As New Yorkers, we often tout the virtues of slowing down. Many of us carve out yoga, meditation, or workouts as a time to relax and deliberately unwind. But, have you ever thought a diaper change as a time to relax and rejuvenate with your baby? Probably not! Most of us have the opposite reaction; we want rush through this unsavory process to get to the “real” bonding or playing.
A baby’s first connection to the physical word is through the touch of a caregiver’s hands. However, caregivers tend to underestimate a baby’s receptive language: Although speech starts developing from 6 to 12 months, his understanding of touch and physical cues is immediate. Being mindful of this, slowing down and being aware of what your hands communicate during a diaper change, for example, can communicate so many things to an infant or toddler:
1. Slowing down communicates our love and respect
Slow movements during caregiving moments (diapering, feeding, bathing) conveys to a baby that they are valuable and worth our time and attention. Do we want him to feel open and receptive to our touch or defensive and uncertain about what’s happening next? A soft and gentle touch, accompanied by simple and non-judgmental language alerting him of what’s coming next, then waiting, builds basic trust in a relationship. This type of slow movement creates a predictable environment where the baby feels secure in the hands of a caregiver.
Using distraction as a means to hasten a diaper change fails to illicit cooperation. It tends to have the opposite effect and becomes a process that can be stressful for both parties. Better to slow down and promote an environment of calmness.
2. Slowing down builds a foundation for a baby’s self-respect
A baby as young as three months will start anticipating and adjusting to a caregiver’s movements during a diaper change. If we think of babies as the experts of their own bodies, which they are, then it’s our job to modify our actions and adjust for their well-being. An infant knows what feels good and what feels bad – and he will start to participate in his own self-care. This is already building a foundation for his autonomy.
During early childhood, children start to build assumptions about themselves and their environment through repeated experiences (Hammond 2009). Continual repetition of negative interactions, like a speedy and bewildering diaper change, can have a subtle yet profound affect on a child’s sense of self.
3. Slowing down communicates that we respect ourselves
Just as airlines advise parents to put on their oxygen masks first, so must caregivers when caring for infants and toddlers in non-emergencies. In order to have enough calm to approach a diaper change with ease, we must first remember to give to ourselves guilt-free. Serving our needs first is an important aspect of caring for another. Diapering doesn’t need to happen “on demand” -- it’s okay to wait ten minutes while we’re finishing our own projects. Modeling self-respect is one of the most important ways children learn to respect themselves.
Caregiving moments like diapering, changing, feeding and bathing represent a chance to bond and build our relationships with both infants and toddlers. If it looks less like a task and more like an opportunity to build our relationship, then a diaper change can take on a completely new meaning. This dance of mutual enjoyment and participation can only happen if we slow down our movement so babies are given enough time to react and respond.