How to Keep Your Kiddo Still for Diaper Changes

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Diaper changes get difficult when your little one refuses to sit still or full on fights the diaper change. Here is what to do.

Dad changing toddler's diaper

Changing diapers is rarely on anyone’s top five favorite things to do list, but it quickly moves into top five most disliked things to do list when you have a toddler who starts kicking and throwing a fit during diaper changes.

There are many difficulties you might face behaviorally during the diaper change. Not all children will specifically kick, but all will do something. Some might try to roll over. Some try to sit up. Some arch the back. Some grab at the diaper…oh the list goes on.

Let’s discuss how best to respond in these situations.

Stay Calm, This is Normal

This is another one of those things that is just going to happen in life. It will. Your child starts life out staying relatively still as you change the diaper, but one day, she will start to squirm and cause you trouble.

What To Do When Your Child Fights the Diaper Change

First of all, let’s discuss the most important thing. Do what you can to keep things clean and your child safe.

Don’t leave the child unattended at the changing table or on any surface. Perhaps buckling the child down will help keep your child more still (though not happier).

If you change your child on the floor or other surface that is not “baby deification proof,” put a pad under your baby or something so if and when baby creates a mess with the wiggling, it won’t be so traumatic for you.

Toddler fighting diaper change pinnable image

Distract Your Little One

Next, I think the best thing to do with these diaper changes is to keep the child distracted. Distract, distract, distract.

A baby does not want to hold still for a diaper change. Does she need to? Absolutely. But this isn’t a situation that requires complete reverence.

If any experienced mom is like me, she finds herself trying to hand her four week old a toy before she changes the diaper.

I did this with all three of my girls. I would put them down for a diaper change and try to give them a toy…then I realized they couldn’t hold a toy yet.

As you get experienced, distracting your little one is so much a part of the habit of diaper changes, it is just what we do.

Keep some interesting toys at the changing table. Rotate often.

I will also hand my little one the new diaper to hold or her diaper cream.

I remember when McKenna was a young toddler she liked to “brush” her hair, so I would give her a brush while I changed her diaper.

Distract, distract, distract.

Sing songs. Engage your child. Talk about what you are doing. Explain you are taking her pants off. Talk about her having a messy diaper, then talk about it being fresh and clean. This is an opportunity to teach opposites and various concepts.

Distract, distract, distract.

Be Firm

Despite your best distracting efforts, there will be times your baby will not have it. She will not be deterred!

I had this problem with McKenna at times. This happened when she wanted to sit up.

Well, I just couldn’t change her diaper while she was sitting up. I am not that talented.

So I put her back down, handed her something to play with, and told her to stay down. I did this in a firm voice. I gave her “the look.” I did not give in. You can’t really give in with situations like this; the diaper must be changed.

Now, let’s discuss when the behavior moves from simply wanting to play to outright anger at the situation.

Your child might kick in anger. She might throw a fit. She might scream. In this situation, I would simply look at the child with “the look,” tell her that’s a no, and keep going.

If your child kicks you, I would grab the foot, lay it back where it should go, and say, “That’s a no. You do not kick Mama.”

If she is crying out of sadness rather than anger, I would talk to her as you change her diaper and say, “I know this isn’t fun. Mommy is hurrying as fast as she can. You can play as soon as Mommy gets you all clean.”

If your child is old enough to understand, you can give warnings. “In one minute, we are going to change your diaper, then you can play again.”

If your child tends to make a messy diaper right when she wakes up, you can change her before any fun even begins. Get her out of bed and change that diaper right away so she doesn’t get into something fun that will be distracted.

The older the child, the firmer I would be with not being allowed to move around during the diaper change.

Expect Obedience at All Times

I think this is a situation that will be easier remedied if your child obeys you in other areas.

Your child needs to know that when mom says no, it means no. So be consistent in all areas of life, not just the diaper change.

If screaming and crying can get her out of other things, she will try it for diaper changes, too.

>>>Read: Discipline 101: The Basics of Correcting Children

As a recap, here are some dos:

  • Do distract. Go to the toy or other item to play with first. Also, sing songs, count toes, count how many seconds it takes, etc.
  • Do go fast. Go as fast as you can go.
  • Do be firm.
  • Do be consistent. Don’t delay the diaper change if the fits come.
  • Do repeat. You might have to do these things over and over again before your child gets it.
  • Do warn. Give your child fair warning before the diaper change if she is old enough to understand it.
How to keep your kiddo still for the diaper change pinnable image

Conclusion

This time period requires patience. You can both work through this. Hang in there!

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This post originally appeared on this blog in May 2010

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15 thoughts on “How to Keep Your Kiddo Still for Diaper Changes”

  1. Our son kicked when being changed a lot around 18 months. He did it to get a reaction out of us, not to hurt. He just wanted to play. We would stop the diaper change, with no expression, no talking, and just put our hand on his legs or chest with a small amount of pressure. We held our hand their until we could feel him relax. Then we would say "No kicking" in a soft firm voice and continue on. As soon as he kicked again we repeated the "consequnce". At first it took about 3 times during the diaper change until he stopped, but in a day or so it was only once, and then after a week the behavior was gone. We still do this when he gets restless on the changing table.

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  2. What helped my son was giving him a "no no" item during diaper changing time. For example, he was not allowed to touch our cell phones. But we had an old one that didn't work. So we kept this on his diaper changing table and he got to play with it only during diaper time. We told him that it was his special diaper toy and he never got confused between what times it was and wasn't allowed to be played with.

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  3. Interesting tid bit. My son was a terrible diaper change guy. Kicking, screaming, and convulsing. We finally got tubes put in his ears a month ago, not one single time since then has he screamed as I tried to change his diaper. My belief is that every time I laid him down, the pressure in his ears would build up causing pain. I always thought he was just being "strong willed" but now I believe he learned to associate diaper changes with pain. You would even show him a diaper and he would start wailing! Not any more!

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  4. Another distraction idea we used was to attach a dresser mirror to the back of our change table (which is a dresser with a change pad on top). Our LO LOVES to look and "talk" to herself that she usually ends up laying on the change table for an extra 5 minutes after we have finished changing her diaper!

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  5. Just to correct one important point, to avoid confusion for readers: Your title isn't correct, because the methods you are giving here aren't logical consequences. Logical consequences are sanctions that are tied in with whatever the child has done wrong – for example, taking a child's toys away for a few days if the child doesn't put them away properly, or making a child clear up something they've spilled. The ways you're describing of dealing with the problem of wriggling during diaper changes are perfectly good ones, but they aren't logical consequences, so that's the wrong title for them.

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  6. I took some ribbon and attached a pretty basket to the end of my daughter's change table and filled it with a variety of toys/small books. Then I sit her on the change table and let her lean into it and pick her own toy. I also hung a memory board on the wall down low covered with pictures of out-of-town family members and we practice their names. Both of these things have really changed diaper time for me!

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  7. Distracting with toys or singing is very helpful but many times we have had to do more. If our little boy is still wiggling or kicking we tell him he needs to lay still or he will go to his bed for a minute. If he still doesn't obey, a minute in his bed makes a big difference. We have done this starting at 10 or 11 months and its has alway helped.

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  8. Cameron and Megan, I think that is an excellent example of a consequence working because you knew the intent behind the action. You reacted perfectly to curb his behavior based on why he was doing it. Thanks for sharing.

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  9. Sarah, that is true, but this post is in direct response to a request for logical consequence ideas for squirming during the diaper change. That is the reason for the incorrect title, but you are correct. I suppose people who aren't regularly following the blog wouldn't know that.A logical consequence for the wiggling during the diaper change could be to buckle the child down, but that wouldn't fix kicking or anything.

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  10. I keep coming back to this post because diaper changes have been a battle for months now, and my daughter simply will not listen. She often gets so angry she throws her toys at me (or anything else I give), kicks, screams, writhes.. even if I strap her to the changing table she twists her way onto all fours. I've tried distractions, talking to her, verbal commands (which she usually does well with unless it's close to bedtime), timeouts in her crib, etc. I'm about to go crazy over here. I'm pregnant and tired and patience is low. Any further advice? It would be most welcome!

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  11. I came across another distraction method recently that might help someone searching here for ideas. Try putting a sticker on the child's nose or forehead. It will take a while to get it off. If you are really good at multi-tasking, you can grab the sticker just before they are successful and move it to another place, such as their forehead. Worth a try!

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