Why Training Diapers Are Good For Sales and Bad For Toddlers

The holding habit can become deeply ingrained in children and persist for years, even into adulthood. I treat children of all ages — 4-year-olds, tweens, teens — and my patients’ difficulties usually date back to potty training.

Constipation is already epidemic in developed countries, largely due to our highly processed diet, our rush to potty train, and misguided school bathroom policies. So this major diaper brand is making a bad situation worse by shifting the timetable earlier.

The diaper brand insists the company isn’t pressuring parents. One executive told the Wall Street Journal: “We would never tell mom implicitly when to start. It’s a hard journey and it’s messy and time-consuming. We’re trying to help educate parents on the signs of readiness to help moms get comfortable with training.”

That sounds benign, but it’s not. The idea of putting a toddler in training diapers to help mom (and presumably child) “get comfortable” with training is misguided. Simply switching to training diapers sends a message that’s inappropriate for toddlers: I want you to try to stay dry!

In other words: I want you to hold your pee and poop.

But toddlers aren’t mature enough to receive this message. Staying dry actually is not the important thing; heeding your body’s signals — emptying promptly — is what matters. That is a more nuanced message, one more suitable for children closer to age 3.

Deciding every day when to poop and pee is a decision with consequences. The most seriously constipated among my patients are those who trained earliest. In other words, they’ve been in charge of their toileting — deciding when to hold and when to let it out — the longest. Often it takes [two] or [three] years for the holding habit to catch up to these kids, and that’s when they land in my clinic.

The diaper brand’s entire potty-training campaign — “Diapers are for babies. ‘Training pants’ are for big kids” — has an underlying message that pressures children, subtly shaming “big kids” who might not be ready to use the toilet.

Their own website describes the training pants as a “symbol to your child that it’s time to potty like a big kid.”

For an insightful explanation of why this message is so damaging, read Chapter 2, titled “Who’s My Big Boy?” of ParentSpeak, a new book by child advocate Jennifer Lehr. Lehr, reflecting on how she nudged her daughter to use the “big girl potty” too soon, writes: “It’s easy to cave to the pressure to do what everyone else seems to be doing.”

It’s especially easy to cave when a corporate giant like this brand, with 53 [percent] of the market, has made a strategic decision to apply pressure.

Steve Hodges, M.D.
Steve Hodges, M.D.
Steve Hodges, M.D., is an associate professor of pediatric urology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine and co-author of Bedwetting And Accidents Aren’t Your FaultIt’s No Accident, and The M.O.P. Book: A guide to the only proven way to STOP bedwetting and accidents. His website is BedwettingAndAccidents.com.

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