The Evolution of a Diaper Change

Thank goodness for those occasional, special moments of deep connection and elation that punctuate our daily lives with children, because without these “bonuses,” parenting can be tedious, monotonous, and just plain hard.

We may not remember these experiences as the years pass, but our hearts will. They were our much-needed proof that we were bonding. It was working. Our efforts were actually paying off despite numerous missteps and doubts. These are the moments that kept us going, but for most parents and kids, I imagine they didn’t include diaper changes.

If there is one abiding parenting truth I have realized and can swear to, it is that every interaction with our child – no matter how seemingly inconsequential, mundane, or repetitive – presents an opportunity to connect. Diaper changes are no exception. Consider how many take place in the formative years of our parent-child relationship and the dynamics involved: trust, intimacy, cooperation, self-care.

A parent shared this story about the positive (diaper) changes she and her toddler are experiencing:

Today my son came to me and said, “Mommy, come.” So I went into the room and he had his pants off, the diaper and wipes on the floor. He lay down with a big smile and said, “Mommy, change my diaper please.”

In that moment my whole RIE parenting journey felt validated.

When I started learning about Magda Gerber’s child care approach ten months ago, I was dangling toys in his face, singing loudly, and asking Daddy to do a salsa dance over his head. Diaper changes were a challenge to say the least. There was nothing connecting or present about that chore. It was an obstacle to overcome. It was a dreadful time of the day usually ending in complete frustration for both parties. I was the version of a mother I had always imagined I would never become.

I began to read about giving full attention at caregiving times and using it as a time of connection and presence. Ritual. Ceremony. But I had developed a routine and, you know, it “worked.” I could give  him a phone or a strange object from around the house or do a song and dance while changing, and he would stay still, and we would get through it many times. Giving that up seemed like suicide. But in general my parenting wasn’t working. I wasn’t feeling connected with either of my kids, and there was definitely a me-vs-them mentality most days. But mostly, I wasn’t the mother I wanted to be.

So I put the toys, the phone, and the song and dance away and tried this idea of full presence and sportscasting the event, inviting him to help by letting him know what I was going to do and giving a moment for him to cooperate, help, or acknowledge. It was sort of a disaster at first. There were chases and some very unfortunate poopy messes, but I was determined. I knew these people, these RIE people, were onto something. I could feel it in my bones. You know the truth when you hear it.

So I read some more. I asked questions on the RIE/Mindful Parenting Facebook page. At one point, I got discouraged and tried my old ways again, only to realize that once you understand what it is to see a child with the kind of respect I had learned through RIE, you really can never go back.

The diaper changes got better but for a while, but the process was unpleasant still. I thought, maybe coming so late to RIE I had missed the opportunity for this to really happen for me. I respectfully held him firmly while we changed, and that wasn’t quite what I was hoping for. Then I read some more about slowing down.

So I slowed down some more.

And then more still.

And it would take a long time to change a diaper. Still some days he would not cooperate no matter what I did. Then I read some more about connection and communication. I realized that maybe he was telling me some things. Maybe he was letting me know that he was going to push this boundary and exercise his power in the world, and he needed to see how I would respond. So I became committed to an “unruffled” response. I decided to let go of the dream of him slowly lifting each leg as I sportscasted the event, gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes. Instead, I decided to look at it as his time to tell me all about his new found abilities to make things happen and his curiosity about his effect on me. I wanted to make it very clear: I am ok with your pushing. Pushing is ok with me. Testing is ok with me. Showing me what you can do is ok with me. I will respond calmly to let you know that exploring your limits is ok.

Over time it just became part of our routine. Some days less present than others, and sometimes I was tempted to bring back my song and dance. But the other areas of our lives that had changed because of this type of interaction were too great. I knew there was no going back. And I knew that it would not always be easy or perfect, but that over the months things had changed in so many ways for the better that I was ok with that.

So today, when he came to me and said these things, I cried. Just a little and only for a moment, but there are these moments that are so rare where you see all your efforts and hard work pay off, and you realize how far you’ve come, and you are overwhelmed with emotion. Because it was not easy. But it was worth it.

And I write this down because so many things happened today in rapid succession that made me realize how far I’ve come, and I need to write them down and read them over again to remind myself of these things when the days aren’t so great — when things happen that make me lose sight of the journey and the progress. Who knew a diaper change could make you see all that?

As a daily responsibility of parents and other carers of infants and toddlers, diapering is sometimes viewed as an unpleasant chore, a task of hygiene, a time separate from child’s play and learning. But in the process of diapering, we should remember that we are not only doing the cleaning, we are intimately together with the child.”

– Magda Gerber, Dear Parent: Caring for Infants With Respect

I share a complete guide to respectful care in my book,
Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting 

I also recommend these articles:

Toddler Testing: Problem or Opportunity?  by Lisa Sunbury, Regarding Baby

Changing the Change Table Relationship by Kate Russell, Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids

Walk the Line – Diaper Changing With a Toddler and Catch me if you can – Diaper Changing With a Mobile Infant  by Nadine Hilmar, Mamas in the Making

Dealing With Diaper Changing Disasters and How to Love a Diaper Change on this blog


(Photo by Darren Johnson on Flickr)


Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. Wow this was an incredible story and so so inspiring. I always look at rituals like diapering and teeth brushing woth dread but it seems I need to look at it from a different perspective.

    My son is almost 3 so I hope we’re not too late. I guess it’s worth a shot because things are definitely not going well and try as we might, he still won’t potty train so looks like we’re in this boat for a while longer.

    I find it encouraging that this mother had the success even when she thought it might never come.

  2. Jen Tejada says:


    The SO very interesting ‘behind the story’ story of this diaper change is that when I went to change it….it was barely wet. He NEVER asks for a diaper change when it’s wet. So why would he do that? Perhaps because he’d been at school and I was busy with dinner and he wanted some connection time. These things of child rearing….it’s not te trips to disney or even the big “family dinners” that will create the overall memory. It’s the little moments that happen every single day. It’s ALL those things you mentioned. And realizing this small but MONUMENTAL fact has been life changing. It’s the way I comb my daughter’s hair – do I seem burdened by her constant wiggles that make braiding her very fine hair an impossibilty and saying “be still please!” through clenched teeth or do I calmly let her know I want her to be still bc this is hard and realize, being still is hard when your four. And getting nails trimmed can be tough. But when I thought of it as the beginning of a slow process of cooperation I was able to let go a little of what it should be like and my energy was different in the struggle. And in my finest moments – every fiber of my being says to them: come as you are, I love it all. My love is not dependent upon your cooperation. I don’t need you to accommodate me. And in the moments that I don’t do that, I generally try to forgive myself and repair and try again. As they grow up, so do I.

    I started RIE at age 3 with my daughter and it’s been awesome. Hard, but worth it. Because I KNOW what I’m doing her. I’m letting her be who she is, finally.

    And as for the diaper success. The success was everyday. Every single time he pushed and I responded with acceptance, calm, and clear limits – those were the true successes. His asking for a diaper change simply a dividend. Xo. Journey on momma. It’s soooo worth it.

  3. Cinzia Romoli says:

    I am a Grandma that cares for a toddler. I find the information shared here useful. My daughter forwards me the emails. I. would like to be on the maili list.

  4. Hi I’m trying to buy you book ‘no bad kids’ but can only find a kindle version. Can I get it in paperback??

  5. Oh i love this. I have always said I will not become one of the moms screaming and getting frustrated. So I just can’t wait to really give this a go!

  6. What a lovely story! As my son (now 2.5) got older, we started to invent stories together during diaper changes. It’s an great way to connect. It also builds his vocabulary, creates additional one-on-one eye-contact interaction between us, and fosters our imaginations. We’ve come up with several characters who go on adventures (a cow named Spotty and Baby Dragon named Red).

  7. Jeremy Aluma says:

    Thanks Janet. My wife and I just recently started struggling with getting our 5 month olds diapers on. I thought it was a step back because he used to be so calm while it happened, but you’re philosophy on it being a way of testing and pushing us makes me realize it’s a step forward of his maturation. You’re right, I want him to see that he can push and test us, and that’s part of life, it’s going to make him a stronger and well adjusted man. It made so much sense I cried while finishing reading this article. Thanks for being so articulate and clear.

  8. Kim Bowles says:

    My 18 month old has fought diaper changes since he was physically capable of doing so. He is a sweet, wonderful, highly spirited energetic kid. I would love to have his cooperation with diaper changes, but I can count on one hand the number of times this has happened, no matter what I try. He doesn’t like to be restrained (or just sitting down) for ANY reason. I just got some pull-ups so at least he can stand for the clean diaper. Any other advice?

  9. Dear Janet,

    I have been meaning to write to you for a while. My wife is crazy about your stuff and to hear it second hand sounded to me like some serious hippy Mumbo jumbo. Talk to and treat an infant like person? They don’t even understand English, I thought! However, I read your book and thought it made sense. Thank god I read it when she was little. Diaper changes are a piece of cake now. I let her know what I am doing, what to expect and treat her with dignity and respect. All my interactions are guided now by this philosophy. I had feared speaking in this way would be formulaic and contrived. Quite the opposite. I feel my interactions are more genuine because I speak to her simply how I would want to be spoken to. This has carried to my work as an ER doc. I now speak respectfully to children, let them know what is coming. I know it’s not the point of your work but it makes my job so much easier! I have to spend half the time with wiggling children because they usually comply with my requests! So…thanks a lot! Dr. Steve

    1. Hi Steve,

      I really can’t thank you enough for your comment. It comes at the perfect time. As much as I believe in this approach with every cell in my body, I still get discouraged…and today was a discouraging day. You are a hero, in my book, for the work you do. My son, now 13, says he wants to be an ER doctor! (after being a professional soccer player, but still…)
      Thanks again,

    2. Dr. Steve, thank you! After many ER visits with 7 kids I can still remember the staff who did or did not engage with my kids like this. My 32 year old is still terrified of needles after an experience with no warning given. After a doctor spoke directly with my son with much respect, my then 10 year old asked “Can we fix this a different way? Can we use glue instead of stitches?” After the pros and cons were explained he chose to have his cut glued. He felt so empowered! What you are doing has a huge impact on your young patients for years to come!

    3. As somebody who suffered emotional trauma from medical experiences, THANK YOU for changing the way you interact with children!

  10. Awesome. Thank you Janet !

  11. Ruth mason says:

    Great! Tell this mom she should become a writer — if she isn’t one already.

  12. So good, this is a good reminder!

  13. Thank you for sharing this. A powerful story and such encouragement for all of us who struggle with these daily tasks.

  14. Hi Janet,

    How do you feel “elimination communication” fits into the RIE philosophy?

    I have only found out about it recentelijk, and don’t know much so far, but the idea of consiuosly observing my baby and letting her communicatie when she needs to pee seems very RIE to me

    Also not letting my baby sit in her own dirt (diaper) seems more respectfull, even with todays superdry diapers.

    Kind regards,


    1. Hi Corine! Thanks for asking. I don’t think EC fits with the RIE philosophy, because it entails interrupting infants and holding them in unnatural positions. That doesn’t mean it is not the best choice for you, but those are my feelings. Communicating that she’s urinating is wonderful! But from there, the adult is making the choice to hold the infant over a toilet.

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