Catch me if you can – Diaper changing with a mobile infant

In our last post we talked about how to build a relationship with our newborn and infant on the changing table, what helps us to really connect and enjoy these many many moments together so that our child can then “go off and play“ happily afterwards. And while this all may have sounded doable it won‘t take long until your infant gets mobile. Turns onto his belly. Crawls. Stands up. And literally walks away from you… 

We are facing two new challenges now. Not just will we sometimes find it difficult to wrap a diaper around our child while he turns over and around. It won‘t be as simple as picking him up and taking him to the changing table either. Chasing each other around the room surely becomes a famous game now. So what to do?

Have fun

As much as the diaper needs to be changed now – don‘t forget to have fun. Crawling or running away is not a sign of an uncooperative child. It‘s play. It‘s fun. And why not start a diaper change with some joy and laughter ?

Yes. Diaper changes are about quality time together. About closeness and connection. About paying attention to each other. But that doesn‘t mean it can‘t start a few minutes earlier during play. As long as it is clear that the diaper change is what is on the menu next. Play. Have fun but make clear “Ok this is fun and I see you really want to continue playing, but I need to change your diaper now. Do you want to go to the changing table yourself or do you want me to carry you over?“

Cooperation is thus a two way street – we expect the child to answer to our invitation, but we have to be able to do the same. That is, while changing a diaper should clearly be about changing the diaper (and not about playing peek-a-boo), if the child invites us to play with him for a while we should also be able to accept this invitation, this way showing him we also want to cooperate with him. Surely if you look at it this way, you can imagine the child who is more mobile would be thinking along similar lines: “My mum does not cooperate with me the way she used to during diaper changes.” 

Stay in touch

Eye contact seems to get lost a lot during a diaper change. We are often so busy cleaning and wiping around our child‘s most intimite area, closing tiny buttons or holding those moving legs out of the way that we forget to actually stay in touch with our children. But if we want them to listen to us and to be with us – Cooperate – WE have to greet them first. So keep looking up. Draw the attention back to where you are and what you are doing. Mumbling the next step into the socks of your child will not make him feel as if you are talking to him or actually really waiting for his cooperation.

While starting a game of rolling over or trying to move away your child is showing that he is actually having fun up there with you. That he likes and enjoys those special times with you. But children easily get drawn into those games. Bringing them back to the changing table and the actual situation can help bringing you two back together. A gentle touch (maybe placing your hand on his chest) and eye contact interrupts this game and calms him down. You can then take it from there again.

Slow down even more

It is important to slow down and be gentle and calm with a newborn. Makes sense to us, doesn’t it. But with a moving and mobile infant we tend to follow his movements and his pace. Quite often when it becomes wild our hands become wild to. Even hectic. We wanna be quick and get the diaper on before he moves over again. Instead of staying in touch we are losing touch here. Losing our connection.
It helps to breathe a moment. Hold on, maybe close your eyes (if your child is safe). Calm yourself and then get back in touch.

Grow together

As the baby grows and begins to be more mobile, the interactions on the changing table on the one hand need to grow with the baby, but on the other – the underlying principle needs to remain the same. We are here to do something together, I am here to guide you, but this is a cooperative activity.

When our child turns onto his belly – we carefully turn him back onto his back. We may comment on it „You turned around. You like doing this. But I need you to stay on your back for a little so I can put on a new diaper.“

Remember that the child is developing. Instead of insisting on doing things a certain way – try and develop with him.

I remember raising the issue of Leander not wanting to lie on his back while being changed anymore. And how to get him to do so. Our family counsellor looked at me, smiled and said: “Leander has just learned to stand up. He has achieved a major milestone. He does not want to lie on his back anymore. Can you imagine changing him while standing?“ I couldn‘t but smile back and nod. I had difficulties changing him while standing up with our cloth diapers. But when he was able to develop so fast, to master those gross motor milestone, why should I stand still and not continue trying to develop myself too ? (Nadine) 

Obedience vs. Cooperation 

A common comment seems to be that “my child does not cooperate the way he used to”. Do we really mean he does not cooperate? Or do we simply mean he does not obey, or he is not acting in a way we are accustomed to, and expect him to… but is that the basis of cooperation? Perhaps we should redefine ‘cooperation’?

Therefore if we see the child as our active partner in all activities, ‘we do not always expect him to do what we want [...], but if we cooperate, the child from the beginning learns to want to cooperate with us’ (Anna Tardos, Amsterdam lecture, March 2013)

So what were you most challenging moments on the changing table ? What sort of games did your child come up with ? We’re always excited to hear your stories.
Nadine & Anna

12 thoughts on “Catch me if you can – Diaper changing with a mobile infant

  1. So far what has worked for me has been singing to my son or handing him a nearby object to study while I do what needs to be done. Handing him an object keeps his hands and body occupied and distracted from what I needed to do. Singing to him allows us plenty of fun and eye contact. However, this post comes at perfect timing because all day today objects and singing are just not working! Elimination Communication was sounding very appealing today! This post brings up great points about his own personal process through this that I did not consider. I will keep those points in mind for future diaper changes!

    • Hi Kara,
      handing children objects to study during a diaper change is a common way of distracting them and basically “keeping them quiet” while – as you say – you do “what needs to be done”. But this way he has no choice of cooperating. He does not experience a diaper change as something you both do together. For him it’s a daily thing where he lies still and you do stuff TO him. But not WITH him. He is there with you during the singing, but he has no idea that he is invited in the actual situation – the diaper change. Do you know what I mean? So here is a new chance to get him back in the game. Make it a fun time without distraction. Tell him that he can help you. Ask him to put his arms through the sleeves himself. Ask him if he can lift his legs when you need him to. Tell him what you are doing to him. And maybe wait with the singing until the end. So this will be the sign that you are finished. Have a song and then he can go off and play. How does that sound ?

      • Oh, I see what you mean. I get it now. The obstacle that I face at his age (10 months) is that if I ask him to put his hands through his sleeves he has yet to know what that means. Or connect what I am asking to the action. I’ve asked him to put his hands up while in the high chair and he stares at me! I will demonstrate but I still need to put his hands up for him. But, now I will begin to have a dialogue with him during the changes so that he learns he is an active participant. Thanks for the advice!

        • Well of course in the beginning they don’t know what you mean by “putting the arm through the sleeve”. But when you tell him everything you are doing while you are doing it he will learn things like this very soon. And obviously you don’t expect him to respond right away. But you can say things like “Look I’m putting my hand through here and pull your arm through that sleeve. You can help me do this. Can you give me your hand?” And soon he will know what you mean when asked. And the older he grows the more he can (and wants to) help and do things himself.

  2. My daughters dilemma. My grandson at age 3 1/2 does not want to stop playing to potty. Shows very little interest in trying. Very wet still in mornings. I caught him dry before bath and encouraged him to sit and he went. We did a special dance , put on a sticker and called grampa to let him know his excitement. New sister is now here and the idea of pushing too hard is causing our concerns. How or do we encourage this potty training? Preschool won’t take him this fall if he’s not. He is dressing himself, and stays in twin bed all night. Very frustrating for all. Oh. He will say ” no” if you tell him to try or just fight and throw a fit if you lead him to bathroom to try.
    Hope you can help. 2 in diapers is frustrating.

    • Hi Candy,
      for many 2 in diapers seems to be a problem. Especially preschools. But in fact – even 3 in diapers is totally normal. Every push in this direction can be a push too much in the “wrong” direction. Maybe articles like these and will give you some helpful insights in this whole (very long and self directed) process of using the toilet.
      Especially with a new sibling in the house potty training can go two steps backwards if you push it too hard during a time when everything else is turned upside down.
      I do however understand your concern regarding him starting preschool in fall. But this too is a long way down the road. It may not seem that long but believe me, a lot can change until then. Maybe take the pressure out completely for a while. Don’t even ask him to use the potty. Leave it completely uncommented for now and see what happens then.
      I could go on about this for pages but this is worth a whole article itself. If you have any further comments or questions please let us know!

  3. I am really struggling with this! I will try and work on slowing down, trying to have more fun, and trying to change my daughter’s diaper in different positions. However, do you have any further, more specific, advice for what to do when your child cries and fights changes – even when you give her plenty of warning before the change and tell her what’s going to happen? Even when you play little games? When you slow down? I realize each child is different, and I need to figure mine out, but any further ideas would be much appreciated! (My daughter is 9 months, btw, and definitely testing!:). Thx!!!

    • Hey Kathy,
      I remember having this with my son Leander at some point too. I could not figure out what caused him to act like that (I couldn’t even lift him onto the changing table, he would scream like mad). I sometimes then skipped a diaper change if it wasn’t REALLY necessary and said “Ok, we leave it for now and get back to it when you are ready.”
      Has there been any recent event (a doctor’s visit or somebody else changing her) that could be reason for the crying and fighting?
      So long all you CAN do is acknowledge her struggle. “I see you are really having a hard time here and I really want to understand why this. But I really NEED to change your diaper now so can you maybe help me a little with … ?” something along those lines so at least she feels understood.
      And don’t forget – even with the most respectful and understanding approach there are those days when it’s just not “working” the way it used to.
      Hope this helps you a bit. Nadine

      • Thank you so much for your reply! Yes, I can’t figure out why she is so upset about the whole thing. Often when I tell her it’s time, that’s when the struggle begins. No one else has changed her. Nothing terrible (from what I can tell) has happened. I am thinking two things… One, she is testing me across the board right now, just much more so with changes. Or, Two, although I’m letting her know what I’m going to do and asking her help, I am worried I am not staying connected during the change. It’s so hard, I feel my own anxiousness when we start, and it feels like all business to ME – so it must not feel so great for her either. However, when I try games, it often is not better bc the games get us BOTH sidetracked – ha! – and just hold off the inevitable tears. If I let her roll over and get away, it’s even harder to get her back. I have firmly held her and said “I know you don’t like this, but we need to finish”, but the more I try to acknowledge her yet be firm, the more upset she becomes. She is not like this at every change, but most.
        I am really trying to mull all of this over and do the best I can by her :) right now I am trying to be a bit more playful and loving, while sticking to my guns…going to give it a few days before I try something else. Thank you for this article and your comments, it’s amazing how just being heard helps to calm me and help me try again! (and that’s why our babies need acknowledgement, too!)

        Best, Kathy

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