pee, poop, and the strength to wait it out

March 2, 2010 at 11:39 pm 4 comments

I’d like to look at this recent question from a reader.

Help me! My son is nearly one and has started to really dislike lying down to have his nappy changed. I have tried to make it more interesting and more comfortable for him but I’ve run out of creativity and my mother’s advice is to tell him he just has to lie back until mummy’s finished and then hold him down. I’m trying so hard to work out what it could be that he doesn’t like about it but I’ve hit a bit of a wall.

In my opinion there are two scenarios that let a parent off the hook for using empathy instead of coercion, physical or otherwise.

1. In order to stop your kid from severely hurting himself.

2. In order to stop your kid from severely hurting someone else.

When we are really bothered by something our kids are doing, it sure would be nice if that activity made it on to the list above, but its a pretty short list and odds are that if your kid was doing either of the two listed things you would not be stopping to wonder if this was a moment to ditch empathy or not, you would be too busy body blocking.

The diaper change revolt scenario is common, and also a major trigger for a lot of parents. Knowing that your baby is waddling around with a heavy load is irritating, and maybe even disgusting, but unfortunately it doesn’t, at least in my book, necessitate force. If you’ve made all the creative moves you can think of and your child still does not want anything to do with a diaper change, then you’ve got to bring on the empathy.

For yourself.

Maybe you are concerned with diaper rashes, the burn of urine left too long on the skin, poop slipping out the sides as he squats, the smell of poop filling the house. Maybe you are irritated. Maybe you are anxious about the shoulds of parenting (as in: A dirty diaper should be changed immediately after soiling.). Maybe you are mad that he isn’t listening. Maybe you are exhausted from trying out several new and exciting ways to change a diaper to no avail. Simply recognize those feelings. You have every right to feel them.

Hopefully, the self empathy will give you the strength to be patient and to then offer empathy to him.

Imagine how irritated we would be if, while concentrating on finishing dinner, or reading a juicy novel, or settling in to watch a movie, a large person suddenly yanked us up and wanted us to lie down while they took off our clothes and wiped us down. We wouldn’t like it. Autonomy is a legitimate need. Empathy for a child can start here, through imagining the scenario in reverse.

Also, our kids’ bodies are all that they have. It is the only thing that is theirs and theirs alone. Teaching them that their body is a temple begins here in infancy when we offer it/them our greatest respect. There may be many things your boy doesn’t like about a diaper change, you may never know what they are, but what you can recognize is, that at least for now, he simply doesn’t want one. Furthermore, whether or not he gets one might not be your decision to make.

This sounds ludicrous, I know. What could moms be more expert in than changing diapers right? But it is more than a diaper change we are talking about. Telling him that you know better than him about his body than he does, by holding him down to do something to his body that he doesn’t want, is the same as telling him what he is feeling. We wouldn’t dream of wiping away a child’s tears and asserting that they are not sad, they are happy. No, we leave those decisions to them. They know themselves best and if we want to know them too, then we have to be sure to get out of the way enough so that they can show us. Even if the way they show us is to leave their dirty diaper on far longer than we think is appropriate.

The fact of the matter is that he will change his diaper eventually. And even though you might have to wait longer than you are comfortable, you won’t have sacrificed the trust and connection you share with your boy in the process.

In short, waiting for him to be ready to change his diaper is the most powerful form of empathy you can show your son at this time.

The next step is to offer verbal empathy as well:

I’d like to change your diaper. You don’t want to? Are you busy playing? You don’t want me to change your diaper. You don’t want me to interrupt you. Do you feel mad? Are you worried that I am going to make you change it?

Though this is more complicated language than most parents use with their young children, I personally believe that they are capable of understanding, if not every word, at least the sentiment behind the words, and are often insulted by our dumbing down the language we use.

Next step, offer information:

I’m concerned about the pee and poop in your diaper. If it stays on your skin too long it could start to burn or itch a bit. I’m also interested in keeping those pants clean. Sometimes when you squat down while there is poop in your diaper it squeezes out the leg holes and gets on your pants. If we have to change the pants too, the process will take a lot longer.

It’s also fair to own up to the feelings you are having.

I’m feeling really uncomfortable with how long the dirty diaper has been on your body. Or, I’m feeling anxious about the dirty diaper. I really like it when I know you have fresh, clean clothes on.

At this point you might even try asking for an agreement.

Are you willing to change your diaper while standing up? Are you interested in washing the poop off in the tub instead?

And if an agreement is not reached:

Will you let me know when you ARE ready to change your diaper?

Empathy and information. That’s as much of a formula as I can nail down. The rest is filled in with patience, confidence, faith in parenting in a way that connects, and a focus on the enrichment of the relationship as the goal, not just a clean diaper.

ps. The image is linked to a site of sign language for kids. Teaching children simple everyday signs is a great way to give them the power to let you know what they want or need, including a diaper change.


Entry filed under: empathy, parenting principles. Tags: , , .

out with the old in the dim light of dawn

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. melomel  |  March 3, 2010 at 8:54 pm

    Great advice!

    I have a wiggly, squirmy, busy almost one-year old and have found that he’s happy if we change his diaper on the fly. He stands and plays; I do a quick change.. A lot less fuss. He doesn’t want to lie down and I haven’t tried to change him on his back since he asserted his need for mobility (he would roll or crawl off the change table in seconds) six months ago. I remember little of this time with my first-born, but do remember changing him while he was standing, too.

    It’s amazing how much our wee ones communicate when they are preverbal. We noticed a while back that our baby was trying to tell us he needed to poo, when he would climb out of bed after our first round of trying to put him to sleep. Now we let him go and play, and sure enough he settles down again (satisfied that we got his message) after he has a poo. It’s hard to imagine how uncomfortable it would be for him if we “forced” him to go to bed without honouring his body needs and rhythms.

  • 2. Helen  |  March 5, 2010 at 2:35 am

    Thanks so much for this response to my question. I have in the meantime almost found my own way to the suggestions you’ve made. I gave myself some breathing space and then tried to put myself in his head. He seemed to protest more to the clean nappy going on than the dirty one coming off. I then realised that we don’t give him much time naked at all. This was because of some scary nappy-free-time messes in the early days combined with the fact that his skin has been really healthy. It occurred to me that time being naked and to touch himself is really important and that he could be protesting against the loss of that. So I’ve started letting him play for a bit in between nappy coming off and new nappy going on. I also let him know that I want to put his nappy back on soon and then a minute or so later say “I’d like to put your clean nappy on now” and watch his body for a response. It’s working much MUCH better. Such a simple thing. Thanks again.

    • 3. nataliechristensen  |  March 5, 2010 at 8:52 am

      Awesome Helen!

  • 4. Miranda  |  March 8, 2010 at 6:58 pm

    My one year old girl hates changing too. I had been practicing part time elimination communication since she was 4 months catching one poop a day in the toilet. I’m a bit better now at reading her signs and timing the poop that I put her in some training panties between or at least for a while after her poops. I change them immediately after she pees them and she doesn’t protest. I think she prefers them to soggy diapers. Tonight she took so long to settle, on and off my boob, squirming away from me, trying to get off the bed, whimpering. I tried her on the potty and she peed, clapped her hands and was happy to go to sleep. We have such amazing communication. Let your baby listen to his body. Don’t be afraid of a little pee or poop.


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