Family life

The challenges of nighttime potty training

Tara-Michelle Ziniuk wonders if she'll ever be able to find a nighttime potty routine that works for her preschooler.

1image Anna is still adjusting to a nighttime potty training routine. Photo: Tara-Michelle Ziniuk

Every parent has at least one person in their life who gives what I like to call "anti-advice"—someone who replies to everything with some version of “don’t sweat it.” Often these friends are not parents themselves, or have much older children. These are the people who will tell you not to worry about your weaning troubles because “it’s not like your daughter will still be nursing when she’s 10.” Or they'll tell you not to worry if your kid won’t give up his pacifier because “it’s not like he’ll still have a soother in his mouth when he’s in the fourth grade.” In my personal experience, more than with any other issue or milestone, I’ve heard “most people stop wearing diapers at night at some point.” Great, thanks, but that is not advice.

The truth is, in the grand scheme of things, overnight potty training just seems like a hassle more than anything else. My daughter is not a good sleeper, and neither am I, and this has followed us through the first three-and-a-half years of her life. The idea of implementing anything where I would be waking her in the middle of the night seems mind-boggling. That being said, she started potty training at 18 months and has been wearing underwear during the day without accidents—even through daycare naps—for almost 10 months.

And then the day came when she announced she wanted to wear her underwear to bed. (Perhaps this came about after some “encouraging” on my part—by which I mean I bribed her by telling her she couldn’t have sleepovers until she slept through the night, in her own bed, without wearing a diaper.)

I’d been thinking about trying diaper-less overnights for awhile. We were planning a trip, and I wanted to make sure we weren’t starting while she was away from her own bed and nightly routine. I was also hesitant because it seemed like a bit of an “if it isn’t broke, why fix it?” scenario—she was finally sleeping a bit better, and I thought we should just ride that out for a while. At three years old, she certainly wasn’t too old to be wearing diapers to bed. She hadn’t expressed any particular interest in getting out of them before, probably because she was happily distracted by the cartoon characters on her diapers. It’s a great marketing tool: pull-ups that glow in the dark (perfect for the kid who doesn’t sleep in pants, I suppose? I never understood that one, to be honest) and ones that feature monsters and princesses—if the diapers kept changing, they were always new and exciting to her. This is in contrast to other things, like sippy cups, which my daughter announced were “for babies."

The specifics of nighttime potty training, once it became apparent that we’d be starting it, were vague to me. I understood that I’d be changing sheets a lot more often, but to what end? In many ways, the preschool-age developmental resources have seemed minimal to me—as if parents are taking a break between the toddler years and kindergarten and don’t need to know about fevers or rashes or learning milestones anymore. I’d put her to bed, she’d pee, I’d change her and then the bedding, and this cycle would repeat endlessly? Or, with luck, same scenario, but we’d make it to the bathroom instead, and that would become our new routine until the end of time? I have a hard time falling—and staying—asleep, so this did not appeal.

In reality, what happened for us is that my daughter had two accidents the first night, was exhausted and asked to go back to diapers the next day. But she hasn’t had an accident since. Which I attribute to magic. It’s been about two weeks, and her other parent and I wake her up two to three times per night (once before we go to sleep, then one or two more times through the night and early morning). It’s been a reliable enough system that she’s slept in my bed with me a couple of nights without major worries.


I’ve read more than one article or blog post that’s suggested this night waking is creating a bad habit. I’m not sure when we stop the nighttime wake-ups, or when she starts self-regulating to the point of waking herself up. I can say that the person I co-parent with is doing a lot of the work of waking up in the night so far (he has an easier time sleeping overall). The good news: my daughter won’t be wearing princess pull-ups into her teens. But that’s still not advice.

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Do you have advice on overnight potty training? Share it with me in the comments or find me on twitter @therealrealTMZ.

This article was originally published on Mar 19, 2014

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