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

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

Talk to me

In our series of posts on respectful parenting we would like to continue with a post about communication. Communication with the infant from birth until the age of 6 months. An age where the language and speech development is not first priority. But an age where communication, information and familiar voices are essential for the baby‘s feeling of security, safety and trust.

(We are not going to talk about the development of speech. This is simply a post about the early communication with your baby.)

Why is communicating so important for a baby? He can‘t respond anyway. Or can he?

We do nowadays know a lot about baby‘s ability to already hear and feel while still in utero. Therefore many parents take the chance to read stories to their unborn child, talk to him or sing. And they continue doing this once the baby is born. Which is great and necessary. But there is a little more (or in fact: much more) that can (should!) be done when raising a child lovingly and respectfully. While a lot of people talk to their babies before they are born, it is interesting that this direct communication often stops when the baby is born. Why? It might be strange in the beginning to talk to a tiny infant, who does not respond with words. We might find it awkward. We might need time to get used to it.

We know that babies can hear us, what we don’t really know is how much they understand and when this understanding begins. And the choice we are making is this: do we assume they do, or at some point will understand us and therefore communicate with them from the start, or do we choose to assume that they don’t understand in the beginning and therefore we do not need to communicate with them directly.

We believe the ground for building respectful communication begins at birth. Because babies do respond. They do communicate with us. We just have to be careful, observing and patient (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/great-kids-great-parents/201201/children-talk-they-understand-lot). Read their signs and in return – respond to them again. It might not be obvious at first, but with time you will learn to read his signs, and see how hard he is trying to understand yours. He is trying hard to communicate with us – first through crying, facial expressions, movement. It is much harder for him to communicate his feelings than it is for you. But he is trying, looking for new ways to tell you what is going on.

Our first talks with Antek happened over diaper changes – most likely this is true for a lot of parents. I tried very slowly telling hime what will happen. I stopped and waited. I waited for the response. It felt like waiting for something that might never come, but over time it became second nature – I said what I would do and stopped for a moment. Once I got used to it, I stopped waiting for the response to actually happen, I just gave him time and moved on. He was about four months old when I realized he was listening very carefully and started trying to cooperate with me. It was an amazing discovery to see this. „I will lift you up now“ I would say, and his whole body would suddenly tense in my arms. He understood what was about to happen. This was the beginning of our dialogues. (Anna)

When a baby is born he is thrown into a world full of sounds, smells and all sorts of senses he can‘t possibly handle all by himself. So it‘s important to not just limit the stimuli but also explain what is just happening. And why. Especially in those situations where a lot is happening. For example during diaper changes or bathing times which – in the world of a newborn – are very active moments. And no – we are not saying that a newborn will understand every word you are saying. He will not know exactly what you mean by „I‘m going to pick you up to change you‘re diaper now.“ or „You have just been asleep and now you are hungry. I will feed you now.“ But he will realise the sound of those sentences, the voice of the mother which is familiar from the uterus.

Imagine watching a couple of people talking in a different language you don‘t understand. You will still be able to make out if they are being friendly or if they are arguing. You can watch their body language and faces and make out if friends or strangers have just met.

This is exactly what your baby is doing too. He watches you and closely listens to what you are saying, how you are saying it. And he will try hard to respond. May it be screaming, giggling, later smiling or fighting with all his body movements. The earlier we talk to our children and do what they are doing – closely listen and observe – the earlier we will understand every response we are getting. Even those we didn‘t know existed. So again – careful observation is the key. The key for a close relationship but also the key to a child that feels safe and secure in this world.

How do I talk to an infant ?

I do admit that in the beginning, right after Leander was born, it felt strange to talk to him, tell him everything I would be doing. In the end he WAS this little person who just didn‘t seem to hear me or understand me. But I was so curious, I heard so much about Pikler and the importance of communication – I tried to talk more and more. And while I was explaining what was going on, what was going to happen, the more I felt an You and Me becoming a We. It wasn‘t just about him getting to know me and the world around him. It was about me getting to know HIM too. I kept stretching the diaper changes, kept talking to him. And slowly he started responding to me. 

But that wasn‘t it. While I startled with my first „talks“ I also realised how unorganized I was. I kept looking for things while I actually wanted to stay focused on him. I held my left arm on his belly while my right one crossed underneath his legs to find a diaper in the depths of the changing table. And I had trouble explaining this and that  way I figured that I needed to change these situations. This is how I got organized and we developed OUR routine. Not mine. Not his. We grew together. (Nadine)

When babies are small they are trying to make sense of the world, like we are trying to make sense of them. Our explanations, our voice, our tone are all soothing and are all important parts of their daily life. And as much as they want to be a part of our lives, we want to be a part of theirs. If we communicate with babies, it is important to try and talk about things that are relevant to them at that moment – remember babies live in the here and now.

So how can we build this sensitive, respectful way of communicating?

  • Talk during care moments: it creates a unique atmosphere and might turn a mundane task into a wonderful dialogue involving words and bodies. Be slow and patient. Inform your baby of what is about to happen or what you are about to do. Imagine yourself in that position for a moment – that you are fully dependant on someone else, that you are in their care. Imagine even that they are speaking a language you don’t understand. Wouldn’t it be more comfortable for you if they tried communicating with you nonetheless? If they informed you before taking your clothes off, or putting them on? Before touching you?
  • Wait for a response. Don’t expect one, but just give time. Stay close. After a question or sentence – stop. Watch the response. If there is one – narrate it: „Oh I see you are really upset. You must be very uncomfortable. I‘ll change you right away.“ But it‘s not always about getting a response – it‘s about having the opportunity to give one. Or not. This time is not only important for a response to happen, but for the baby to process what you have signalled – remember it takes them much more time to process information, even when they are slightly older (http://networkedblogs.com/zXFvE) . Allow it if you can. And if you are in a hurry – acknowledge that you cannot give him time right now, but next time you will.
  • Allow the dialogue to happen. When you start communicating in this way – talking about things that are directly relevant to the baby and giving time for a response (or time to process) – your baby is learning what the words you are using mean, but also turn-taking (http://www.janetlansbury.com/2011/03/10-secrets-to-raising-good-listeners/) . She is learning about communication with another person, and is learning to listen to you and to talk to you. She knows this already from birth – studies have shown that humans are the only mammals that suck in a rhythmical way, and that this rhythm is created by the mothers and babies together while feeding. This is the first sign of communication.
  • Check what your baby is interested in and talk about it. It might be her foot, the sun (or rain) outside, it might be something you did that has drawn her attention. She wants to know the world, and you have the power to explain it to her! Isn’t that magical? When you do that, your baby is getting a very powerful (and empowering) message: You are important to me, so whatever is important to you is important to me as well.
  • Talk to babies directly, not over their heads or about them as if they were not there – even though it’s a common culturally accepted practice, it is not kind or respectful. Practice that from the very beginning and it will become easier over time. Also very young babies listen, even when we are talking to others and not to them – you would not talk about your husband, wife, or friend that way, and probably would not like if someone did that to you. They might seem focused in their play, but their ears might be with us. Remeber too, that your baby is not only learning words and their meaning, but also the power they have.
  • Say what you want to say, not less but not more. Don’t let communication become background noise. Babies have a lot to process, they are interested in the world, but it is all new and difficult for them. Talk about things that are relevant, not about everything and all the time. When you do this, it is hard for the baby to follow, and eventually she might tune you out. Your voice is important. Keep it that way.
  • Be authentic. Be yourself. When your child is asking for you for the 7th time and you are tired and exhausted – don‘t be all happy and pretend that‘s ok. It‘s not. You need sleep too and there is a way between being falsely happy and madly angry. Just let her know you are tired. When you are sad or in a bad mood- that‘s ok. Children have a fine sense for emotions. They feel how you feel sometimes before you do. So if you then speak to her in a pretend happy voice she will get well confused. And might demand you a little more. Because she really wants to know what is going on with you. Right now. In being honest she will not only understand you better – she will also be able to put her own emotions into words some day. And on top of that – she will feel trusted because you are open and clear. Another big stone in the foundation of a mutually respectful relationship.

Good for them, good for us

Although it might feel awkward and strange in the beginning, there are a number of important things you are giving your baby if you communicate with him directly and respectfully from the beginning. But it is also helpful for us as parents – we have found that talking during care moments makes us slow down and focus more than without talking. It makes us be fully there for our babies, giving them the undivided attention (http://www.magdagerber.org/vol-i-no-2-spring-1980.html) that will later allow them to play freely.

Especially during routine situations (bathing, dressing, changing diapers) talking to our babies allowed us to focus on what we were doing and really see our sons and their first attempts at communication. During those familiar moments it is easy to tune out and do things automatically – talking to our babies helps us be fully there.

Have you found it easy or difficult to talk to your infant directly? Have you noticed their attempts to communicate or answer before the words came?

We would love to hear your thoughts!