Development FAQ: 12-18 months – Behaviour

How do I stop my 1-year-old wriggling and protesting at nappy changes?

I wondered if you could give me some tips on how to combat my constant struggle to dress or change my 12-month-old. I’ve never seen anything like it! Every time I change his nappy he struggles and screams and will not keep still, which can get very messy when I’m trying to change a dirty one. I’ve tried saying “No” very sternly but he doesn’t take any notice at all. Have you come across this before? It basically happens whenever I try to do something my son doesn’t want to do: i.e. dress him, put him in car seat/buggy. He’s even started doing it now when I put him in his high chair to eat. He goes berserk! Is this just a phase that will pass or is there a way of teaching him he cannot behave like this?

This is perfectly normal behaviour from a baby of this age. He is showing his growing independence. He will know that he gets a reaction from you for this behaviour so will probably do it more. It is a phase. How you handle it will determine how long it lasts.

There are several practical things you can try when changing him: find a place which is safe to change him which is not on the floor. The top of a washing machine or fridge freezer would be ideal downstairs. You may have a changing table or chest of drawers upstairs. This will limit how far he can wriggle and he will soon be aware that if he goes too far he may get a bump. Being on the floor offers endless opportunities for escaping.

Use distraction to keep him occupied whilst you change him. There are two tricks here: One is to find something he is unfamiliar with and change it often; it could be as simple as keys or the tube from a loo roll but there must be an element of surprise. Secondly, don’t produce it at the first instance of wriggling but build up the suspense by telling him ” Mummy has something for you, I wonder what it is?” and then produce it at the crucial moment when you really need him to be still.

If he continues to struggle and fuss you need him to be aware that “no” means “no”. Your tone of voice is important but it is better if you also hold his hands to his sides and look him in the eyes when you say it. “Mummy says `no`, no wriggling, I need to change your nappy”, then talk about what is going to happen next. Be matter of fact but firm that you are in charge. The more you try to hold him down or grab his leg as he wriggles away the more of a game he will think it is and will keep on trying. A few words spoken firmly are better than a lot which will have little meaning to him.

Your son is growing up rapidly now and is no longer a “baby” but a small determined person who does not like being constrained when there is a whole wide world to be explored. Although you may feel he is too little to understand, begin to tell him what is going to happen rather than just swooping him into his highchair saying: “time for lunch”. Get down to his level and look into his eyes, use simple short sentences such as: “Mummy has made pasta for lunch. It is time to stop playing, it is time to get in your chair”. A child of a year old lives in the present, they have no conception of five minutes or tomorrow so you need to help them go from playing to another activity with simple, concise explanations: “Lets put on our coats and go in the car”. It won’t always work; he will try to wriggle out of his car seat, or arch his back on occasions. But if you are consistent in giving a simple explanation and follow it through straight away with the putting on of coats or taking to the high chair, he will learn that “no” always means “no”, no matter how hard he resists.