I stumbled upon your website a few weeks ago and have been slowly reading my way through the articles (which I love!). I appreciate your guidance and your gentle and respectful approach to parenting.
I am a single mom to a 14-month old baby boy, Aidan. While he is a delight 99.99% of the time, he is now starting to test his boundaries and check out his (and my!) limits during diaper changes. He kicks, shouts, and tries to hit me during the diaper process, so now it has become something I absolutely dread. I’m sure he can feel my stress, which I think exacerbates the problem, but of course, it’s a necessary part of our day (I use cloth diapers too, which means more changes per day than with disposables!). I try to stay calm and tell him it hurts me when he hits and kicks, but so far nothing has changed. I realize it is not fun to change the course of a fun day (whether he’s playing or reading or getting ready to eat, or go outside, etc), but even with me preparing him verbally and telling him we will resume/start the fun activity after, he is a nightmare to change! Of course, with his kicking, hitting and shouting, the process takes longer – something I wish I could get across to him!
If you have any words of advice that I could use to make our diaper change process go a bit more smoothly, I would be so grateful!
Thanks for your kind words!
Smooth diaper changes might have to remain a sweet remembrance of your boy’s younger months, but here are some ideas for improving the situation for both of you…
1. Perspective. Testing is exactly what your toddler is supposed to be doing right now, so don’t fret. You are absolutely right about your stress making things worse. Remember, he’s a tiny person and you’re a much bigger grown-up. Don’t let his behavior get to you!
Take a deep breath and project a sense of not only calm, but confidence…believe this is no big deal at all. “Act as if”, and you’ll soon feel less stressed and more able to give him the security he’s looking for from you. Be the duck gliding on the water, though probably kicking your feet furiously below the surface. Let go of the situation a little. This is not a disaster (though I loved your “diaper changing disaster” subject line), an exam or measurement of your abilities as a mother.
2. A place of strength. Very important… when he hits, kicks, etc., don’t say “that hurts me”, unless you can say it in a very neutral manner. In other words, don’t expect him to stop what he’s doing out of sympathy for you. Not that he isn’t a lovely guy, he just isn’t there with the sympathy yet (maybe in a few years). Instead, he’s asking you to help him by providing firmer guidance. He needs to be assured that his mommy can and will stop him from doing things that hurt or bother her or are unsafe. Stop him as gently but confidently as you can, rather than appealing to him to stop, because when you do that you seem a little weak and he’s then left feeling uncomfortably powerful. Come from a place of strength rather than weakness. It may seem like a subtle difference, but children are very sensitive to our tone and demeanor in these situations.
3. Stop him. Hold his feet or hands (gently, but firmly) and say, “I won’t let you hit me” or “I don’t want you to hit me” while remaining calm and matter-of-fact. If he repeats the action, just stop him again the same way.
4. Acknowledge, acknowledge, acknowledge (another magic parenting word). Rather than telling him how fun it’s going to be afterwards, focus on acknowledging and validating his point-of-view. For example (as you suggested): “I realize it is not fun to change the course of a fun day” (whether he’s playing or reading or getting ready to eat, or go outside, etc.)” Add to that some acknowledgements about what’s going on in the moment, like “I know it’s hard to hold still while I fasten your diaper. You feel like hitting me, but I won’t let you. We’ll stop for a moment so that you can calm down. You look uncomfortable… let’s find another position that you can stay in while I wipe you off. “
5. Be flexible. Give him the option of standing and bending over for wipes, if you can manage that safely. If not, consider changing him on the floor.
6. Slow down. Include, rather than distract him. See the humor. Our babies grow and change at a rapid pace. It’s hard to remember that they are able to do new things on an almost daily basis. Keep your mind open to new ways he can participate. Let him hold things, do things, make choices. Ask for his assistance (from a place of strength, like a confident boss would). Do all you can to make diapering a shared task, rather than something you are doing to him. Let him try fastening the diaper cover. Squeeze out a little diaper cream for him to apply on himself. It doesn’t matter if he does a less than stellar job of it.
Slow down. Rather than rush when he’s screaming, kicking and hitting, go even slower. Take a little break and just acknowledge. “This is crrrazy today!” Finding humor in the situation might inspire you to be playful, create some silly “in” jokes and diapering games together. Children adore them and they provide a reason to look forward to the next diaper change.
These suggestions are applicable to feedings, baths, dressing, bedtime rituals, just about any toddler situation. When you take on the persona of a confident leader and your overall demeanor is relaxed, accepting, and inclusive, the struggles should subside…or at least not bother you as much.
Hope this helps…
(More about respectful care in my book, Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting)
(Photo by bradfordnoble on Flickr.)