Dr. Laura Markham answers your questions

Q My 11 month old is really happy he's learned to sit up, explore everything within hand’s reach and roll during nappy changes. He gets so distraught at changing time when I prevent him from using these new skills. If I flip him back onto his back after he's rolled onto his tummy giggling or if I keep him from practicing his sit-up skills he turns from happy giggles to sobs and tears. And it is clear that he thinks I am being mean by not allowing him this sweet play exploration that prevents me changing his nappy... he tells me he's so frustrated in his sobs and yells of "mumma".

I've tried many different things to distract him or keep his attention... toys, dancing, singing, talking, music... all to no avail. He wants to sit-up, roll over and play with whatever nappy accessory I've brought his way. I hate that he hates changing time and have no idea what to do. The changes now trigger anxiety for him. I can totally understand his upset during certain changing times such as middle of the night wet nappies while he's hungry and sleepy. But what can I do during other times when he's clearly distressed that my changing his nappy is preventing him from newfound skills and exploring?

A Most little ones go through stages when they resist nappy changes. By eleven months old, your child is old enough to want to be more in charge of his body and his time. He doesn't want an adult to swoop in and pick him up and disrobe him when he's busy with something. So unless you have the rare child who is uncomfortable in a wet nappy, then he has no incentive to want a nappy change. How can you enrol him in this necessary-but-often not-fun-for-either-of-you task?

Often, simply slowing down and connecting changes everything. Sometimes, giving the child control is the key to avoiding a power struggle. Often, not interrupting their play solves the problem by meeting their needs as well as yours. And sometimes you will probably find yourself resorting to distraction. So here's a list of ideas to try, most of which will work sometimes, or for awhile. You may find some good combinations that work for you. I suggest printing this list and adding to it as you come up with more solutions that work for you and your child.

  1. Slow down If you treat this as a chance to connect and enjoy your child, she's more likely to enjoy the connection and therefore cooperate with the nappy change. If you rush through it like it's something unpleasant, she will react as if she is being held down and subjected to something unpleasant. Which, indeed, a nappy change is, when you rush. Imagine having the intimate parts of your body touched in that brusque, rushed way.
  2. Be more present Mindfulness researcher Cassandra Vieten suggests that our ability to stay present and aware during a nappy change models for our children how they can stay grounded in the face of their own discomfort. She stresses bringing compassionate, open-hearted full presence to the nappy change, rather than just rushing through it. In fact, she calls this the "Mindful Nappy Change Practice." (And you thought you didn't have time for mindfulness practices anymore!)
  3. Connect with him Children are always more likely to cooperate with us if we connect first. Take a deep breath. Get on your child's level and connect. Comment on what he's doing. Then, point out that his nappy is wet. Ask if he has noticed it. This gives him an opportunity to check in with his body. (This is a good foundation block for eventual potty learning.) He also feels, since you've connected, like you're on his side. You aren't just pushing him around, which of course would make him feel resistant.
  4. Give her some respect Magda Gerber, founder of RIE, taught that even though babies can't understand our words, they feel the difference when they're treated with respect. So from the time they're infants, instead of just scooping them up, move slowly and explain what's happening. Receptive language is about a year ahead of expressive language, so your child already understands much more than you think. And even tiny babies understand your tone of voice. If you do this from the time your baby is born, they have better associations with nappy changes and don't build up such resistance.
  5. Give him some control and choice Always ask "Ready for a nappy change?" If he says no, say, "Your nappy is wet. Do you want to change it now or in three minutes? 3 minutes? Ok, let's shake on it!"
  6. Get her laughing Laughter reduces stress hormones and increases bonding hormones. So getting your child laughing for ten minutes is always a good strategy when you know you'll need cooperation. Before you start the nappy change, start roughhousing in a way that makes your child squeal with laughter. Chase her around the house, be completely silly. After ten minutes, make the nappy change part of the fun.
  7. Help him transition... by taking an object he's involved with and carrying it with you. For instance, "Let's drive the truck to the changing table!"
  8. Don't make her move If you can, use a portable changing pad and change her where she is playing, so there's less interruption to whatever she's working on.
  9. Don't interrupt his play Play is your baby's work. Naturally, he doesn't want to be interrupted. Why not change his nappies standing up, if they're just wet? This will minimize the times that is necessary to ask him to lie down, so he is more likely to cooperate when absolutely necessary for messy changes. Since he may not be fully stable yet, pick a toy he likes and put it on the sofa, and stand him against the sofa. (I know it's harder than lying down, but if you practice, you get good at it. I did this with my daughter beginning at 11 months, until she was out of nappies.)
  10. Invite her to a party Most kids can't resist a party. Grab the drum, have a conga line, sing and dance your way to the bedroom: "Gonna change that nappy right off of your bum!" or "Happiness is a clean nappy" or whatever song gets her moving.
  11. Let him do the walking Many kids object to being carried off to be changed, but if you're making it into a party and he's dancing along into his room next to you in celebration, he's actively taking part in the plan, not feeling pushed around.
  12. Ease into it by first changing her doll or teddy’s nappy Let her help. Shower admiration on Teddy during his nappy change. Then say, "Your turn! Are you ready like Teddy?"
  13. Ask for his help Team up with your child to get the job done. For instance, maybe he would like to take off his own nappy? Kids love mastering new skills. Tell him what you are doing at each step and involve him, for instance, "I'm going to wipe you now - do you want to hold the cloth?". Ask him to put his feet flat and lift up his bottom so you can slide the nappy under him, if he doesn't want to, say "Ok, I'm going to lift your bottom now to put the nappy under you."
  14. Empathize "Does that feel cold on your bottom?" When your child gets upset, try not to get reactive. Instead, soften and stay compassionate. That way she'll know it isn't actually an emergency, that you understand, and that you are looking out for her best interests.
  15. Make it something to look forward to When you absolutely have to ask him to lie down for a change, for instance when there's a messy nappy, have a basket of toys ready that he only has access to at changing time. You might even go wild and find very small presents that you actually wrap in newspaper, and put in the basket. Every nappy change, he chooses one. What kinds of presents? Stuff you have around the house, or would have bought him anyway: Measuring spoons or a funnel, small board books, little figures, a block with a letter A on it, a roll of masking tape, clay or playdough with a plastic garlic press so he can make "noodles," a puppet, a tiny torch, little wind-up toys, stickers, an unbreakable mirror, you get the idea. You can even re-wrap things that he's left lying around and has forgotten about.
  16. De-personalize it If this feels like a power struggle, depersonalize it by setting the alarm for three minutes. Tell her: "When the alarm rings, it is three minutes and time for your nappy change, ok?" When the alarm rings, say "Oh, listen, there's the alarm, it's been three minutes - Time for that nappy change!" Then help her transition using one of the other ideas on this list.
  17. Provide live entertainment If he's fussing, try singing to him very softly. He will usually stop fussing to listen to you. Sing, dance, kiss his belly, blow down his neck, make as many silly faces and noises as you can. Somewhere in there, get the nappy changed as unobtrusively as possible.
  18. Keep an audio that has an interesting story on it ready to turn on while you change her She might even come to look forward to the next instalment.
  19. Let him decorate Keep a stash of stickers by the changing table. Every nappy change, let him choose one that he is allowed to put on the wall next to the table. Most important of all? Don't make nappy changing into a battle. No little person should regularly be held down while their clothing is pulled off. That's not a good foundation for learning consent as they get older. And really, power struggles about someone else's body are not power struggles you can win. No one approach will always work, so you'll have to mix and match and be willing to try different things. But keep your sense of humour, and remember that this too shall pass. It will seem like the blink of an eye before you find yourself trying to get your five year old to take his bath!


VISIT peacefulparenthappykids.com for articles and ideas on raising secure, confident kids
READ Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting by Dr. Laura Markham

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