February 26, 2013

Letting children, not just babies, wear diapers

If you have kids of your own, or nieces or nephews, or maybe know someone else's kids fairly well, you may have noticed how long they continue to wear diapers these days -- well beyond age 2 or 3, when they should be toilet-trained.

When I saw my nephew during Christmas vacation, he was 4 years and 9 months, yet he was still wearing a Pull-Up to bed at night. That's a diaper that you pull on like underwear, to not embarrass the kid as much as if it had the baby-like diaper fastenings. But still, nearly 5 years old and wearing a Pull-Up = shame. Those are meant to be worn whenever, but there's another diaper line specifically for nighttime wear, to deal with bed-wetting in children (not babies), called GoodNites.

Also, he was only about 90% toilet-trained. My mom said she had me trained between 1 and 2 years, in the early '80s. This change isn't only in my family; if you look around on parenting forums, blogs, and articles, it's easy to find debates about letting your kid wear diapers for a lot longer than 2 or 3, as well as for delaying or extending toilet training until whenever you or the kid feels like completing it. The central reason as always is to shield their fragile self-esteem from all distressing environmental feedback, like waking up in a wet bed.

Distressing feedback is what causes growth and improvement, to deal with the currently inadequate state of the system. Blocking out the real world prevents them from receiving pleasant feedback too: if they wake up in a dry bed, it might not have been because their own system is working well, but only because they wore a diaper to bed. So, shielding your kids from feedback stunts their growth and leaves them unsure if they're developing properly.

When did diapers for children become popular? With the Millennials, naturally, the first generation to fall victim to helicopter parenting. Huggies Pull-Ups were introduced in 1989, and GoodNites for middle-years children in 1994.

Actually, they were only the most recent generation. Helicopter parenting was the norm during the mid-century as well. Was there an earlier wave of support for children's diapers? You bet. I've been looking over issues of Parents magazine from its beginning in the late 1920s through the present. Mostly looking at the covers and skimming the ads. I don't know when this ad first appeared, but it was no later than 1955 (and it was in multiple issues from that year):


"Protect your child from the psychological disturbances caused by bed wetting" -- sound familiar? I mean, who cares if he's 8 years old and still wearing a diaper to bed? We can tell this is for children and not babies because the picture shows a middle-years child, there's an offer for a free booklet called "Bedwetting and the older child," and they're offered in waist sizes from 18 to 36 inches, i.e. not for infants or toddlers.

Not wanting to bruise your child's precious self-esteem is also associated with Dr. Spock's mega-selling child advice book, Baby and Child Care, which first came out in 1946 but remained influential throughout the mid-century. It also advocated letting the toilet-training take however long it took, rather than try to impose a time-table. Translation: let your kid stay stunted for as long as possible, and let him guide the process instead of you.

I suspect there were successful products like this before the '50s, but I've only been skimming the ads and paying attention to those with pictures, and I've only looked at years ending in 0 or 5.

I did look through all issues I could find from 1926 through 1930, to get a better feel for Jazz Age child-rearing. There was nothing like this being advertised. Back then, the Behaviorists were more influential, and in practice it wasn't as bad as you'd think. Parents weren't putting their kids into Skinner boxes -- this was Watson's heyday, not Skinner's. And they seemed to let their kids roam free like parents did in the '60s, '70s, and '80s.

Their emphasis on strict schedules and refraining from close early contact were obviously not adhered to -- mothers just can't feel that way about their kids. Rather, it was to try to push parents toward the middle, and away from the opposite extreme of smothering them, which was the norm in the Victorian era. Wanting to bind your sons to the home with "silver cords" of love, grown sons talking about stroking their mother's silver hair and stealing a kiss -- creepy. The turn-of-the-century through the '20s and early '30s was only trying to move away from that weirdo mother-son relationship.

At any rate, what kinds of products did they advertise to deal with childhood maturation? Not products that let the kids stay stunted, but that would help them to grow up if they weren't already. There were several different brands of anti-thumb-sucking devices being advertised in the Jazz Age, something like this:


This entry in a database for graphic design says that it appeared in Good Housekeeping in 1932, which is some years after it appeared in Parents. Clearly there was a decent demand for products that would help your kids leave behind babyish ways, not draw them out as long as they wanted.

Letting kids wear diapers is part of a broader pattern of slower development during falling-crime times, since the future does not have to be discounted so much -- and why do today what can be done tomorrow? Rising-crime times shift people's time horizons closer to the present, putting their feet to the fire almost, so parents feel more like nudging their kids along faster through the lifespan.

When are you going to stop sucking your thumb? When are you going to stop wearing diapers? When are you going to get a paper route and earn some of your own money? When are you going to get your driver's license so I don't have to keep chauffeuring you around? When are you going to move out and get a job? When are you going to start dating? When are you going to settle down and start a family? When are you going to quit the rat race and enjoy retired life already?

13 comments:

  1. I remember about age 8 my mom getting a pair those to try, but they didn't work all that well for me, at least, and I wound up wetting through them. So, my mom went back to pin-on gauze toddler pre-folds and Playtex Dress-EZ Toddler-Large Snap-On Plastic Pants...which still fit my small build as I went into my later teens.
    Kresgee's Dept Store even had Plastic Pants in a size Jumbo - and they were way bigger than any toddler size plastic pants that I'd ever seen...actually small adult by today''s standard.

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  2. Anonymous5:04 AM

    Until the age of 9 almost 10. A nightly bedwetter and mom did try those pants on me and they worked about 40% of the time the rest of the time everything was flooded. My mom too went back to pin ons and the plastic pants of her choice were the Pata-Cake super large from Woolworth's. They to were larger than the toddler size and fit comfortably over the double diaper.

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  3. Jaime7:43 AM

    You have no children, and yet you have an opinion on diaper wearing? Most of us were trained much earlier than kids today, some by force. Some of the relaxation about age has come from research, do some reading. I have 4 children. Some have trained by 2, one is still struggling at 5. One wore night pull-ups until age 7, because even with limited fluids, and multiple wake ups, she was still peeing in her sleep. Emphasis on those last 3 words. You can't really train a child to stop doing something in their sleep. Go train a few kids to use the toilet by age 2 including naps and bedtime, and then write an article.

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  4. Nah, my kid wouldn't keep wetting his pants up through age 7.

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  5. Anonymous7:45 PM

    My boys weren't potty trained until 3.5 yoa. They stayed in diapers at night until around 5 ish and then switched to Goodnites.

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  6. Anonymous8:34 AM

    I am a female and when i was growing up,both me and my younger sister(2 years younger)were bedwetters.we were fully potty trained at age 3 and when i was 12 i started wetting the bed.mom put me into cloth diapers and toddler rubberpants at bedtime and sis would help her.this went on for quite a while,and then sis also started wetting the bed just before she turned 12,so both of us were in the cloth diapers and rubberpants at night.it was hard being a teenager and having to wear the diapers and rubberpants to bed every night.my bedwetting lasted untill i was almost 16 and sis's went till she was just past 16.

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  7. Anonymous7:35 PM

    I wet my pants until age 7. My wetting was more like a dribble or wet spot in my underwear but would stain my cloths. Mom put me back in plastic baby pants without a diaper. I wore both slip on and snap on style. I really liked
    Wearing them, they made me comfortable and secure.

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  8. Anonymous9:50 PM

    I agree with the commenter above that that the author of this article is not adequately informed. The writer needs to do some real research about bedwetting. Bedwettibg is not caused by laziness or lack of motivation to sleep dry. The ability is a purely physical maturation process. Besides the child is asleep!! Many bedwetters lack sufficient ADH (antidiuretic hormone) that suppresses urine output during sleep. Compound that with deep sleep & they're likely to have a wet night. Diapers or pullups of some type are a great way to manage it. Also available are some great launderable reuseable absorbent "night pants" (bedwetter pants). Any of these type of products helps to avoid wet pajamas & bedding. It's a falacy to think that a child will be more motivated to achieve night dryness if they are miserable waking up with wet pajamas & bedding.

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  9. Anonymous6:58 AM

    I was the only girl in the family with two older brothers and when i started puberty around age 12 i also started wetting the bed.i was put into regular cloth baby diapers,pinned on me with diaper pins and wore the largest size toddler rubberpants over them.every night at bed time mom would come in and take the diapers.pins,baby powder and the rubberpants out of my drawer and i had to lay on my bed while she put them on me.my brothers saw them on me quite alot and called me their baby sister.i didnt like wearing the diapers and rubberpants as they made me feel babyish,but they kept my bed dry.When i went thru my sacrement of confirmation at 14,i had to wear a white,poofy dress and veil with lace socks and white shoes and mom put the diapers and rubberpants on me under the dress.i felt weird with my classmates having them on.my bedwetting stopped shortly after.

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  10. Anonymous10:54 AM

    hi my name is Pam and i have 2 girls still in diapers day and night my daughters are 8 years old and 10 years old the reason there still in diapers is because there not potty trained at all there nursery is that of an infants with youth cribs and changing table there both on the bottle still and paci's there well behaved kids and do as i say with out question i just like them babies it is great to see thim run around in there pampers and there is nothing wrong with it i wish people would not be so judge mential

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  11. Anonymous2:44 AM

    Lets go over the first four paragraphs of this article to come to a full understanding of just how ignorant the author is.

    1st. Because you stopped wetting the bed at age two, every other kid has to do the same and if not, there is something wrong with them.

    2nd. Distressing feedback is what causes growth and improvement. An example you implied was a wet bed makes a child stop wetting the bed.
    So my question to you is why do we just not beat our children to increase the distressing feedback?According to your logic, beating a child (I.E. higher amounts of distressing feed back), will correct unconscious behavior faster.

    3rd. You claim: A wet bed provides distressing feedback while diapers shield children from feedback. Because no feedback is received, then all children must think diapers/pull-ups are normal to wear. If and only if diapers/pull-ups are normal to wear then kids will not get bullied for wearing pull-ups to bed.
    To paraphrase what I just said there is a stigma attached to any form of incontinence product, even pull-ups. This is made evident by the reactions of other kindergarten age kids have when they hear about or see a classmate wearing a pull up at a sleep over. Just the fact that the child has to wear a pull-up provides "distressing feedback" and does not shield them from the outside world.

    And that was just in the first four paragraphs..... amazing.

    I am having trouble finding words to describe the level of incompetency displayed in this article..... it is just simply completely ignorant.

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  12. Anonymous8:30 PM

    I wonder if we have become much more concerned with conforming to the current politically correct ideas. At the same time there seems to be a phobia associated with anything to do with children. It seems that anyone who deviates from the norm gets vilified.

    As a kid I do not remember ads for older kids nappies but I do remember that there were some and when I say some its just two that come to mind in our families circle. One was the kid across the road. Another was a cousin.

    Often us neighbourhood kids would have group sleepovers at neighbourhood houses. This kid wore plastic pants over what I assume was a nappy. We just accepted that that was what he wore. I don't remember him being teased. We were aware that he had them on under his PJs.

    The person was a cousin. When his parents came over and they would stay for dinner and all the kids would have baths together and then they would put on PJs before going home and on would go these thick undies and plastic pants and over the top his pyjama pants. Again I don't recall him being teased or anything. It just seemed to be what they did. Maybe he would fall asleep in the car. I have not really felt comfortable to ask him as an adult.

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  13. Anonymous5:39 PM

    I had several issues with bedwetting as a child and after a number of accidents i was put back into diapers for this. It would seem that I would get better at this and the diapers ended. Eventually I would have problems and that diapers were used again. I can now say I have been diaper free for over 10 yearsbut I did have problems when I was 15 for a short time and my mother bought some kind of disposable diaper that was for special needs kids and wore them nightly for over three months.

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