A more mindful approach to toilet learning and body shame

One of the first steps in becoming a more mindful parent is simply becoming aware of your choices.  Choices in what you say, what you do, how you respond, and what general attitude you promote.  Today I want to shed light on a more mindful approach to a daily occurrence: the diaper change.  But first, I need you to play a little game with me:

Let's imagine you are 85 years old and in a nursing home.  As you've aged, you slowly lost control of your body and mind, and now require assistance with your daily care and bodily functions. 

How would you feel if a nurse came up to you, sniffed your bottom and said “Phew! You're stinky! I bet there's a big mess in your pants!”

Unthinkable right? That nurse would get fired in a minute for terrible bedside manner. But we do this to our small children multiple times a day. Sometimes quite loudly in public, and then laugh about it. 

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It's easy to overlook this as rudeness when our children are so small and can't advocate for themselves. In fact, we might even perceive this kind of language to be normal, amusing, or harmless.   But the long term effects of our daily interactions, especially around toileting deeply impacts our children's sense of self and body image. Hear messages like this over and over as a child and you may come to believe thoughts like these are true:

“My body is gross”

“I need to hide my bodily functions or private parts, they are shameful”

“It's ok for anyone to touch or share my body, I have no control over that”

“I don't deserve respect”

The good news is, there's another way to handle diaper changes and toilet learning.  A more mindful approach considers your child's perspective and honors her privacy, autononmy, and body image.  Here's five key ideas for respectful diaper changes and shame-free toilet learning.  

Preserve Dignity

The easy test for dignity is would you say that/do that to a friend or elderly person? Children need to preserve their dignity as much as we do as adults, they just may not respond when it's violated. Whisper in your child's ear, offer privacy, and remain as respectful as you can. This includes talking about your child's toilet learning in front of other people.

State your Intentions and Ask for Consent

For an infant (even newborns), state your intentions and wait 2-3 seconds.

“I'm going to unzip your onesie now. (pause) Now, I need to lift your leg out. (pause)

For a toddler state the next step and ask for participation.

“We need to pull your pants down first. Can you find the waistband? (pause) Do you want some help? Yes? Let's do it together.”

As children get older and can handle more toileting skills on their own, be sure you are always asking for consent before you touch or offer assistance.  

Use Respectful Language

I'm a big advocate of using the proper scientific names for body parts and functions with young children. This not only shows respect for her intellect by providing accurate information, but proper terms also demonstrates respect for her human body.  

Ask for Cooperation and Build Independence

So often I see caregivers distracting infants and toddlers during a diaper change so they can “just get it over with”.  Encouraging your child to disconnect when a person is touching her body in an intimate way is not helpful and has potentially dangerous long-term implications.  As soon as your child can complete a step independently, let her do it. This might be lifting a leg, securing a Velcro tab, or pulling a wipe from the box.  

Slow Down and Connect

In the RIE© method, we use caregiving moments (diaper changes, feeding) to slow down and really connect with our children. Watch this video of a RIE© diaper change and note how peaceful the whole event is.  


I hope you find your daily diaper changes to become more peaceful, connected, and of course dignified.  I would love to hear about your progress, and help you take the next steps in becoming a more mindful parent!  Contact me here or share on social media:


About the Author:

Leanne Gray, M.Ed has over fifteen years experience working with children in both public, private, and Montessori schools, and is AMI primary trained. 

She's on a mission to raise a generation of kind, confident, responsible children, and does this through her work with families and schools.   Read more here.