As a parent you probably never thought of diaper changing as being fun or educational, right? But, did you know that you and your baby can work on a lot of developmental skills during one single diaper change and actually make it a positive learning experience? Infants are typically less of a challenge when it comes to changing diapers, but once children are mobile and learn to roll, crawl, walk, and eventually run away at diaper changing time – watch out! Here are some tips on making the daily diaper changing routine more enjoyable and successful for both you and your child:
- Diaper changes are a great way to engage in face to face interactions with your newborn baby. You can work on visual tracking skills with your infant by starting with looking at them at the center of their line of vision and slowly moving your face to the left side, back to the center and to the right side. If your baby loses sight of you, give him time to refocus and follow. As newborns, babies prefer the sight of your face over anything else in the environment!
- When your baby is somewhere between 3-5 months of age, diaper changes are a great time to work on motor skills such as rolling. You can place your baby on the floor or changing table on her back and then gently roll her to her each side, change the diaper and then finish by gently rolling your baby to her tummy. Encourage your baby with your supervision to roll on her own after a diaper change by presenting a favorite toy for her to visually follow.
- When your baby is between 5-8 months of age you can also work on transitioning from lying down to sitting up. Instead of picking your baby up from his back after his change, gently roll your baby to his side and then place one hand on his shoulder that’s facing the changing table and your other hand on his opposite hip (the hip that’s facing upwards), and encourage him to push with his arm to lift himself into a sitting position after each diaper change. Each time you change him have him roll to a different side, so that he is practicing rotating himself into a sitting position with your support on both sides of his body. Eventually he will be able to do this on his own!
- Sing! Diaper changing is a great time to work on language and listening skills, and what better way to distract your baby from the diaper change while making it an enjoyable experience than by singing a song.
- Work on reaching and grasping skills by presenting a favorite toy and encouraging your baby to reach for it, grasp it and eventually bring it to his mouth.
- Before or after the change, do a nursery rhyme such as “This Little Piggy” and count or kiss your baby’s toes and encourage her to reach for and touch or grab her own feet (this strengthens abdominal muscles).
- Play a game of peek-a-boo using a small cloth to cover your baby’s face and let her pull it off.
- Stay positive! If your toddler perceives that his diaper change is an annoyance or bother for you, his mood may sour along with yours. Stay animated, use humor and be silly during diaper changes to signal to your child that you enjoy this brief interaction with him.
- Let your toddler be a helper by asking him to get his diaper or bring you the wipes. When your toddler feels more in control of the process he may be more cooperative.
- Work on undressing and dressing skills, by letting your child pull down his own pants or remove his own diaper. Let him seal the new diaper tabs and help pull his own pants up, praising him for being independent and for being such a good helper.
- Use music, a bell or other methods to ease the transition to a diaper change. Many toddlers have difficulty with transitions, meaning stopping their play to change a diaper may cause a tantrum. Give your toddler plenty of warning before the change, such as “After you put 3 more blocks on the tower, we are going to change your diaper” or “You can play with the Playdoh for a few more minutes and when the timer goes off, it’s time to change your pants”.
- Use “First, Then” statements with your toddler so that he understands that once his diaper is changed something positive is coming afterwards. For example, “First we will change your pants, then we will go see Grandma!” or “First we will change your diaper and then we will have our cookies for snack”.
- Work on identifying body parts during diaper changes, starting with the face and moving down to arms, fingers, knees, toes.
- Avoid a power struggle with your toddler, let her bring the toy she is currently playing with or something else to occupy her little hands, because no one likes to be disrupted when they are in the middle of important business!
- Do some pretend play activities with your child that involve him learning to diaper his own dolls, teddy bears or action figures.
- Use stickers as a fun reward and let him place a sticker on his diaper or his hand after every successful diaper change.
- Don’t make your child move to another area or a changing table, which sometimes can be half the battle. Use a mobile changing pad and come to him so he is not disrupted in his play or routine.
- Be silly! Distraction with toddlers often does wonders, so use a familiar song such as “Twinkle Twinkle”, but make it your own by singing something like “Stinky, stinky little boy, after your changed we’ll play with a toy!” Be creative & humorous!
- Finally, if your toddler is staying dry for longer periods during the day, wakes dry from naps and/or wants to stand up during diaper changes, it may be time to begin potty training (but that’s a whole separate story!).