Changing relationships through changing diapers.

Two hours after our daughter was born a nurse came into the delivery room to check if Mona was ok and good to go home with us. She did what she had to do – measuring, weighing etc. Then my husband took over to dress Mona. I was lying on the bed watching him care for her as if she had always been there. He talked to her, kept close contact and looked in those eyes that could barely see anything. The nurse then looked at him and said: “Well I guess there is nothing else for me to do here. You clearly know what you‘re doing.“ And he did. He knew what he was doing – not just dressing her to keep her warm but also giving her comfort during her first hours on this planet. Bonding with her. Starting a wonderful father-daughter-relationship. (Nadine)

We have talked about diaper changes before in this post, but in response to our recent post some of you have asked: ‘Yes, free play and care moments need to be in balance, that makes sense. In theory. BUT how do we build a relationship on the changing table? Or with a toddler, who is running away the moment he hears the word “diaper”?’

So really, how?

Since there are a few differences and new challenges arising once your child grows older, gets more mobile or even talking and walking – we decided to split this into 3 posts. This one will be about changing newborns and infants and we will then move on to mobile infants and in the last post talk about changing toddlers. All of those have new challenges but also wonderful ways of getting and staying in close contact with your child.

Every moment matters

Diapering matters as much as playing together. Dressing matters as much as reading books. Feeding matters as much as going for a walk together. All those moments of being together are important, and one is not more important, or more valuable than the other.

‘If the adult wants to get over with the feeding, the changing of the diaper, the bathing, the dressing quickly, the child will not only feel the abrupt, mechanical moves unpleasant, but he will also feel that the time spent together is dreary for both of them’ (Judith Falk, MD, ‘When we touch the infant’s body…’)

We don’t have a magic wand, but what we can share with you are our own experiences, and things that so far have worked magic for us… the tricks we have up our sleeve are: slow down (don’t panic, it’s just a dirty diaper, a couple more minutes won’t make that much of a difference); communicate and wait for a response.

One trick that does help is this (sorry, this might not be pleasant): imagine you are helpless, for some reason you need to be taken care of by other people. You cannot communicate with them. You cannot do things for yourself. Just for one moment, one time try and imagine that. How would you like other people to take care of you in the most intimate moments?

Starting a diaper change before you start a diaper change

We usually decide to change a baby‘s diaper for one of these two reasons – we have smelled or heard something happen in there, or we simply think it is time again. Our child, however, might not feel that way and even if he does, he might not think “Oh surely Dad is gonna come and pick me up to change my nappy any minute.“

It is our job to prepare our child. To let her know before we pick her up from her bed, blanket or playpen. Usually there is no rush. Even if there has been a major number two, the world won’t end if we take a couple extra minutes to let our baby know what has happened and what is about to happen. The diaper is already dirty. There is still time for us to slowly engage with our child saying “I think you need a new diaper. I will pick you up now (in a couple of minutes) and take you to the changing table.“

If you have ever followed a newborn’s eyes while carrying him through the flat you will have seen how nervously he tried to follow what was happening with him. Although he does not see very far he feels that he is being carried around and that bright and dark shades change around him. If you tell him where you are going and are walking slowly he will feel much more safe and secure. You are his rock, you can explain the world and make him feel safe – or choose not to.

Talk to me

Communicate. Don’t talk about irrelevant stuff, but do talk about what is going on – your voice, the words and the actions are like an orchestrated symphony. They come together, and slowly begin to make sense. Before you know it, you will see your baby’s reaction to the sound of your voice, and afterwards to the words you say. Before you know it connections will be made, and the world will be less scary, less unexpected.

You are the one who knows it all – sharing it with your baby, communicating and letting them know what is going on, makes your relationship this much stronger. ‘You are reliable. You respect me.’ is the message you’re giving.

Wait for me

Say what you’re going to do and… wait. Wait for the words to sink in, for a slightest reaction. For a response. Wait for your baby to give you a sign she is ready. Not today? Ok, maybe tomorrow. But just because she doesn’t respond just yet, doesn’t mean she’s not trying to understand. So wait. Just a little bit more. You’ll be surprised how soon she will start responding, and letting you know she’s ok with all of it.

Communicating is important, but remember that communication is a two-way street. You and your baby are both in it. Wait for the response, because you are trying to have a dialogue. Some responses just take longer :)

Try to do all this if you can, but …

… above all just try to be in the moment with your baby. This is your moment together, and yes, it might be that this moment is accompanied by a smelly diaper, but hey – that’s also part of life, right? Try to put the phone away for this time, don’t look at other things if you don’t have to. Talk to your baby and your baby only – we have discovered this to be the key, the one thing that can transform a diaper change into a wonderful dialogue with your newborn.

And if one diaper change goes not so very well – that is fine, there will be others :) Many, many, oh-so-many others, bringing with them all those opportunities for connection and dialogue. You’re the best Mom/Dad in the world. Your baby knows that already. ‘It didn’t go so well this time, did it? Wow, we were both really tired.’ Most likely the look you’ll see on her face will tell you something like this: ‘Don’t worry about it Mom. It’s OK Dad. I get it. Happens to the best of us.’

‘The image that the young infant creates of his own body based on the experiences of the first few months, or years of his life will deeply influence his future. His care during infancy will affect his entire life, personality, his self-image, the development of his self-consciousness and […] his adult behaviour as a parent. His relationship to his own body and its functioning depends on the quality of the care, its being pleasant or unpleasant, and the good or bad feeling of the adult nursing him.’ (Judith Falk)

What are the biggest challenges when changing diapers? Do you have any magic you want to share with us? We LOVE to hear from you!

Nadine & Anna

A perfect balance of free play and care times

In response to our recent post (Free Play) we have received a few comments from people suggesting that allowing children to play freely, without our directions, suggestions and guidance (as in our example with the cup, when a child comes running to you with a cup and rather than prompt what it is, or suggest what to do with it you… wait) might mean losing out on numerous valuable teaching opportunities. We respectfully disagree, and here is why…

First of all, let us clarify this: we are not suggesting that children should be left alone to figure out the world, without our help, assistance and presence. Even in play, it is great if we can be around to observe and help when needed. If we can be present, we can then be invited to participate and follow our child’s lead, making sure that the game is their, not our, invention.

But then again – do children need our guidance in figuring out the rules of this daily game of life? Sure. Do they need our modeling of certain socially acceptable behaviors, and our help in acquiring them? Of course. But does this mean we need to do all of this guiding, teaching and modeling while they are engrossed in play? We think not.

Even with very small babies there are plentiful other opportunities that will allow us to do all that guiding, teaching and modelling, and yet leave their play to them. If we allow ourselves to see all those moments, we can then happily sit back and observe how they spread the wings of their imagination, and let the cup be a flying saucer, a turtle, or their best friend.

We believe that the moments of care (feeding, dressing, changing etc.) are those times when we can ask for collaboration and lead, while playtime is the time when we can step back and follow.

This allows us and our children to have the balance we want (and need). To connect in times when we need to be there. To guide and model, and ask for cooperation. To teach the rules of the game. But at the same time, play remains play. No hidden agendas, no teaching language, social skills, or numbers, no jumping the line.

Lead and ask for collaboration in care moments

‘Many people may believe – perhaps […] due to […] taking obedience for cooperation […] – that the cooperation of the infant and young child (in fact his obedience) is important […] because in this way, they can learn quicker how to dress, undress and wash by themselves; and once it runs in his blood in what order he is requested to reach out his hand and feet, he will stretch then out even before he is asked to; once he knows how to take off his T-shirt, how to put on his trousers, the time required for the care activities can be shortened down, and the child will become independent sooner. And by all this […] time that can be devoted to “more useful”, “more noble” goals: like being “engaged” with the child, playing together etc. can be saved’ (Maria Vincze, MD, ‘The meaning of cooperation during care dressing on the diapering table, dressing table, cushion’) [italics ours]

All too often we try to rush through moments of care in order to engage with our children in play. And all too often we want to be so engaged in our children’s play that it might become our play, or that play changes into fulfilling our agendas (like teaching words, letters, numbers etc.). If, however, we choose to see moments of care as equally valuable to all the other moments when we can be with our children, they provide a world of opportunities for all this guiding and teaching we want to do. It is in our nature to want to teach, and want to share what we know.

What can happen in moments of care, if we are fully present, connected and don’t feel the need to rush? We can teach our children:

Lots of language (possibilities are endless!)
How to cooperate
What is ok and what is not
Some social expectations
Respect for their own bodies (and, by extension, those of other people)
What our expectations are, and how far they can push the boundaries (and they can test and test and test…)
How to try again and again
How to approach a problem
How to enjoy being with other people
Respect

In other words, we can give them roots.

Follow and collaborate in play

If we do all that, or maybe if we realize that we are already doing all of that, perhaps the pressure will lift and we can give the babies back their sacred time of play. We will no longer feel the need to teach, lead, model and guide when they play – we are already doing all that in times of care, in those times that are equally valuable, and that provide us with endless opportunities to do just that.

So, is there anything we need to do when our children play? Yes – be there.

If a child is to keep his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in. (Rachel Carson)

If we are there, present and observing, waiting rather than jumping in with our hidden agendas, our children can learn:

That because they are important to us, whatever they are interested in is also interesting to us
That their ideas are valuable
That their ideas are not wrong, or inappropriate, and that they can share them with us
That dreaming is great, and making things up is even better
That there is not only one correct solution to any given problem
Taking lead, sharing and inviting others to join
Respect

In other words, we can give them wings.

So yes, we don’t think children need our guidance or our teaching when they play. They need our presence.

What do you think? We LOVE to hear your thoughts!

Anna & Nadine

More interesting, related reading:

A recent article reporting a study on children’s response to directiveness of mothers in play (among other things) is here.
The link to the original article is here.
‘Ten commandments of play based learning’ from Emily at Abundant Life Children is here.