An Exploration into our Nappy Changing Practices

Part 1: Quality vs. Quantity – Building relationships not ticking boxes


Why change a nappy when it doesn’t need changing? Is this a question you have ever asked yourself? Well we did and in 2015 we began an action research project titled “Nappy change routines: Inspiring practice through questioning the norm.” The project focussed on nappy changing in our under 3’s spaces and was a critical reflection on our standardised practice to check and change children’s nappies every 2 hours.

The educators questioned why we were following the clock and how we were relating with children during these times, including our use of voice, vocabulary and body language. Multiple perspectives were debated, all focussing on a desire to realise and practice respect for children in our everyday. Fascinating and progressive work!

This research into respectful nappy changes took many twists and turns and has been a catalyst for multiple, critically reflective conversations over the past three years within our wider team. We’ve been brave enough to say out loud that we could do better and work together to make changes in our practice. We changed our thinking, our language and our approach.

Multiple dichotomies have emerged for us over this time. To share them with you, we’ve organised our thinking into three parts – the first in relation to Quality vs Quantity.


We discovered as part of our research that in early childhood spaces across Australia there seems to be a generalised, unwritten rule that nappies should be changed every 2 hours at a minimum. Upon analysis none of us knew where this came from, or could sufficiently explain why. We asked ourselves, why do we feel like it is our duty to change a child’s nappy even if it doesn’t need changing? And why were we framing these critically important interactions with children within the structure of a set routine guided by the clock. Were we merely ticking boxes to say we had completed a health and safety requirement or were we thinking more deeply about the importance of this interaction for the child/adult relationship and the potential learning that could occur during these moments?

Degotardi (2010) highlights the problem that educators face under the pressures of compliance and the responsibility of meeting the child’s basic needs without the child’s guardian present. Would families see us as negligent if we delayed children’s change times to meet their individual needs? Some research even suggests that a routine based focus to caregiving times can lead to a decrease in reflective thought processes by the educator and therefore a decrease in the warmth of interactions between the child and adult. In other words, were we just going through the motions by following the clock?

“When care moments are regarded as a chore to be completed rather than an engagement with individual children in unique contexts, it robs children of their individuality and teachers of their agency”

— Elliot, 2007, as cited in Bussey, 2013, p. 6

In actual fact we weren’t going through the motions. We’d worked hard on our connections with each child. Educators were focussed during nappy change times and communication with the children was rich. But we were still focussed on quantity. We were trying to get through a certain number of changes within a set time frame that fit within ‘the routine’, and this was a problem.

Moving to a fully flexible child centred approach i.e. throwing out the clock and asking the children if their nappies needed changing, was a significant shift in our image of the young children we were working with. Hard to imagine asking a 14 month old if their nappy needed changing? In actual fact it wasn’t! We were challenging the idea that children are too young for authentic respect. George (2009, pg.5) highlights the idea that “far too often respect is paid as lip service rather than being actually practiced.”

“…we often do not notice it anymore because it is a manifestation of power relations that we come to take for granted, the power that adults wield over children – particularly young children – through their control of resources and their greater size and strength.”

— George, 2009, pg.1

These changes however were not without their challenges. Some educators felt uncomfortable and had difficulty making decisions around the needs of each child and encouraging children to make decisions for themselves – particularly with children who relied less on words, and more on gesture and body language to communicate. We needed to discuss a new procedure, to agree on how we could ensure our health and safety responsibilities were met but also focus the child’s needs and wishes as the key factors in our decision making and actions.

We were a little worried too; of what others would think, how families would respond and what this would mean for our practice. Our families surprised us. The more we confidently talked to them about our thinking behind the change the more we discovered their trust in our professionalism – a powerful moment for buoying our confidence!

On the other hand, some of the questions from our broader peers annoyed us. We were asked “why we would bother?” An attitude suggesting we were making our jobs more stressful and demanding by giving young children more time, encouraging them to think about their own bodies and make choices about their own needs. As we continued to implement our changes and noticed the impact this had on the children’s learning and understanding about their own bodies, our determination was reinforced. We discovered that a more authentic respect for the children did not lead to less respect for us and this paved the way for deeper thinking about notions of control, rights, autonomy, recognition and language – stay tuned for Part 2: Control vs. Choice: Relationships of Mutual Respect 


Bussey, (2013). Sharing ideas about ‘care as curriculum’: Teachers’ voices. The First Years: Ngā Tau Tuatahi, New Zealand Journal of Infant and Toddler Education, 15(1), 5–10.

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 Year Education, 18(1), 27-41.

George, S. (2009). Too young for respect? Realising respect for young children in their everyday environments. A cross-cultural analysis. Working Paper No. 54. The Hague, The Netherlands: Bernard van Leer Foundation.

More articles can be found here