Diaper changes are an incredible, and often missed, opportunity for teaching about consent and respect. Diaper changes are often rushed through, dreaded (by all parties), done forcefully, quickly, and without permission. A child will have roughly 5,000 diaper changes in their first few years. That’s 5,000 opportunities to teach your child about respect, intimacy, boundaries, and connection.
Here are some simple ways to build in experiences that will enrich your baby’s understanding of healthy consent through diaper changes.
- In general, slow down. You are handling and caring for an intimate and sensitive part of your child’s body. Treat them with respect. Touch gently.
- Pause in between steps to give them a chance to rest and process what you are doing.
- Try not to interrupt their play to change their diaper. Babies are often up to some cool stuff! Wait until their attention wanders and they seem ready for a transition to start changing them.
- Tell them, step by step, what you are doing and why. This helps them regulate attention and orient to what going on.
- “I’m going to wipe you now, to get all the pee off. It might feel cold”
- Get straight forward about pee and poop. It’s really not a big deal. Don’t call your child’s body gross or act like they are something you don’t enjoy interacting with. Be loving and kind and treat them as if they understand you.
- Avoid distracting them with toys or phones, if possible, and instead encourage participation (through eye contact, or lifting a leg, holding a clean diaper etc.) This helps them feel a part of what’s happening, instead of feelings like something is being done to them.
- Follow your child’s rhythm. Speed up and slow to what’s needed for them to feel best. It’s ok to move quickly, if the baby is up for it and with you.
These guidelines are based on Magda Gerber's approach, called Resource for Infant Educators (RIE). Check out this sweet video of a diaper change that follows this approach. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1TZIYMpy9Fc
(This video is of a very long, 8 minute diaper change. I’m not suggesting that all diaper changes take this long, but it gives a view into a possibility!)
Here's two great posts by Janet Lansbury for more ideas on how to change diapers respectfully: how-to-love-a-diaper-change and the-evolution-of-a-diaper-change-2.
I am bursting with many more ideas for ways to support the development of consent! More to come!
With love and deep respect,