The Montessori approach guides us to support our child’s emerging independence from the very earliest days. When it comes to toilet learning, a few changes in the diaper-changing process as our babies become toddlers will convey to our children that we have confidence in them and that we support their increasing capabilities.
Older babies often wriggle and protest diaper changes. Toddlers may refuse to comply with a request to lie down. Pivoting to a standing diaper change may relieve some tension in the toilet learning process.
Today we have tips from Bridget, the author of The Montessori Guide.
When changing diapers is a struggle
Body awareness, consent, and personal autonomy are all relevant issues when it comes to the diapering routine. Acknowledging to yourself that your child is navigating these will help you have empathy and create a diaper changing process that works better.
Tip: Use a consistent diapering routine and consistent language so that your child can predict what will happen next. Invite them to help out as they can. During changes, move slowly and pause to let your child know when you are about to wipe them or when you are going to change their body position.
Standing diaper changes
Your child will likely tell you when they are ready to move to standing diaper changes. For my daughter Marley, this was around nine months. She started rolling and wiggling around on the changing table during diaper changes.
I installed a bar 15 inches off of the ground for her to hold during changes. You can use a bar or encourage your child to hold the side of the tub.
Tip: To clean your child’s bottom during a stand-up diaper change, ask them to touch their toes while you wipe them. This trick is used in most Montessori schools.
If you are going to introduce stand-up changing, consider moving it into the bathroom as the first step toward toilet learning.
I also added a small potty, baskets for wipes, clean diapers, and a change of clothing within her reach. I made sure that she could open the diaper pail independently so she could help throw away diapers.
Introduce transitions gradually, changing one aspect of the routine at a time. When we moved to standing changes, I maintained the rest of the process, using the same phrasing as before when pausing to ask for consent or to include her in a step.
Once Marley was used to our routine, I started offering the potty. I would pause once her diaper was off and she was clean and invite her to sit on the potty. If she didn’t want to sit, we would continue to the next step.
Common diaper-changing power struggles
Rolling and kicking during changes
Relieve yourself of the burden of having to physically struggle against your child by telling them you can see they are wanting to spend more time standing up and that you can try a new way of changing diapers. Explain that they’re going to need to help you by doing some of the jobs involved. Ask them to hold the clean diaper, hand you wipes, and participate in the process wherever they can. If they can stand independently or by holding a bar or the side of the tub, you can try stand-up changes.
Refusing to lie down
Our language often invites refusal. Avoid asking a question. “Do you want to come here?” Instead, make it a statement. “We are going to change your diaper before we leave the house.” Then add the choice, “Would you like to do it laying down or standing up?”
Being secretive about pooping or denying it
Talk to them about what you are noticing and troubleshoot together. Keep your tone light, factual, and judgment-free. “I see you have moved away from the play area to poop in your diaper. When you’re finished, we’re going to work together to throw that diaper away and put on a clean one.” Remember to avoid asking a question to which they may answer “No”, such as “Do you have a poopy diaper?”
To ensure their bowel movements are as comfortable as possible, look at their diet. Reduce anything that might cause constipation or uncomfortable bowel movements (usually dairy products for young children) and increase fruits, nuts, and fiber. If this is an ongoing issue, speak to their doctor.
Supporting independence during the diaper changing process
Montessori toilet learning is a gentle and effective way of helping young children learn to use the toilet on their own. Whenever you feel stuck with a challenging behavior around diapers or toileting, try to identify a new way to support your child’s sense of power and agency during this process.
Giving them choices and an active role to play will boost their confidence and their motivation to cooperate with you.
Bridget is a Montessori mama and co-author of The Montessori Guide, a month-by-month guide for helping parents use Montessori at home. She shares inspiration for using Montessori at home with young children.