Why Training Diapers Are Good For Sales and Bad For Toddlers

Geez, parents today are under enough pressure to train their children early! Celebrities get fawning press for putting their 4-month-old on the toilet. And countless preschools require 3-year-olds to be potty trained, a mandate that prompts stressed-out parents to start training their children far earlier so they’ll be potty pros by September.

But these mandates often backfire, and schools end up blaming parents and children for accidents. I routinely write letters to school directors and principals in support of children who have been threatened with suspension or expulsion for having accidents at school. But the reason these kids have accidents is that schools pushed them to train before they were ready!

The diaper brand insists they’re just trying to help families ease a “hard journey” that is “messy and time-consuming.” But they have it backward. Potty training is a hard journey only when children train before they are ready.

In fact, one of the signs of constipation is difficulty [in] toilet training. (Download our 12 Signs a Child is Constipated infographic.) A child who is truly ready to train, feels no pressure, and shows no signs of constipation can transition to underwear quickly, often within a week or two.

What does “ready” mean? My definition is different from the diaper brand’s. I advise potty training only when a child:

Signs A Child Is Ready To Start Potty Training

• Can dress and undress without help.

• Shows interest in using the toilet.

• Notices when she has a wet or dirty diaper.

• Tells you when she needs to pee or poop.

• Is willing to interrupt activities to use the toilet.

Willingness to interrupt activities is the most important. You may not know whether your child is willing until you start training. If you start and discover your child seems too preoccupied, back off and return to diapers.

The diaper brand would have you believe switching back is harmful to your child. Its website states: “Going back and forth from diapers to training pants can lead to confusion, and consistently putting them in [product name] will help make his potty training journey a more successful one.”

This is a totally unfounded claim. What makes the potty-training journey successful is a child’s maturity, not the design of the child’s undergarments.

Your child must be the CEO of the potty-training enterprise; you’re just the support staff. It should be your child — not you, not the diaper brand managers — who decides when to leave diapers behind.

The stakes are higher than most adults realize. Not only do many kids suffer from the embarrassment and discomfort of accidents, but many of them are shamed or even physically abused by frustrated or enraged parents. Many of my patients are labeled as “lazy” or “behavior problems” by their parents or school staff who simply cannot believe a 9-year-old could pee or poop in their pants. (I heard this so many times that I was finally prompted to write Bedwetting and Accidents Aren’t Your Fault.)

“Failed toilet training” is one of the leading triggers of child abuse, according to the Child Abuse Prevention Center. Every week brings more news reports of children injured or killed by parents out of frustration over toilet training. Typically the reason toilet training “failed” is that the children were trained too early.

I am a fan of products like Huggies’ Pull-Ups and Pampers’ Easy-Ups. I wish more preschools would allow kids to wear them to school, to ease the pressure on kids who are mandated to stay dry. But I don’t think their brand managers should be telling parents, as the Wall Street Journal report, “Hey, we want children to start training earlier.”

Our culture needs to temper our expectations of toddlers and delay toilet training, not speed it up for the sake of selling more expensive products.

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.

Related Posts


Recent Stories