In daycare, people spend too much time in diaper changing?! Changing diapers is a chore to get done fast, and “everyone knows how to change a diaper”?!
Comments like these are common and contain many misleading ideas about Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) and about development in the first years of life. In this post, I invite you to reflect on the importance of interactions during personal care routines, such as changing diapers.
Changing a diaper: personal care and a privileged educational moment
In opposition to what one might think, changing diapers in daycare is highly demanding and frequently not valued, requiring a series of procedures before, during, and after changing each child’s diaper. Though very frequent in ECEC, those procedures are not always recognized as important and followed with care. But that is not exactly the focus of this post, although it is very relevant. So, diaper changing: personal care and privileged educational moment?
Diaper changing, at daycare or at home, along with other personal care moments (e.g., helping the child fall asleep, getting dressed, feeding) can be a privileged educational moment, with warm interactions that expand children’s experiences, promote their development, reinforce affective relationships and contribute to feelings of safety and well-being [1, 2, 3]. In many daycare centers, diaper changing is one rare moment of exclusive interaction between the adult and the child, and, therefore, one of the few moments of one-to-one, of exclusive attention, of proximity and reciprocity. Nevertheless, the results of some studies showed that the quality of interactions between professionals and children – so important for development and well-being – tend to be lower during personal care routines [e.g., 4, 5], suggesting the need for better preparation and intentionality in these situations.
3 suggestions for diaper changing interactions
During diaper changing
in a quiet environment, can enable the establishment of a trusting relationship and can be cognitively stimulating.
As that individual child is the focus of the adult attention, the interaction is dyadic and the dialogue individualized, being easier to follow the child’s initiatives to communicate, expanding them, and using richer and more varied language.
And let us not be afraid to cuddle!
Cuddling is never too much and there is evidence of the importance of touch for the baby, in numerous domains, like: communication, emotional self-regulation and environment exploration [e.g., 6].
So, why not give a quick massage, hug or tickle the belly or feet? However, note that the child’s preferences and the child’s and family cultural diversity must be respected, because physical proximity has different meanings in other cultures. Some children don’t like kisses; others, due to specific conditions (for example, some children with Autism Spectrum Disorder), might feel the touch differently or may avoid eye contact.
The educational intentionality in diaper changing
Babies and children are always learning, even when they are eating, bathing or having their diaper changed.
Several studies have shown that these moments are essential for relationships, for exploration, for stimulating curiosity, for learning, in other words, for development. Just to give an example, a study conducted in Sweden showed how it is possible, with intentionality but also spontaneously, to include numeracy concepts in conversations, during diaper changing, making this routine an interesting learning opportunity .
Let’s return to the idea that in ECEC, education and personal care are interconnected. Considering the educational purpose of the daycare, it seems useful to assume routines as educational moments for learning in natural environments. Some authors use the word “Educare” to represent the inseparability between education and care [1, 7].
In conclusion, changing diapers is challenging and definitely doesn’t match with the adverb “ONLY” used in the title!
Share your experience with us:
- How do you consider the diaper changing moments in your planning?
- In your classroom, how could diapers’ change be described, from the child’s point of view?
This blog post was contributed by Sílvia Barros (Escola Superior de Educação do Instituto Politécnico do Porto).
References Bussey, K., & Hill, D. (2017). Care as curriculum: Investigating teachers’ views on the learning in care. Early Child Development and Care, 187(1), 128-137. https://doi.org/10.1080/03004430.2016.1152963  Palmér, H., Henriksson, J., & Hussein, R. (2016). Integrating mathematical learning during caregiving routines: a study of toddlers in Swedish preschools. Early Childhood Education Journal, 44, 79–87. DOI 10.1007/s10643-014-0669-y  Portugal, G. (2011). No âmago da educação em creche: O primado das relações e a importância dos espaços. [At the heart of education in daycare: the primacy of relationships and the importance of spaces] In Conselho Nacional de Educação (Org.), A educação das crianças dos 0 aos 3 anos. Estudos e seminários (pp. 47-70). Available in http://www.cnedu.pt/pt/publicacoes/estudos-e-relatorios/outros/786-educacao-das-criancas-dos-0-aos-3-anos  Cadima, J., Barros, S., Bryant, D. B., Peixoto, C., Coelho, V., & Pessanha, M. (2020). Variations of quality of teacher–infant interactions across play and care routine activities: does adult involvement matter? Paper submitted for publication.  Degotardi, S. (2010). High-quality interactions with infants: Relationships with early-childhood practitioners’ interpretations and qualification levels in play and routine contexts. International Journal of Early Years Education, 18(1), 27-41.  Moszkowski, R. J., & Stack, D. M. (2007). Infant touching behavior during mother–infant face-to-face interactions. Infant and Child Development, 16(3), 307–319. DOI: 10.1002/icd.510  Dias, D. (2012). O educuidar na creche e jardim-de-infância [The educare in daycare and preschool] (non published Masters Dissertation). Instituto Politécnico de Setúbal, Setúbal, Portugal. Available in https://comum.rcaap.pt/handle/10400.26/4316