I just said the D word. Diaper changes are a great little teaching opportunity. And that’s what discipline is, right? Teaching with love, with firmness and with consistency.
Diaper changes give you the opportunity to teach a simple and useful little lesson: to “be still” for a short time.
Diaper changes are also another time to remind your little one that Mama and Daddy are the authority figures. If Mama decides your diaper needs to be changed, then that’s that! There should be no whining, no resisting and no fighting.
Adjust accordingly for age and temperament. Here’s the basic method for older babies and toddlers:
- Tell him what you expect during changes. I say “Be still” in a very firm voice.
- Hold his body down momentarily to teach what “Be still” means if they immediately start wiggling or kicking or waving their arms.
- Repeat the first two steps again. Use a firmer voice this time.
- More resistance? Time for a reprimand. (If you get to this point and give up or give in to your child, then don’t expect diaper changes to change).
- Try your sternest “I mean business” voice, and maybe the “evil eye.” This can work for more compliant or docile children. Have a Kraken? We did. Proceed to step 6……
- Pat him firmly but swiftly on the side of the leg or bum. This is a painless way to get the child’s attention since words alone are not working.
- Repeat your expectations. “Mama said be still.”
- If the Kraken fusses or kicks in protest, pat him again, a little more firmly this time. It still won’t hurt, but the most important thing that’s going on here is that you mean what you say and will not give up until your child complies.
- Repeat from step 4 onward until you have a compliant child that is happy to let you change him/her.
- Enjoy diaper changes from now on. (I do!)
(NOTE: A stubborn toddler who’s been allowed to behave badly for a long time at diaper changes will probably need firmer discipline, or a more serious punishment, than I describe above.) Use your common sense and adjust the method according to age, temperament and how obnoxious the behavior has become.
You may have a couple of questions.
Is it too much to expect a baby to comply with diaper changes? No. They can respond to simple requests, and this one is pretty basic. And think of all the diaper changes ahead of you…might as well go ahead and meet the challenge now.
Won’t they just grow out of it? They’ll grow out of the diapers (hopefully!) but children don’t outgrow defiance. Oh, if only! Human nature being what it is, they’ll find new and interesting ways to cross you.
Why do you suggest discipline when the child is just bored or doesn’t like being changed? I’m not saying that every squirm or wiggle is an act of defiance. I’m not talking about little babies who get restless or fussy. But an older baby, and certainly a toddler, can understand what Mama means when she tells him/her to stay still long enough to be changed. This is not rocket science. If they are fighting against something you are trying to do, and you tell them to stop and they don’t, then they are defying you. True, this may be a small battle, but it’s a battle of wills nonetheless. You can choose to stand your ground, or cede to your child and expect more of the same with other things.
Isn’t it easier just to hold them down instead of making a battle over it? I don’t encourage forcibly holding a child down, especially for an extended period of time. If you can only get a change done by holding your child down by force, this is a red flag that he or she is out of your control (not an encouraging sign for the years ahead of you…). It’s a wake-up call for you as a parent. No one likes to be pinned down, so please don’t do this to your child in hopes of skirting your duty to teach and discipline.