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18 different ways to keep your toddler happy during diaper changes

Avoid the diaper changing struggle. 

18 different ways to keep your toddler happy during diaper changes

It’s inevitable. Most little ones go through stages of hating diaper changes. Unless you have the rare child who is uncomfortable in wet diapers, most have no incentive to want a diaper change. Your toddler doesn't want an adult to swoop in and pick him up and disrobe him when he's busy with something. He will want to be more in charge of his body and his time.


Sometimes, 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.

Here's a list of 18 ideas to try, most of which will work sometimes or for awhile. You may find some good combinations that work for you:

1. Slow down

If you treat this as a chance to slow down and enjoy your child, he's more likely to enjoy the connection and therefore cooperate with the diaper change. If you rush through the diaper change like it's something unpleasant, he will react as if he is being held down and subjected to something unpleasant.

2. Connect with her

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 she's doing. Then, point out that her diaper is wet. Ask if she has noticed it. This gives her an opportunity to check in with her body. (This is a good foundation block for eventual potty learning.) She also feels, since you've connected, like you're on her side. You aren't just pushing her around, which of course would make her feel resistant.

3. Be more mindful

Mindfulness researcher Cassandra Vieten suggests that our ability to stay calm and connected during a diaper 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 diaper change, rather than just rushing through it. In fact, she calls this the "Mindful Diaper Change Practice." (And you thought you didn't have time for mindfulness practices anymore!)

4. Give him 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 son 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 diaper changes and don't build up such resistance.

5. Give her some control and choice

Always ask, "Ready for a diaper change?" If she says no, say, "Your diaper is wet. Do you want to change it now or in three minutes? 3 minutes? Ok, let's shake on it!"

6. Get him 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 diaper change, start roughhousing in a way that makes your child squeal with laughter. Chase him around the house, be completely silly. After ten minutes, make the diaper change part of the fun.

7. Help her transition

...by taking an object she's involved with and carrying it with you. For instance, "Let's drive the truck to the changing table!"

8. Don't make him move

If you can, use a portable changing pad and change him where he is playing, so there is less interruption to whatever's he'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 diapers 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 couch, and stand him against the couch. (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 diapers.)

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 diaper right off of your tush!" or "Happiness is a clean diaper" 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 diapering her doll or teddy

Let her help. Shower admiration on Teddy for how quickly he does his diaper change. Then say, "Your turn! Are you quick too?"

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 diaper? Kids love mastering new skills. Tell him what you are doing at each step and involve him, for instance, "I'm going to clean you off now -- do you want to hold the wipes?"

Ask him to put his feet flat and lift up his bottom so you can slide the diaper under him, if he doesn't want to, say, "Ok, I'm going to lift your bottom now to put the diaper under you."

14. Empathize

Say something like, "Does that feel cold on your bottom?" When your child gets upset, try not to get reactive. Instead, soften and stay compassionate. That way he'll know it isn't actually an emergency, and you understand and are looking out for his 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 diaper, have a basket of toys ready that he only has access to while you're changing his diaper.

You might even go hog-wild and find very small presents that you actually wrap in newspaper, and put in the basket. Every diaper change, he chooses one. What kinds of presents? Stuff you have around the house, or would have bought him anyway: Plastic measuring spoons or a funnel, small board books, little figures, a block with a letter A on it, a roll of masking tape, a broken cell phone, a plastic cup, Chapstick, colorful trinkets from Ikea, clay or playdoh with a plastic garlic press so he can make "noodles," a puppet, a tiny flashlight, 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. Depersonalize 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 diaper change, ok?"

When the alarm rings, say, "Oh, listen, there's the alarm, it's been three minutes -- Time for that diaper 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 diaper changed as unobtrusively as possible.

18. Let him decorate

Keep a stash of stickers by the changing table. Every diaper change, let him choose one that he is allowed to put on the wall next to the table.

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 humor, and remember that this too shall pass. It will seem like the blink of an eye before you find yourself trying to get your six year old to take his bath!

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