Difficult Diaper Changes?

Dear Dr. Rene,

I am the mother of twin (Boy and Girl) 20-month-olds. Since about the age of eight months, changing diapers and clothes has been very difficult. Both children move about during this process, which is normal, but they really scream and fight, and they are really strong, and I have a really difficult time changing diapers and clothes. I have tried giving them toys and little things as distractions, but that works for one day and then they are no longer interested. This also affects their childcare provider and she complains to me about how difficult it is.


I remember these difficult moments well.

There are lots of ideas for things to try. The answer is to try each, see how it goes, and use it as long as it lasts.

  • Before you start, be sure you have all your supplies gathered and ready to go.
  • When you know they need a change, set a timer for one minute and say, “when the timer rings, it is time to change your diaper.” For some children, this works surprisingly well. It takes you out of the argument.
  • In calm, firm language remind them to, “lay down,” and, “stay still.”
  • Some parents suggest that if laying down is the difficult part, try changing them standing up. I have heard of parents that have them stand in the bathtub or just on the outside of it holding onto the edge. Others suggest that the child leans against a wall. I did this just once and thought it was a nightmare, but others swear by it. My guess is this is a controversial approach. Maybe we needed more practice.
  • Provide distractions such as small toys or books. Better yet take a small bag and gather interesting objects from around the house. Go for things that your child doesn’t often see or have access to such as a kitchen whisk, a sand timer, small calculator, clean sponge or toe separators. Stash this bag next to your diaper changing area. When it’s time to change a diaper, hand the child one thing from the bag, lay them down and change them as fast as you can. When the change is over, the object goes right back in the bag. Rotate through items overtime.
  • You might give them related jobs as a distraction. This means making them the wipe holder or the diaper folder.
  • You might spend a few minutes before each diaper change giving a doll baby a diaper change together. Talk about how the baby is still and lays down. After each time, thank the doll baby for being cooperative.
  • You might distract them by singing a familiar song with lots of expression or a song with movements. Once you start the song, continue to sing as you change their diaper.
  • You might distract them with interactive word play like, “where’s your nose?” and, “where’s your ears?”
  • When they do cooperate, even if it’s only through distraction, be sure to give descriptive praise. This means to describe their behavior and label such as, “you were so still for a diaper, that was helpful!” To learn more about descriptive praise view: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rn2Ddh16xIY.

I hope something on this list is helpful.

Please comment below if you have other helpful ideas!

Sincerely, Dr. Rene

Will Only Potty at Home

Dear Dr. Rene,

We worked with our two-and-a-half year old daughter for three months on potty training with lots of ups and downs. She was finally trained and had been diaper free for one month. She started daycare two weeks ago, and she refuses to go to the toilet there. We had this problem before daycare, that she refused to go to the toilet anywhere except home, but we would only be out for maximum two hours. At the nursery, she stays from nine a.m. till two p.m. She sits on the toilet but she does nothing, and she doesn’t even have an accident. Please help.

Sincerely, Jessica Neaven

Dear Jessica,

For using the potty away from the house, I would first practice with your travel potty at home. If you are expecting her to use a folding seat or a potty ring on a big potty when you are away from home, have her practice with it at home first. You might also try the travel potty at grandma’s or a good friend’s house before you expect her to use it out.

To help her become comfortable at daycare, take her to use the potty there yourself just before drop-off and again at pick-up time. She may have success at relaxing if she is with you. Don’t push her to go, just allow her time to sit on the potty and relax with you there. I would also ask the teachers to take her in to the potty at another time or two during the day to either just go and be social with the others waiting turns, or, if she is willing, to sit on the potty for a few minutes to try. Just watching others can help in the process and all the better if she’ll sit.

Continue to read the children’s potty training storybooks, and continue to encourage the potty at home.

Sincerely, Dr. Rene

Ownership in Potty Training

Dear Dr. Rene,

My almost two-and-a-half-year-old decided she wanted underwear 11 days ago. So, we are 11 days into potty training. She goes to daycare, and is now fully potty trained at
daycare (at least barring any regression that could happen.) At home, I still
have to take her to the potty every hour, or she’ll have an accident. She rarely
initiates on her own, and often tells me she doesn’t want to go on the potty. We
had her choose her brand new potty seat, and we offer her “potty treats” after
she goes. We tell her she is a big girl, and we’re proud of her. Any other tips
to help my very head strong little girl with potty training at home? Or is this
just normal for a young girl, and I just need to be patient? (FYI – my older
daughter did the three day method when she was close to three years old, so this is all
new to me.)

Sincerely, June (mom of two)

First, I would ask for what they typically do and say at daycare. If this is going smoothly there, maybe replicate what they are doing. Also, take her to the potty there yourself at drop-off and pick-up. It may be helpful for you to be associated with that success. If available, maybe purchase a similar potty seat or ring for home.

At home, I would do all the small things to encourage interest including reading potty training picture books, watching the potty videos, letting her observe while others potty and playing potty with doll babies or a dollhouse set.

Bigger things to encourage her to more fully participate include offering her choices, descriptive praise and language of ownership. Choices include, “would you like to use the upstairs or the downstairs potty?” or, “do you want to sit on the little potty or the big potty?” Here is a link to a previous post on choices: https://parentingbydrrene.wordpress.com/2012/10/01/how-choices-work-in-positive-discipline/.

Descriptive praise is being behavior specific when you catch good behaviors. This sounds like, “you knew you had to go. You got to the potty quick!” or, “you were taking care of your body. You put all your poop in the potty!”  Here is a link to a youtube video on descriptive praise: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_LH6Y-qPnAo&feature=relmfu and the differences between descriptive and evaluative praise: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rn2Ddh16xIY.

The language of ownership is saying something along the line of, “do you know you are the only one in the whole world who really knows when you need to pee? I don’t really know that from out here. That’s your job.” or, “you are in charge of when you go potty. When you feel that pressure on your bottom that you need to poop, it’s your job to go potty.” The idea is to encourage them to take ownership without adding pressure. Use this langauge maybe every other day and not around the time of an accident, it shouldn’t sound like discipline.

Sincerely, Dr. Rene

Get Them Ready for Potty Training

There are several things you can do in the months leading up to potty training to encourage a child’s interest and increase their readiness.

  • Read About It – There are so many good children’s book on the market including Once Upon a Potty by Frankel, The Potty Book for Boys/Girls by Capucilli, What to Expect When You Use the Potty by Murkoff and Diapers Are Not Forever by Verdick among many others. The idea is to mix these in with your other read-alouds. There is a fuller list of potty related children’s books on my blog at https://parentingbydrrene.com/childrensbooks/#pottytraining.
  • Watch the Videos – There are also many helpful children’s videos including Potty Power, Once Upon a Potty, The Potty Movie and It’s Potty Time.
  • Play Potty – For introducing potty training through play you can purchase an inexpensive plastic baby doll, poke a small hole in the bottom and fill the body with water. Then you teach the doll baby to potty, and have your child teach the doll baby to potty. You can also buy just the bathroom set and doll from any dollhouse set, and let them play the potty process that way.
  • Let Them Observe – Young children learn best through observation and modeling. If you are at all comfortable, it can be helpful to take children in the bathroom with you and let them observe the process. It can be helpful for them to observe older siblings or others in the potty training process as well.
  • Talk them Through Your Process – If they are observing, it can be additionally helpful to talk them through your process of pulling down pants, sitting and waiting and wiping. I understand this is a lot of detail and can feel uncomfortable, but you are teaching them the language and the details of the process.
  • Change all Diapers in the Bathroom – This is helping them associate the sensation with being in a bathroom. If your bathroom is small, change on a mat just outside. Talk about how when people pee or poop, they need to be in a bathroom.

My full Potty Training audio class is available online at http://www.parentingbydrrene.com.

A Review of Our Potty Training Workshop

Our-Kids www.our-kids.com wrote a review of our Parenting Playgroups Potty Training workshop. Thought I would share here.


Thanks Our-Kids for the kind words!

Travel Potty Training Tips

Before you start potty training, it is beneficial to consider what you are going to do about the process when you are away from home. The first is to consider the potty itself. There are folding seats that fit on potties, folding stand-alone options, blow-up options and full-size floor potties available. Whatever you choose, it’s good to have your child use it a few times at home before taking it on the road.

In the weeks leading up to potty training, it can be helpful to start pointing out potties when you are out. Show them that there are potties at Target, or take a tour of bathrooms at Grandma’s house. This lets them know there are potties everywhere and people use them.

If you are planning a big trip in the next month, it may be best to wait until after to dive into potty training. The more consistent you can be the better, and it’s tough to expect a newly trained child to be successful at DisneyLand.

To be safe, carry a full change of clothes with you for a year after potty training. There will be accidents. We actually carried a change of clothes for each child in the car for several years. You never know when a big mud puddle will be the best playground entertainment.

Increase Interest in Potty Training

>Are you thinking about potty training in the near future? Have you been at it a while but stalled in the process? Is your child “just not interested”? These tips may help.

*Let Them Observe*
If you are at all comfortable with the idea, let them observe. Children learn best through modeling and taking them in with you provides this opportunity. Let them watch and answer any questions they have. By all means, if this is uncomfortable don’t do it.

*Talk Them Through*
Talking them through the process can start while you are still changing diapers. You can talk about how they poop and pee and you can label bodyparts. You can talk about how someday they will go on the potty. When they observe you in the bathroom, you can talk about all that you are doing includng flushing and washing. Once you are making the transition you can add language about “that feeling in their tummy that means they need to go.”

*Read the Books & Watch the Videos*
There are many good potty training books and videos on the market. The idea is to casually mix in the books with your other story times and the videos with your viewing time.

*Change All Diapers In or Just Outside the Bathroom*
Stop changing diapers all over the house. The first benefit is that children who hadn’t already may start associating the bathroom with going potty. The second benefit is that children who just don’t want to stop playing to go potty have to whether they make it or not. This goes for when you are out running errands as well, find a bathroom.

*Dump or Hold Over Their Potty*
This idea also helps children to make the potty connection. Whenever you change a poopie diaper walk with the child into the bathroom and dump the poop into their potty saying “the poop goes in the potty” and then flush or clean as you would have. If it is a wet diaper, you can just hold the diaper over their potty saying “the peepee goes in the potty.” I know this may create an extra step but may be helpful in the process.

*Sit and Relax*
Some children are too nervous to have success if the push is to “sit and try.” If this is the case, it may be best to shift the focus to “sit and relax,” sit together and talk or sing or read books or put on finger plays.

*Presenting the Potty OR Making It Their Own*
This means make the initial presenting of the potty fun. Maybe take a special shopping trip to pick out a potty or let them help choose which potty seat they like. If the potty is already out, you’ve been trying for a while already or they have older siblings, have a potty decorating day. You might let them put stickers on the (cleaned) lid or make a poster for the wall behind the potty, something to celebrate that the potty is now theirs.

*Descriptive Praise*
Descriptive praise works to build intrinsic motivation for behavior. In the case of potty training it sounds like, “You knew you had to go!” “You got there so fast!” and “Look, you put your poop right in the potty!” You are describing back their behavior, focused on effort and progress. This helps to give them ownership of the process.

*Underwear as an Under Layer*
For some children, diapers and pull-ups may work too well. Because these products are so absorbent children may not recognize that they are wet. If this seems to be the case, you might have them wear underwear under their pull-up or diaper. This way they get wet just not the floor.

*Take a Tour of Potties*
Start pointing out potties everywhere you go. Talk about how there are potties in restaurants, stores and in other people’s homes. If there is time, you might visit the potties. We took the tour at relatives’ and close family friends’ houses.

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