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Pull-up diapers: When to make the switch

Pull-up diapers can help with potty training and nighttime training, but knowing when to start and stop using them is key.

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Pull-ups diapers: when to make the switch

Photo: iStock

Like most things in parenting, when it comes to potty training and nighttime training, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach that’s guaranteed to work for every kid. The key is accepting that it’s a work in progress and that accidents are bound to happen. “It’s about making it a non-issue because it does happen and we need to remember that,” says Janice Heard, a paediatrician in Calgary. Pull-ups can be convenient for both potty training (no fussing with sticky straps while wrestling a busy toddler) and night training, but knowing when it’s time to move on to big kid underpants is an important step, too. Here’s what you should know about how to use pull-up diapers effectively, and when to leave them behind.

Using pull-ups for potty training
Heard points out that kids need to be physiologically ready for potty training, and for the majority of them, that doesn’t happen until they’re at least two years old (some will only begin to display readiness at three or older). Signs to look for include an interest in watching others use the washroom, staying dry for more than a couple of hours, awareness of when they’re urinating or having a bowel movement, ability to follow simple one- and two-step directions and showing increased independence. If your child has recently started go somewhere a bit more private to do her business, tells you when she’s peeing, wakes up dry from a nap and is trying to dress or underdress herself, she may be ready to start potty training. And don’t forget that toilet training is about more than just making it to the potty on time: Kids need to be able to develop the ability to pull their pants and underwear up and down by themselves, too. To make the process easier, dress your kid in clothes that bolster independence, such as pants with elastic waistbands or dresses.

Picking up a pack of pull-ups with a favourite superhero or beloved princess may work if your kid responds to incentive. But keep in mind that pull-ups might not help your tot. “They work really well for some kids and not for others,” explains Kathy Lynn, a parenting speaker and author from New Westminster, B.C. “You want them to respond to the pull-ups as if they were underwear and some kids just don’t make that connection.” That was the experience for Cindy Morley, a daycare worker and mom of three from Milton, Ont. She tried pull-ups with her twins, but her kids treated them like diapers, not showing discomfort with being wet. So she chose big-kid underwear that helped to motivate her tots to act like big kids, too. It was a good move. Kids don’t have many opportunities to make their own choices so allowing them to pick out their own underwear can be a really big deal for them—it gives them a sense of control and can motivate them to stay dry, too, says Lynn. Another option is to try out a pair of training underpants that have an extra-absorbent layer.

If your kiddo has been using pull-ups with success, how do you know when he’s ready to ditch them? You don’t want to keep kids in pull-ups for too long—they need to know underwear is the next step. Once your child is letting you know he needs to use the washroom and is staying mostly dry (the rare accident is OK), it’s time for underwear.

Pull-ups for night training
There’s a big difference between day training and night training. “Nighttime wetting is very, very normal for many years beyond daytime wetting for many kids,” explains Heard. “In fact, six to eight percent of eight-year-olds still wet their beds. It’s just different developmental ability.” One of Morley’s twins, William, now nine, is a very heavy sleeper and still wets the bed regularly. She switched him to disposable underpants at four years old when his pull-ups began leaking at night. Bedwetting only becomes an issue when it starts to impact kids socially; if it isn’t bothering him, you can simply use nighttime underpants and a waterproof pad or sheet to make cleanups easier.

On the other hand, if you have a kid who has well-established daytime dryness—meaning she’s been staying dry for six months to a year—and you’re concerned that she’s relying on her pull-up diaper at night, it’s reasonable to try night training without them. Put her in underwear or leave her commando and see how she does. Make sure she visits the bathroom each night before bed, and keep a nightlight on so it’s not dark or scary when she wakes up to use the bathroom during the night. But if she’s not ready, don’t make a big deal about it. “If, after a couple of weeks, she’s still wetting the bed, then she’s just not ready,” says Heard. “Go back to pull-ups without punishment or judgement and say, ‘Oh, you’re not ready for this. We’ll try later.’”

Don’t forget that every kid is different, and just because little Sally down the street was fully trained seemingly overnight, it doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong if your kid takes longer to get there. “You just have to be patient,” notes Lynn. “They will stay dry when their body is ready. Just relax and don’t get uptight about it.”


Read more:
How to stop bedwetting
Nocturnal enuresis: How to cope when your kid wets the bed
How I finally got my five-year-old to stop wetting the bed