Solutions for Your Diaper Daredevil

Keeping diaper changes fun and safe

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Looking for ideas to your keep toddler happy during diaper changes? Here are some useful tips for a more enjoyable diaper changing experience.

You want your child to be active, independent, and curious—just not when it’s time to change his diaper. “When a child gains his walking legs—and the freedom that comes with them—he doesn’t want anything holding him back, especially a parent who wants him to lie still for a diaper change,” says Arleen Portell Elizondo, a pediatric clinical nurse specialist in San Antonio. Those legs are like a new toy. Your toddler wants to use them all the time, to move around, to learn about his world, and, literally, to reach new heights.

Power struggles with toddlers are usually frustrating; diapering struggles can be messy, even dangerous, if they take place on a changing table where a child can fall. If your toddler challenges you at changing time, you have to be prepared, quick, and entertaining.

Get Down

If you have a squirmy child, you can eliminate any chance of a fall by putting a changing pad on the floor and taking care of business there. For some children, just the absence of that dreaded changing table ends the fight. You may find you’re faster on the floor, too—and the less time your child is on his back, the happier he’ll be. With your child down low, you don’t have to hold him to keep him from falling or jumping off. Both hands are free for faster changing.

If you’re more comfortable changing on higher ground, move to a bigger surface. Create a changing spot by placing a towel or changing pad on a bed, as far away from the edge as possible. If your child still sleeps in a crib, all the better. The railings, even when they’re down, give added protection from falls.

Be Ready

Don’t abruptly pull your child away from a toy or game to change his diaper. He’ll resist even harder if you snatch him from the fun. Ease into it. Give notice that changing time is coming up as soon as you get the changing area ready or as soon as you finish loading the dishwasher, folding laundry, or some other short task. Young children can’t yet grasp on the concept of time, so they won’t respond to a five-minute warning.

Ask for Help

Toddlers are creatures of habit. They also want to have some control in their lives. Elizondo says if you combine those two elements, you’re in for a smooth change. “Set a changing time routine and give your child a task so he can participate in the process,” she suggests. “He feels involved, knows what to expect, and will be more likely to cooperate.” Let your child turn the light on when you go into the room to change him. Ask him to give you a clean diaper or open the container of wipes. You always want to have supplies in the same spot so you can quickly grab what you need, so ask your child to line up the diaper, wipes, and lotion, or have him check to make sure they are in place.

Plan to Distract

To many parents’ surprise, toys alone often don’t do the trick at changing time. You have to help your child keep his hands and his mind busy. If he’s holding a book, ask him to point to the green objects in the pictures, for example. Give your child a family photo and ask him to name the familiar faces.

Choose small objects your child can easily grasp. Use soft toys and board books with rounded corners, so if he drops them on himself, he won’t get hurt. Or, hang a mobile, poster, chimes, or mirror around the changing area. Reserve the toys for changing time so your child doesn’t lose interest and looks forward to playing with them.

Toys didn’t captivate two-year-old Grace Miller of Ann Arbor, Michigan, who started protesting diaper changes soon after her first birthday. Her mother, Lisa, found an educational solution. “I go through a series of questions, ‘Where’s Gracie’s eye? Where’s Gracie’s nose? Where’s Mommy’s nose?'” says Lisa. “She becomes so engrossed in naming and pointing to body parts that she quickly forgets I’m changing her diaper.” Your best bet with this game is to stick with body parts above the diaper area.

Music also can calm squirmy toddlers. Old standards, like the Alphabet Song, engage children because they provide opportunity for interaction. But you may have to change your tune to find effective music. Two-year-old Cal Robertshaw, of Fanwood, New Jersey, loves animals. When Cal wriggles at changing time, his father, Chris, belts out songs that mention animals, from Old McDonald to old folk-rock songs. “The songs entertain him enough to let me get the job done,” says Robertshaw.

If you’re good at improvising, tell stories about family members, friends, or pets. Ask your child to pick a person, then set the scene in fun, familiar situations—the beach, park, or zoo. Spin tales that allow your child to add words or sound effects; the more he’s involved in the story, the more distracted he’ll be from the diaper change. For a smooth shift, start the story, song, or game before you lay your child down. “He will be so engaged that he won’t notice—or, at least, won’t care—that he’s going to be stuck on his back for a few minutes,” says Claire Lerner, child development specialist with Zero to Three in Washington, DC.

Take a Stand

If your child rebels at changing time because he doesn’t like to be on his back, allow him to stand up on the floor while you change him. “Many children feel more comfortable and more in control when they’re on their feet,” says Lerner. “They are less resistant—and easier to change.”

From age one until he was out of diapers, Jason Kayne was on his feet at changing time. “Nothing worked to keep him still while he was on his back,” says his mother, Tina, of Deerfield, Illinois. “It was a lot less messy than when he rolled away from me on the floor,” she says.

Stick to Business

Sometimes, with particularly active or resistant children, diapering tactics just don’t work, or they backfire. Instead of engrossing him, your songs or games make your active child ready for more action. In those cases, simply get down to business. Be firm but gentle when you put him down. Don’t talk, smile, or make eye contact and try not to react to his wiggles and complaints.

On an average day, you probably change your child’s diaper six times. That’s 4,380 dirty diapers between ages one and three, when many children ditch the diapers for the potty. With that many diapers, you need to save your sanity by finding the strategies that work best for you and your child.

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