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?


  1. 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.

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

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. I think this person is right and wrong she has a point about school but that's all yes n. b. children wet the bed I had an issue at age 15 with my bladder not growing with the rest of my body. Plus there are schools out there that take care of kids like these

  7. Downright shocked and furious7/11/14, 12:27 AM

    Laziness? Really? I wasn't fully trained til I was 4 due to bowel problems, but my mom had me in the hospital NUMEROUS times over it until it was fixed, and I still fight constipation from time to time as aftermath at age 20. Who do you think you are calling out today's parents because you were trained at this age, while they do it at that age? By the sounds of it, you never even had kids, so you have no say in it at all, really since you have no point of reference. The way I see it, if a kid is trained at 2 years old, so be it. 1 through that EC thing? All the power to them. Takes til 5? Big f*cking deal, as it's none of your business. If you have a kid, I hope they're incontinent and you have to change them until they're like 8 or 9.

  8. My sister wet the bed until age 13 we saw a urologist and everything. Not everyone can control it at night. We tried waking her up several times a night but she would still wet in between. We tried the bedwetting alarm with no results. We also tried medication. I don't think there is anything wrong with your nephew wearing one at night. My son is five and wets at night still while his 3 year old brother is dry at night. Every kid is different.

  9. My child is 5 and not yet in school. He does not use the potty consistently and wears diapers or pull ups most of the time. We have tried potty training but he is just not all the way ready yet.

  10. I also disagree.being an 70,80's child my mom thought like the blogger.she ignored my bedwetting.I wet the bed until I reached 10.I would wake up soaked from my chest to my knees.and because it was every night,I would end up sick.then,after an accident,I ended up in diapers 24/7...it is wrong to assume that the child is lazy.I found out after the accident that I had a birth defect.I wished my mom had been more understanding. Because it is no fun and it does hurt your feelings.and it effects the kids health.I stayed sick because I would wake up wet and cold.I agree we need to stop with just not trying to train a child.but bedwetting has nothing to do with it.it has always been a problem for kids.I know some that wet their beds in the 1920.... And yes his mother put him in a diaper.....so this blogger just does not understand.

  11. Honestly what is Wrong With Diapers in older Kids my Little Brother is 10 and Still Willingly wears both Diapers and Pullups and uses them Frequently. Nothing Wrong with him, always Happy, streight A's, just likes to wet and poop himself

  12. Each parent chooses to raise their children differently. Deal with it and learn to mind your own business already. If a mother chooses to toilet train, she chooses to toilet train. If she doesnt, then she doesnt HAVE to. There is no law, ANYWHERE in the United States, stating a parent has to potty train their children. If a mother wishes to, she can keep her kids in diapers as long as they stay under her roof. If she chooses to. If you have a problem with this, move somewhere else. Just leave them alone, and mind your OWN business. I have a 16 year old daughter, who uses her allowance to keep herself diapered. I have no problem with it. I even change her diapers for her sometimes. A child is never too old to enjoy bonding time with their mother. Would you rather have a child wearing diapers, or getting high on drugs?

  13. Bedwetting ain't free. Our forefathers fell in battle so that Americans today may enjoy the freedom to raise our children in diapers ("pull-ups") all through childhood, and indeed through adolescence.

    Let's just see some federal gubbamint agency try and force our middle schoolers to shit on the pot. Buncha communists. Only Nazis would train their toddlers to hold their wee-wee while asleep. Here in the Land of the Free, school children can proudly piss their pants in public THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

  14. I wet the bed until i was 12 my 2 sons age 8 & 6 still wet every night it's not a big deal

  15. It's one thing to wear pullups at night due to bed wetting and something entirely different to wear them during waking hours. After working with elementary school children for 15 years, I saw a big shift in incoming kindergartners starting almost 10 years ago. It's always been advised that kids bring a change of clothes or even two if they have frequent accidents. But there are an overwhelming number of children now who whine and cry for my to wipe them (which I can't legally do) after regular bathroom activities, not just accidents. They may not get their bottoms as clean as if mom wipes them with wet wipe every time, but it's a necessary skill to learn.

  16. Tina Richards2/28/16, 9:06 PM

    A very ill-informed article. Many children continue to have accidents way past what society has arbitrarily deemed to be "potty training age". Criticising and stigmatising these children, and putting pressure on them to train before they are ready is nothing short of bullying. My daughter for example, wore pull-ups during the day until she was 3 and a half. Not because she was lazy, but because she just couldn't make it to the bathroom. Some kids can't. She even continued to wear them for about two years after that in situations where bathrooms might not be readily accessible. I feel this was the right thing to do, because it saved my daughter the distress of having to hold and possibly wet her pants. My daughter is now 10 years old and still has the occasional bedwetting accident. She is not developmentally challenged, she is an intelligent, well adjusted and happy 10-year-old. So what if she wets her bed? I love her and I'm proud of her.


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