Changing diapers is often a parent’s least favorite job. It can be difficult enough with a squirming baby, but when your baby grows into a mobile and “independent” toddler, the challenge seems to increase exponentially. Why do toddlers suddenly hate diaper changes and what can we do to make things easier?
Toddlers could suddenly hate getting their diaper changed because they crave independence and control of their bodies and environment. Parents can make diaper changes easier by finding ways to give their toddler more independence, trying not to interrupt activities, and avoiding issues like diaper rash.
Keep reading to learn more about why your toddler is fighting diaper changes and how you can give them some of the control they are craving.
Why does your toddler suddenly hate diaper changes?
Toddlers want to be in control, but it’s not always easy to decipher what a toddler is trying to control at a particular moment. Their behavior may change suddenly and without warning. A toddler may be fine with diaper changes one day, but start running away, hiding, screaming, and fighting you over diaper changes the next.
Where does this come from?
What is your child trying to tell you?
If your child has a rash, or something less obvious like a UTI, diaper changes may be painful. Fear of pain may cause your toddler to run away, squirm, or scream during changes. Of course, proper cleaning, more frequent diaper changes, and application of treatment products is the only way to heal and prevent these problems, but toddlers don’t understand that.
Even if the rash or infection has cleared up, the memory of pain may cause your child to have a continued aversion to getting their diaper changed. Toddlers sometimes need a few days to process that something which used to cause pain doesn’t hurt anymore.
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“I’m busy doing something else right now.”
When you smell a stinky diaper, you immediately know it is time for a change – especially if your child is prone to diaper rash. You don’t want to wait. But your child may not be ready for a diaper change at that moment.
Toddlers often have difficulty with transitions. If your child is engaged in a certain activity, they may react poorly to having that activity interrupted. It may be playing with a toy, watching a favorite show, or something less obvious like spinning in circles or staring at the ceiling fan.
Whatever your child is focused on at that moment may be more important to them than getting their diaper changed.
Diaper changes can be very boring for an ever-active toddler. We are asking them to lay still for what may be only a minute or two. To a child with a lot of energy, those two minutes may seem like an eternity. They will squirm around to find something to do or decide to get up and leave mid-change.
Other needs, such as hunger, thirst, or fatigue, may also be more pressing to your toddler at the time you decide to change them. Toddlers are unlikely to know or care when their diaper is wet, but they will quickly let you know if they need something else and their diaper change is delaying access to what they want.
“I don’t want my clothes off.” or “I don’t want to wear that.”
Some children may take issue with having their clothes removed. This may occur because your child is cold or perhaps they just really like the outfit they are in and want to keep it on. It could also be an issue of vulnerability, as they become more self-conscious with age, or control, as they want to decide when and where their clothes come off.
Inversely, some children become upset during the redressing process. Perhaps their diaper was too tight or the pants they had on before are itchy or hot and they don’t want to put them back on.
Older toddlers may not like the character print on the diaper you chose. They also might decide they are done with an outfit and want something different. Since they are half undressed already, they might as well change everything.
Sometimes, toddlers also just want to run around naked and they will resist any direction otherwise!
“I want to do it by myself.”
Toddlers have a strong desire to be independent. Even when a task is beyond their ability to handle, they want to try. Lying down for a diaper change does not allow the child to take part in the activity. They cannot see what you are doing or try to do it themselves.
Your child might want to help with removing and putting on clothes. They may want to sit or stand up so they can see what is going on. At some point, they may begin to show interest in potty training and the extra level of independence that comes with it.
How to stop your toddler from crying while changing diapers
There are many reasons why your toddler may be resisting diaper changes, but they all point to a desire for independence and control. Once you figure out why your child is resisting, you can take steps to make things easier on yourself and your child. Here are some tips to help you get started.
Check for rashes and other problems
If your child is hurting, diaper changes won’t be easy. Rashes are easy to spot but be mindful of other problems like yeast infections or UTIs which may not be accompanied by a rash.
If your child seems to be in pain during changes, watch for other symptoms of a UTI such as fever or foul-smelling urine. Yeast infections usually cause rashes, but you can also look for white spots or a discharge with an odor.
Talk to your pediatrician about treatment options. Once the problem has cleared up, you should have a much easier time with diaper changes.
Wait and give warning
If your child is engaged in an activity, you may need to wait a little bit before changing. Let them finish what they are doing and try to change their diaper between activities. If they are watching television, consider simply bringing a changing pad to them so you don’t have to interrupt at all.
If you are worried that their play will go on too long, leading to a leak or a rash, try giving your child a warning. “In three minutes we are going to change your diaper.” Keep in mind that toddlers have a poor understanding of time. A visual timer may help them mentally prepare to pause their activity and let you change them.
Meet other needs first
Adults like to do things in an order that makes sense. When your child first wakes up you may want to change their diaper first, then have breakfast and a drink. But your sleepy toddler may have other ideas. Consider putting the diaper change on hold and taking some time for extra snuggles and a small drink or snack.
If the diaper change can’t wait, talk to your child about the order you plan to do things in. “First diaper, then food.” You can play up this conversation by talking about what you are going to eat. This lets your toddler know that you are listening and that their other needs will be met shortly.
For the easily bored toddler, have a few things on hand to keep them entertained during diaper changes. Wipes packages are often great fun – just be sure to take out what you need first. You could also provide small books or toys that are reserved just for diaper time.
Make sure whatever you provide is easily sterilized as it may become contaminated during diaper changes. Also, be sure to change out the toys regularly to keep things interesting.
If playthings don’t work out, you can try singing songs or telling a funny story while you change your child’s diaper. Include silly faces and noises to help keep their focus on you, instead of trying to getaway.
Don’t like singing or telling stories? Play a favorite song or video on your phone instead. Keep in mind that the same thing won’t work every time, so change things up and be creative. The important thing is to keep your child engaged.
Let them help
Toddlers love to help out around the house and do whatever their parents are doing. Diaper changes are no different. Give them a job to do. Keep diapers and wipes in a place they can reach. You can then ask them to get what you need for a diaper change.
When you are done, your child might love to help throw the diaper away.
Let them choose their clothes
Your child may not have a well-developed sense of style, but toddlers frequently know what they like and don’t like. Look for signs that your child is uncomfortable in what they are wearing – especially if they fight redressing after a diaper change. Consider the material and the temperature to help your child feel more comfortable.
Even if you don’t want your child to have free access to all of their clothes, you may want to give them a few options to choose from. The same goes for diapers – have a few different styles on hand or let them pick the character design when you are diaper shopping. Offering these choices gives your child a feeling of control.
As toddlers become more self-aware, they may feel the need to have privacy during diaper changes. It is important to respect and accommodate that need. Give your child a choice of where they would like to have their diaper changed. Also, allow them the choice of closing the door. These choices will help them feel more independent and in control.
Consider, also, that a desire for privacy may be a sign that your child is ready to begin potty training. Start looking into potty training methods and watch for other signs that your child is ready.
Consider switching to training pants
Even if your child is not quite ready for toilet training, switching to disposable training pants may help give them the independence they desire. Using training pants allows your child to stand up during most changes and watch what you are doing.
Training pants are easier to get on and off, making diaper changes a lot faster. Your toddler can start helping to pull up their training pants when they are done. They will gain independence and start learning the dressing skills they will need when they do start potty training.
Start Potty Training!
If your child is showing most of the signs that they are ready, you may want to go ahead and start potty training. This is a big step in independence for your child. There are many methods for potty training out there. I recommend Child-Oriented Potty Training which gives the child control over how quickly they move through the steps.