Washing dishes, changing diapers…

‘There are two ways to wash the dishes. The first way is to wash the dishes in order to have clean dishes and the second way is to wash the dishes in order to wash the dishes.’ (Thich Nhat Hanh)

An infant can have his diaper changed about six or seven thousand times during his lifetime, claims Magda Gerber, and asks: ‘Why don’t we do it nicely? Why don’t we make it a learning experience? Why don’t we want a child to enjoy being diapered?’. Diapering takes up a lot of time in the beginning, along with feeding and sleeping. In fact, that’s what we seem to spend a majority of time doing – changing, feeding, changing, feeding, and changing again…

Respectful beginnings

I remember the first ever diaper change at home. We had no idea what we were doing – it was one of those things we hadn’t really thought about (along a long list of just about everything else past the birth itself). We had watched the nurses change Antek in the hospital, and while it looked quite impressive for speed, the whole process was rather objectifying. Once our little guy was diapered, all we could think of was ‘What just happened?’. So we had him at home, on our bed, wet and unhappy, needing to be changed. Barely even 24 hours on this planet. We were scared to death that we would break his arm or leg, or that something – though we were not quite sure what exactly – would go terribly wrong. The Diaper Change Disaster went on, we were trying to change him, we put the diaper on all wrong, he peed and it went all over the place. We had to change him again. If anyone had filmed us, it would have been great for some slapstick comedy. But there was one thing that truly amazed us – once we started (and believe me, the whole disaster lasted for ever, with diapers changed about three times, one after another), Antek calmed down, and was calmly patient until the end. We talked to him, we explained what was going on, probably more for our own benefit than his. But it worked. Either he felt we were really trying to work it out together, or he had just realized that it might be a really long night. (Anna)

The amazing thing about a diaper change is that it is full of opportunities for interaction – we have to be there, we have to be present, and so does our baby. There is no other way around it. If we see it as an opportunity and a ‘learning experience’, it is bound to become one. For the experience to be respectful, though, we need to be fully present and everyone needs to be involved on their own terms, at their own pace. It’s not always easy, it’s not always straightforward, and sometimes we wished we didn’t have to do it at all. But in all honesty – our kids probably have felt the same way too. More than once.

A good starting point

Since diapering is something we have to do right from the beginning, it seems especially important to set a tone and know how we want to do it. ‘Cooperation in diapering is especially helpful because children go through periods where they don’t like being diapered and they resist it.’ (Magda Gerber) If we decide from the beginning on setting a cooperative tone during diaper changes, chances are they will remain cooperative throughout. Sometimes babies will tease, and toddlers will test – but if we have developed our own way of changing a diaper, one that involves the child, it will help us through the teasing and testing. So it really is a good investment for all of us for the future.

But the diaper change begins before we have our baby on the changing table. Way before we undress him. Respectful diaper changing starts the minute we realize that our baby needs to be changed. May it be because he is uncomfortable or because we have an appointment and want to change him before we leave the house – especially in the beginning it’s our call and we carefully have to pick the moment when we let the child know what’s about to happen.

Often we realize (or, yes – smell) that it’s time for some changing. This is in our mind and we are aware of it. The child, however, might not necessarily feel that way. He might be busy playing or observing the world around him. He might be so engaged that the wet diaper is not bothering him. Yet. That’s why we don’t just go over and pick him up. No matter how important this diaper change seems to us – we have to let the child know. This is not just a respectful way of telling a baby what is going to happen. It is the first step to cooperation.

A baby that has just been playing happily, was then suddenly lifted in the air, carried through the flat and placed onto a table where the minute he realized where he is his body gets liftet and rolled and clothes taken off will not just not want to cooperate, he won’t be capable. Because by the time he realizes what’s going on he is already half naked.

This can mean that we patiently wait for the child to „finish” his play and then let him know what is going to happen: „You have been really busy discovering your hands. I’ve seen that. I would like to change your diaper now before you will have another nap. So I’m going to pick you up and take you to the changing table.”

If we don’t seem to find this moment but have to be somewhere at a certain time we can quietly step in and let the child know without completely interrupting him: „I see you are really busy with that blanket. It seems to fascinate you. I have just checked the time and we need to get ready to go to the doctor’s. I will come and pick you up in a minute.”

And this is what we do. Come back in a minute. It’s not just the child’s play we should NOT interrupt unless it’s an emergency. It’s also cooperation we are kindly allowing by being respectful in the first place.

Cooperation and staying involved

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” (Benjamin Franklin).

Even the smallest babies can be trusted to cooperate. No, they will not put the diaper on, they won’t hold a towel, they won’t even lift their bottom in the beginning. But if we know what to expect, we might soon realize that they do cooperate in any way they can at a given age.

As soon as a baby has that much control over his limbs that he can move his arms and legs on purpose, he will be happy to help you put his shirt or trousers on. You will notice that he desperately wants to do everything himself as soon as he can (or even a little earlier). You might be surprised if suddenly you say (as usual) „Ok now I‘ll put your right arm into this shirt“ and he will lift his arm just like that. Especially in the beginning babies are so happy that they know what‘s going on and that they can help, they just do it. Only later they refuse to do it – which doesn‘t necessarily have to be a sign of a fight or rejection. It can be play but more on that later in this article.

Respect and the body

‘Diaper changes are built for intimacy’ (Janet Lansbury). Can you think of a more intimate situation that this with your infant? Can you think of a situation when he is more vulnerale than during a diaper change? Respect is especially important in those moments, because it can leave a lasting impression.

One important thing to remember is that babies don’t really choose to make anyone around uncomfortable by having a dirty diaper. It’s normal. It’s natural. And while we no longer wear diapers, we still go to the toilet and do pretty much the same thing. Ok, now that it’s out in the open that we all do it (and that while it’s not always pleasant to change a diaper, it is also not always pleasant to walk into a toilet after somebody else, and yet we don’t comment on that in public…), we can talk about it respectfully J

The way we handle diaper situations from the beginning, sets the tone for how our children will think about their bodies and bodily functions in the future. If we can pay little or no attention to the smelliness and the mess, but rather focus on building a relationship during this process, our kids are likely to think about their own bodies in a more healthy and respectful way. It is not only unkind, it’s also unfair to make children ashamed of a healthy functioning of their body – we can bet if they could choose, they would not want their diapers to be smelly either (wouldn’t we all want our toliets to smell like roses?).

We all want our children to be pleased with the way they look, not to be ashamed of their bodies – part of this success lies on our diapering table.

A learning experience

What kinds of things can babies learn during a diaper change?

  • The importance of knowing their own body, and knowing they have the ownership of it (if we ask babies to participate, tell them when and where we will touch them and wait for a sign that they are ready, if we involve rather than distract)
  • That they are important and worthy of our attention (if we ‘wash the dishes to wash the dishes’ rather than rushing through the process quickly to get it over with)
  • That they are capable (if we ask them to cooperate and give them time to do so, if we allow them to help, if we involve them in the process rather than distracting them with a toy)
  • That there is nothing shameful about their bodies and any bodily function – that it is normal and we all do it
  • Lots and lots of language – it has been shown numerous times, that children remember words that they find useful much more quickly (if we talk and explain what is going on – much more effective than any flashcards!)
  • How to cooperate with someone to achieve something together (if we ask them to, and wait and wait… and give them a chance to actively participate in the process, even though sometimes it might take longer)

Fun and clarity

In the beginning it might seem like a lot of talking to our newborn. But the benefits of it are great. Not only does the baby hear our voice and feel a bit more secure, he will learn the meaning of what we are saying and learn to anticipate what is coming next. Even if he does not understand every word of it, he knows the sound of the sentences. This is then something he can focus on. ,What is s/he doing now? Ah ok so this will come next.‘

As mentioned before – smiling at you on the changing table, laughing and „not fighting“ are first signs of cooperation. These signs show you that the baby is not annoyed by what is coming up, but instead knows that he will be spending some quality time with mom or dad now.

If we then talk to our baby, not only about what we are doing but also about what he is doing „You are grabbing my hair. Yes, that‘s my hair. How does it feel?“ the fun gets even better. Because fun is allowed. Smile. Laugh with him. And respond to his play. Because if your baby rolls over all the time, gives you the „wrong“ arm or leg – this is not always fighting or rejecting. It can be play. If a child has experienced respectful diaper changes while mom is completely focused, not rushed, with no phone interruptions or household – he will try and stretch those treasure times. By playing with us. Asking for our undivided attention just a little longer. Lets go with it. For a while.

But if we then do drift off the „plan“ and respond to the baby „Hey you just turned around when I wanted to take your diaper off“ we should stay clear and let him know what our expectations are. „Ok you want to roll over again, that‘s fine and I can see you are enjoying it, but then I want to take off your diaper.“

The child always needs to know what we want. Don‘t play with him if you are actually busy. Don‘t let a diaper change become only play. It‘s still a diaper  change. It‘s still a „thing to be done“ rather than a game we play whenever we feel like it. Something to look forward to.


„Every child is different. Every day.“ (Lienhard Valentin)

But it‘s not only children who are individuals and so completely different from each other. It‘s us too. A diaper change is therefore a wonderful way for a child to experience those various personalities. Dad might be having troubles with all the buttons and might not remember where things go after mom has rearranged the changing area for the 5th time. But he still cares, takes his time, talks. Just differently.

I remember one evening when I was hiding behind the door while my husband was changing Leander‘s diaper. It was during the first weeks. I have been home alone during the days and slowly found my routine and now I was curious how my husband was doing things with our little man. 

I found that he was a bit fast and not talking enough (for my expectations). I was just about to step in and tell him to slow down, to explain more and… when I stopped and thought: „This is their way. They will get together on their own terms. It will all be good.“ Then I left and never hovered behind doors again. 

A few months back – Leander was about 1 1/2 – my husband said to me in the evening: „You know it‘s actually quite amazing. You just have to slow down, give him time and in the end it‘s him who does the things he refused to do a few minutes ago. Without fighting or anything.“ They have found their way. And when I hear Leander singing from his room after they went off together to change his diaper I know – they are having fun together. (Nadine)

Patience is not something we have from the very beginning (well, those of you who do – lucky you and we are officially jealous). We grow it along the way. Just as we grow. As persons.

A diaper change is the possibility to meet with no interruptions. And grow together. So, do you remember the first time you changed your baby? What was it like?

Can’t wait to hear from You!


More reading:

“How to love a diaper change” Janet Lansbury

“Changing Perceptions on changing diapers” Lisa Sunbury

Playing through the first 3 months

We love to play. In fact, this website is our playground – one of the many we have. And since play is something we both love and care about, we decided to approach it methodically (doesn’t that sound fun? ;). This is the first of what will hopefully be a series of posts about play at different ages and stages of development. We will kick off, originally, with infants 0-3 months and then move on to older babies and toddlers. We would love for you to join in, with your ideas of play, your memories of your own play and that of your children. We are no play experts – we can merely recap for you what we think, and what we have observed so far !

Let us know if you like what you’re reading.

Playing through the first three months (or – what is this ‘play’ everyone keeps talking about?)

When we hear the word play, the first connotation of this word are children. In fact, play is what is suddenly everywhere when you have a child – playthings, playgrounds, playgroups. Suddenly it all becomes to be about play. But what is play really? What does a newborn need to play? And how do infants play?

What is this ‘play’ thing?

Tons of images come to mind when we think about play. Children playing in the sand, making mud pies; role-playing; pretend-play… With all of this in mind, it is very hard to talk about infants playing. If we conceptualize play as a form of specific activity, it is difficult to imagine a 1-, 2- or 3-month old baby playing. After all, what kinds of activities do infants engage in? We want our babies to play, we want to see them play, but do we know what to look for?

Essentially, we all want to understand the world. And more than the world even, ‚we are the species that needs and wants to understand who we are’ (Anne Lamott). We want to understand ourselves and our loved ones and be a part of their world. So when it comes to infants playing – we want them to play, but we also want and need to understand their play, and so also perhaps participate, encourage. We want to do all those things that will make us a part of their world, and them a part of ours. But this understanding of how we see our infants play needs a bit of shift, in our humble opinion. We need to let our infants play and to be able to comfortably do that, we need to know how to understand play. If we see play as an activity, we will usually need to ensure that infants engage in an activity that we validate as play. We may feel the need to ‚entertain’, to make our babies giggle, make sure they are having fun. We may stimulate. And in doing so, we may not allow their own play to develop. But why?

Maybe it would be easier for us to see infants at play if we reframed how we understand play? What if, instead of thinking about play as some kind of activity, a game, or ‘having fun’, we tried to think of play not in terms of its content but its mode. What if we saw play as ‘an approach to action, not a form of activity’ (Jerome Bruner)? It might be more similar to the way we think about ‘playing with ideas’ – it is a way we discover, explore and engage with the world around.

Putting it this way, we are no longer confined by the belief that we need to help our babies play, but rather we are free to observe how they play. And yet, we can begin to grasp what playing is for them. How they play. What if we started conceptualizing play in terms of exploration, engagement, discovery? Because surely, even at later stages of life, this is what play is essentially about. Only at these later stages it also has a form (or content) that is more familiar to us, that we can relate to, that is more to do with the world around us and with what we know. With mud-pies and role-playing. But during those early months it seems to be about mode, and content might only come into play later on… If we define play as an approach to action, an engagement in something with an open mind, ready to explore and discover and open to possibilities, chances are we will see our infants playing practically all the time. And we will be enchanted. We might even join in…

Free play

Emmi Pikler said that play is a child’s inner need just as movement is. It’s an inner drive. A must. No healthy and cared for newborn would just lie on his back not moving, not looking around or not “playing” at all.

Dust particles, shadows, a moving curtain, the sunlight on the wall, flying arms and legs – which only later will be discovered as their own – it’s all part of a baby’s play. And this is the key. If we allow that, if we sit aside instead of “in front” we can observe the “origin of free play” as Emmi Pikler called it. Because that’s what it is. The play with their hands – opening and closing them, moving them into eyesight and out again, touching one hand with the other – is the actual preparation for the play with objects. In the same way the infant will then later grab a toy and move it above his eyes, let it fall, pick it up and give it from one hand into another. This is why this early form of play is so important and why every child should be allowed enough time a day to play that way. It sounds so simple, but it’s not.

One big rule of free play is that it has no rules. The child is leading and following his own ideas. But above that hovers one greater rule – Don’t interrupt! And this is a wonderful rule, a chance actually, because that way you can learn to read your baby. You will get to know his ways of playing, what he enjoys, what interests him. Isn’t that how we learn most about a person?

What can we expect?

Infants from birth to three months are only getting used to the world around them. Everything is new, and so, in a way, the possibilities for discovery are endless. If we allow for uninterrupted self-initiated play we will quickly learn what our child likes to engage in, what interests him most, what kind of character he has. The biggest part of their play is usually discovery of their own body – you will notice the movement, the fascination with their own arms and legs. Imagine how amazing it must feel to discover that you have control over your own body! The development and refinement of senses is also a constant stimulus for exploration. Voices, sounds, faces, details on the wall, a moving branch outside the window – all of it can become an endless point of focus for a newborn. It is a magical sight to see an infant engrossed in an activity. It’s possible. But we need to provide the time and space for it to happen.

Allowing all of this to inspire our child will also allow us to see the world through their eyes – a truly powerful gift, especially on a day when we forgot how wonderfully exciting everything around us is.

Once we realize the amount of physical, cognitive and emotional development babies do in the first year, the need for us to provide external stimulus fades away. Do they really need more to play with than what they already have?

When and how does play happen?

Modern motherhood begins with all sorts of appointments. Doctor’s check ups for the baby and the mother, postnatal gym classes to which the babies are invited, breastfeeding classes, playgroups and not to mention restaurants and coffee houses because modern moms don’t sit at home all day anymore. This is great, we can and should go out and we are not suggesting you should lock yourself in. What we are suggesting though is just be aware of how much time in between all those appointments, feeding sessions, diaper changes and naps a baby has to play happily and self-initiated. Play, just like anything else we fully engage in, takes time. If we believe that play is a creative process of discovery we need to allow it to happen. (a wonderful talk on creativity – where he mentions time twice! – by John Cleese can be found here: http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/04/12/john-cleese-on-creativity-1991/. The fascinating thing is – babies tend to do all these things kind of naturally!)

Free play is only possible if the child is rested, fed and all his needs are met. It’s not something they “just do in between”, especially not, when we would love them to (e.g. when waiting for an appointment, in the restaurant, in the car etc). Quite often parents say: “He will not play on is own for only a minute.” This is the moment we should stop and think about our day, our routine, our expectations. This does not mean that it’s our “fault”, if the child is not able to play independently. It just gives us a straw to pull on. Again think about it as a creative process – imagine writing an article, solving a problem or coming up with a good idea in those ten minutes you have between cooking and doing the laundry…

Another point is that we should still be present. When thinking of free play we often have the picture of a little baby playing happily while mommy is cooking dinner in the kitchen. While these moments do happen, we should not expect that but rather sit down and observe the child. Especially in the beginning babies just want us “there”. And this is the fine line between being there, being present, listening to him and playing for him, entertaining him, leading his play. This is what Magda Gerber refers to as ‚wants nothing quality time’. I don’t want anything from you. Just to be here, get to know who you are and watch you play.

Parenthood is a great opportunity to throw the TV out (at least for a while, if not forever). Because watching your baby, observing his play and allowing yourself to get engaged in his world can be such excitement and entertainment that no TV show can compete with.

What is your idea of play? What were the most grasping and eye opening moments for you during those early months? Join our playground! Play with us!

More reading…

„The Origins of Free Play“ by Éva Kálló and Györgyi Balog (published by the Pikler Institute Berlin)




What is respect ?

When we first came across the work that has been inspiring us as parents (that of Emmi Pikler, Janusz Korczak, Alfie Kohn and Magda Gerber – to name a few) the thing that drew us most towards this kind of approach to a child was the ever-present sense of respect. And throughout our writing here on these pages, we will be talking about respect, and about children’s right to respect. It might then be worth defining what we mean.

What is respect?

What respect is, is essentially a difficult philosophical question. What we mean when we talk about respecting another person is not always clear, nor is it always used with the same meaning.When we (Nadine & Anna) use respect on our website, we talk about respect in the very basic sense – respect we all deserve just by virtue of being human. When we talk about respect we don’t mean it as referring to any kind of value or moral judgment (like respecting someone for what they do, or what they have accomplished, or the kinds of things they stand for), but the feeling towards another human being that values their dignity. A very basic response to another person, which, we believe, everyone has a right to from birth. Babies are whole people no matter what needs we have to take care of for a few weeks, months or years. Babies are people with every smile and every giggle as well as every cry and every woken night. And it goes on. Infants, Toddlers – they’re all people that deserve respect. In every phase of their lives.

We also believe that there should essentially be no difference in respecting babies, children, toddlers, boys, girls, men, women, adults or elderly, since respect is something we all have a right to. Nor should there be any difference in our expressions of respect.

How do we see babies?

When we go a few generations back children were seen as unfinished people that needed to develop into full human beings. To achieve that, it was thought, they needed to be disciplined. Praised and punished. Very often hit, and silenced. (In a number of countries babies are still regularly hit and punished physically, have a look here -http://www.endcorporalpunishment.org/ and here http://www.corpun.com/). They were told what to do when and how to do it. Boys different than girls.Men different than women.We now live in a time that (finally) has come to an understanding that babies and children are capable of much more than people used to assume (a wonderful TED talk by Alison Gopnik about how babies think can be found here -http://www.ted.com/talks/alison_gopnik_what_do_babies_think.html). They are young personalities with strengths and weaknesses. And this is the difficult part. Because when we talk about respecting children it means accepting all of those strengths as well as all of those weaknesses. With the same loving care we do for our partners, friends and other family members. And with the same loving kindness we should have for ourselves (because, apparently, if you’re not kind to yourself, you cannot be kind to others).

An interesting thought that encompasses a lot of it was once expressed by Janusz Korczak: ‘There are no children’ he wrote ‘ only people’. What does this mean to you?

What does respect mean to you?

We asked some of our friends to finish this sentence: ‘To respect another person means to…’. Since we asked them in an e-mail, some opted out. Before you continue reading, try and finish this sentence for yourself. It’s not so easy, so take your time…

To respect another person means to…

Here are some of the most common responses we got, and we wonder if you can relate, agree or maybe have other ones:

… treat another person like we would like to be treated
… try to understand their feelings and take them into account
… accept who he is
… allow him to be who he is
… not manipulate them

Respecting children is something that is said quite easily but in practice not the easiest thing to live. Since we strongly feel our babies deserve respect, let’s have a look at those ‘meanings of respect’ in relation to babies (or more generally – children). What does it really mean to respect another person, and how can we practice respect in dealing with babies?

Respecting their needs

As mentioned before, respecting children begins on day one. From the first moment on we can trust babies sleep pattern and feeding time. Of course day- and nighttimes are something they still have to get used to. But they do. On their own.In their own time.

All we really have to do is to fulfill their basic needs. This sounds reasonable, but it obviously isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Because picking up or feeding a crying baby is not always what is meant by fulfilling basic needs. Respecting a baby means to carefully figure out what the reason is behind the crying. To listen to the crying.To try and understand it. To allow yourself the understanding and respect for their needs, before fulfilling them. Waiting and trying to understand is then respectful because only in this way we can try to understand their feelings and take them into account.

This will not only help you understand your baby from the beginning and beyond words. It will give your child the ability to communicate with you – to understand the different responses behind his actions. These are wonderful first steps to learn how to express various emotions and needs – something most of us adults are lacking (beyond thirty and we can safely say that we’re still learning that one!)

Respecting their physical and emotional integrity

Besides the great amount of trust it’s a huge amount of respect you show your child by letting him develop – mentally as well as motorically – on his own and in his own time. Not sitting him up before he can do it himself and by not walking him holding your hands. For his mental and emotional development this means “I can do this. Even if I take a little longer than others.”It means we allow them to own their own success (a lovely post about walking babies by Janet Lansbury can be found here – http://www.janetlansbury.com/2011/03/9-reasons-not-to-walk-babies/)

As far as their motor development goes, letting your child develop in their own time means allowing them to get to know their own body and movement within. A child that has mastered every step of his gross motor development himself is not just happy and free but also knows his own limits and respects for himself what he can or cannot do.

You can read more of our thoughts on movement in various guises if you’re interested.
For posts from Anna go here: http://www.everymomentisright.blogspot.com/search/label/movement,
and from Nadine go here: http://www.piklerexperience.blogspot.com/

Respecting their pace, their ways, their view of the world

Our children are not us. Yes, simple truth, but so hard to live with, wouldn’t you agree? It means their view of the world is different, but not only in a developmental way – they are simply different people. Sometimes they will disagree with you (our sons are still toddlers, but we fear that moment ;)). Sometimes even – they will be right. And we won’t. And that’s ok too… we think.

Another important base for a respectful foundation is the allowance of free play. And this was a great eye opener for us. Instead of entertaining our boys the minute they woke up we tried to watch them, carefully observe and try to follow what they are focusing on. This was better and much more entertaining than any movie we may have missed throughout those first months. To be part of their world rather than making them part of ours was so wonderful and touching. Priceless moments we’re forever grateful for. Still now – just days after our boys turned two – we have ideas and expectations of play and “fun” that they simply aren’t interested in at all. So we try to respect that.

We let them run off with the ball instead of teaching them how to kick it back and forth. We don’t build high towers or exquisite architecture with their building blocks when they prefer to sort their toy cars in lanes. But how wonderful is it, on the other hand, to be invited to a game, and learn new rules we didn’t know existed (yeah, ok, sometimes we don’t quite understand the rules, but we’re trying ;)).

We simply let them be. We try to accept…allow…and not manipulate.

Another great way to show respect to your child is to let him “lead” the daily routine. Allow him to play as he wants, choose his own toys, and respect his choices (we tend to offer the choices we can live with, but not interrupt in the play times). But also – be sensitive to their schedule.

Yes, it may be tough those first few months, but there is the joy of a peaceful child, whose needs are met, and who is at peace with the world around him. Again though – we tend to say: within your own limits. Because apart from respect for all the other beings around you, the one necessary step is to start with respect for yourself!

We have been talking a lot about respecting our children over the years. We will try and share our thoughts with you in the coming months, and hope that you will be sharing your thoughts with us. But to get the conversation started, we would like to invite you to talk about something else – something perhaps where this discussion needs to start. In talking about respecting others, we have come to understand something a lot of you maybe already know. That we need to respect ourselves first. Do you agree? Hmmm… Easier said than done, most likely. So, here is where we would like you all to join in the discussion – tell us, how you can show respect for yourself. Maybe how you can respect yourself in the daily struggles, on a daily basis? Or maybe you have some special way of practising respect for yourself? And why do you think it is so important?? We can’t wait to hear from you!