Developing a strong bond with my daughter is very important to me. While I shared with you the importance of allowing babies to develop independence in this post, time together is also very important. Rubi’s post on language development stimulated me to share with you an important part of fostering that strong bond: changing her diaper. Rubi shared that times of caring for your child’s physical needs, such as bathing, can be times for language development. These can also be strong moments of togetherness for you and your child.
According to Dr. Silvana Montanaro, there are 3 aspects of togetherness that are important in the mother-child bond: holding, handling, and feeding. By handling she is referring to when we care for the infant’s physical needs such as changing a diaper, dressing, or bathing. While she specifically refers to maternal care in her book, the same principle applies for all adults who interact with a baby. Perhaps it seems odd that changing my daughter’s diaper is one of the most important ways I have fostered our bond but it is an important time of togetherness for us.
Too many parents and adults still miss this point and handle a child solely with the aim of accomplishing, as soon as possible, the more obvious, physical tasks: changing, dressing, bathing, etc. The parents may be well-trained, efficient and capable of doing good work but they fail to use this time to have an encounter. To use it as an occasion for meeting and expressing feelings. There is not much personal involvement, because the idea is solely to accomplish an unemotional routine. ~Dr. Silvana Montanaro, Understanding the Human Being
Speaking with a friend she boasted about her infant’s bottom never seeing the light of day as she could change a diaper so quickly. Many adults approach changing a diaper with disdain, they keep “score” between mom & dad, desperately try to distract the infant from what is happening to them, or assign a lack of importance to it saying to their child “you can go back to playing soon” and thinking for themselves what they would rather be doing.
So we tend to do these routines quickly instead of slowly. We tend to avoid the movements instead of repeating then in order to let the child try to understand what is happening. What we should do is to explain our actions to the infant, in a simple and short way, touch the different parts of his body gently, name them and ask him to collaborate with us. This collaboration can begin from the moment of birth, but it requires a little more time and the basic trust of the child, who is an intelligent human being, eager to interact with us. Only when we become able to give maternal care with the child’s collaboration are we really doing things “with the child” and not “to the child.” ~Dr. Silvana Montanaro, Understanding the Human Being
When A. finishes one activity and I am not interrupting her (often after she finishes eating), I’ll sing a little ditty “Time for a diaper change, time for a diaper change, time for a diaper, diaper change.” I wait for her to respond to me. She gets a smile on her face and I tell her “Up you get” as I pick her up. (I always try to tell her what I am doing to her, even simple things like picking her up) Recently she has started stretching out her arms for me. As I carry her to the change table I might continue singing the ditty or talk to her about what she was just doing. I tell her, “Down you go” or “Lay down” as I lay her down on the change table so that I am directly facing her and she can properly see me while we connect. “Let’s take off your pants,” I say as I take off her pants. This “let’s” begins the routine of doing it together and not doing things to her. “Undo your onesie,” as I unsnap her fitted bodysuit. “Let’s see what’s inside,” as I unsnap/undo her diaper. “Oh it’s a poop” and really try not to make a disgusted face or sound if the smell is bad or the poo is quite large, although I may acknowledge “Oh my, it’s a big one!” Or I’ll say “Just a pee” depending on what the occasion calls for. She lifts her bottom for me to wipe. I take out a wipe and tell her “wipe, wipe, wipe” as I do so.
I put a clean dry cloth under her bottom and pick her up “Time to use the potty.” I place her on her potty and give her some time. Sometimes I just let her be, sometimes I sing another ditty “she goes pee pee in the potty, pee pee in the potty, pee pee in the potty: A!”, sometimes I’ll use the toilet to model for her, and sometimes I’ll use the cue sound we used when we started doing EC (Elimination Communcation) with “psssss.” After a short period of time I’ll give her a pat/wipe dry with the cloth (if she urinated) and carry her back to the change table.
“Down you go” as I lay her down. “Let’s put on a clean, dry diaper” as I choose which diaper to put on. (We use cloth diapers but during this photo shoot we had to temporarily switch to disposables) Sometimes she will lay there watching me and listening to me, and sometimes she will roll over and now sometimes sit up. I keep a hand gently on her for safety and talk to her about the diaper I’m choosing, “It’s your pretty, pink diaper. You look so beautiful in this shade of pink.” If she is on her stomach or sitting up I lay her down again, “You need to lie down so I can put your diaper on.” Sometimes she is squirmy and sometimes she lays there watching me. I talk to her as I put on her diaper, “This diaper matches the pink sweater you’re wearing today. Your great-grandma made that sweater. Let’s do up the snaps on your diaper: ooonnne, twwooo.”
Usually she watches me as I talk to her and she coos back but sometimes she is very squirmy. She is often very squirmy if she has just reached a new stage of development, such as now when she often tries to climb off of the change table. If she is very squirmy I place my hand on her stomach and lean right over to place my face very close to her face to focus on our connection. “A., I need to put your diaper on now. I love you very much.” Sometimes I kiss her tummy and this usually puts a smile on her face and helps to reconnect her to what we’re doing and remind her that this is our time together. “Time to put your pants back on.” She sticks out her leg, “One leg. The other leg.” (or right leg and left leg if I’m really on the ball) “We’re all done” as I pick her up and give her a cuddle.
“Ah booo” says A., “Ah booo” I respond. I try to mimic the sounds she makes to encourage her language development.
Does this take a long time? You bet it does! It is an important relationship to spend time on. Do I honestly say all this absolutely every time? No. Sometimes my mind is elsewhere or I’m so tired, but by talking to her like this for the majority of diaper changes I usually realize when I’ve gone silent and snap out of it. I certainly wouldn’t want you to think this is an exact script to follow as it is important your bonding come from your heart. Do I call my husband to change diapers? Of course. I really enjoy listening to him interact with our daughter during diaper changes.
Why did I just spend so long writing about changing a diaper? Changing a diaper, dressing/undressing, and bathing are very important parts of living life together with a baby. For adults we enjoy spending time together talking, sharing a meal, going for a walk, or reconnecting at the end of our work days. This is what living life together means for adults. For a baby these moments of “handling” are often over-looked as important times to bond with a baby and for language development. In reality, diaper changes is what living life together means for an adult and baby. I encourage you to re-think how you approach that next diaper change, outfit change, or bath to really connect with your child.
What is a good social life if not the joy of passing the time with others, accepting them in our environment, talking and smiling together and sharing each other’s company and activities? In a sense, we invited the child to our house when we decided to give it life and he must feel how glad we are to have him with us. “Handling” in maternal care is the right moment for a happy social interaction that teaches the child the great benefits of social life. ~Dr. Silvana Montanaro, Understanding the Human Being