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. 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.

  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.

  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.

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

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  9. 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

    1. Anonymous1:40 PM

      No disrespect intended, but are your daughters metally challeged. If not how do they cope with being in diapers in school.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. Anonymous3:45 PM

    I remember being in nappies at night when I was nearly 12 .I was put in terry towelling nappies but thankfully I stopped wetting by the time I was 13 and no longer needed them.

  14. Anonymous6:41 AM

    To pam- we have a newly adopted 13 year old daughter who is starting over as a baby.She is in cloth diapers and rubberpants 24/7 and sleeps in a youth size crib and also uses a pacifier and drinks from a bottle.she wets in her diaper,but does her bm,s in the toilet.she is not retarded,and we chose to start her over as a baby.

  15. Anonymous10:26 PM

    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

  16. Anonymous10:27 PM

    I had several wet beds during a month and one night my mom came in the bedroom with cloth diapers, pins, powder and plastic pants. That was the first of many nights that I was diapered for bedwetting. I was 9 at the time

  17. Anonymous5:08 AM

    In my experience of growing up from1955 and then being a parent Iwet the bed till I was 16 my sister and my brother stopped quite early I think I was more the nervous type of child growing up I was potty trained by two during the day but not at night my mother Had a hospital rubber sheet on my bed and would change the sheet in the morning this was a bind for my mum as in those days washing machines were expensive eventually they got one ! and the washing became easier at 15 the bedwetting started to get less and Less until by 16 I was dry at night.my eldest son was the same however he had the added challenge of having a diagnosis of Aspergers syndrome which is part of Autism!my daughter never wet at night past the age of 4 and was TT at aged 2 my middle son had learning difficulties and was in diapers till aged 7 during the day and suddenly he stated tugging at the diaper and plastic pants and within a week or so was toilet trained day and 6 months latere at night. I am not a proponant of putting diapers on children of school age as they can get use to them wearing them thir spincter will get atrophied and then you have problems in them having to wear them for Life do you want that for your child?

  18. Downright shocked and furious10:27 PM

    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.

  19. I still wear diapers and I'm in my 20s. I'm not 'lazy,' I simply don't control my bladder well. I can't help some things, and after years of being humiliated, now I have no problem with it.I even make it obvious to some people if I'm out in public to make light of it. Its hard to find a girlfriend, but I know I'll find someone who can accept it eventually.

  20. Anonymous4:38 PM

    i am catholic and did't make my First holy communion untill i was 15 due to a number of reasons.My parents were strict and since i was in the class with the 7 and 8 year olds,they made me wear the poofy communion dress and veil with lace socks and white patent leather shoes.to make me more 'little girlish' they put cloth diapers and adult plastic pants on me that i had to wear under the dress for the ceremony and my party.the plastic pants fit baggy over the diapers and crinkled when i walked and it was very embarrassing!

  21. Anonymous9:17 PM

    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.

  22. Anonymous8:28 AM

    I was born in the early 60's and about the time I was 7 my mom was still diapering my younger 2yr old brother at night. One night after watching her put his cloth diaper and plastic pants on for some reason I wanted to try wearing a diaper to bed. So that night on purpose I wet the bed, I waited for mom to come in to wake us and discover my "accident". Mom told me not to worry that sometimes it happens and was no big deal, I waited a few days and did this again. After just about 2 weeks of doing this every once in a while I wet the bed 3 nights in a row and the next night after my mom diapered my younger brother my mom called me into the bedroom, as I walked in there it was my mom had a diaper laid out on the changing mat and as I walked over to her all she said is I just don't know what else to do, you are going to wear a diaper to bed until you quit having these accidents. I just stood there looking at her as she told be to be a good boy and help her with this. Mom started undressing me and had me lay down, I don't know if she could tell or not but this is what I was waiting for. As I laid there mom went through the same way that I watched her diaper my brother, mom held my ankles up and slid the cloth diaper under me, she already had it folded but made a couple of adjustments as she was fitting it around me, next she used a wash cloth and wiped me and a pat down with a towel then the yellow box of cornstarch, she sprinkled the powder on lifted my legs and did the back of the diaper and then she pulled the diaper around,and for some reason the next biggest thing I noticed was the diaper pins, they were blue and shaped like little teddy bears, can't say I ever took notice of that before. After she got the diaper pinned in place she slipped the plastic pants on most of the way and then stood me up and finished getting them up. Soon as all this was done mom said I'm sorry about this but this is just to much with all the accidents and I think using the baby diapers for awhile will help.
    I never made a big fuss because this is just what I wanted, I don't know if that was a mistake so my mom didn't catch on and maybe I should have. After a week or so and after wetting the diaper a number of times I didn't want to do this anymore, it seemed like something I just watned to try. So one night I told my mom I didn't need a diaper that night and she said that she thought it was going to be a bit longer and that I was still wet 2 nights ago, I told her I would promise and not wet the bed, mom said after I can go for a while with out any accidents then we would not need the diapers at night. So now here it is I now don't want the diaper and for the first time I started to cry about my mom putting the diaper on me, my mom told me to be quiet and why am I crying, I told her I didn't want to wear a diaper. Mom was like quit fussing and I have been wearing diapers for a week and now I start complaining. So here it was I was being put in a baby's diaper and I didn't want it anymore, Mom still did the same things and I cried all the way through it, as I went to bed mom told me to quit acting like a baby and the diapers are going to stay on for a while until she's sure I'm not having accidents. So it was finally over a month when mom said we can try a night with out my diaper, but she said if I do have an accident we would start with the diapers again. I didn't do this again but for some reason I am thinking about it...

  23. Anonymous7:25 AM

    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.

  24. Anonymous6:59 AM

    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.

  25. Anonymous4:57 AM

    Babysitting for 3 bedwetters during my teen years I learned a lot about how mom's handled the issue. In one family there were 2 bedwetters and the both had to wear cloth diapers and plastic pants to bed. They were generally put on in the hour before bed time. Being older a girl 5 and a boy 7 it was interesting to see how mom folded the diapers together so there was sufficient padding to last all night for the both of them. One at a time they would climb up on the bed and lay down and they would raise their hips and mom would slip the diapers under them, corn starch baby powder was used on them and the diapers pulled between the legs and pinned at the waist. When the diapers were on mom would get the plastic pants out and one at a time she would hold a pair open and one of the kids would step into them and the were pulled up into place, mom making sure that the diapers were completely covered. Pj's went on and the kids were free to watch TV or play quietly up until bed time. It was easy to tell that under their pj's they both had diapers on as there was a diaper bulge and their plastic pants made noise whenever they moved. When it was bed time mom would check to see that both their diapers were still dry after that it was hugs and kisses and into bed.

  26. Anonymous8:16 AM

    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

  27. Anonymous7:01 PM

    We have a newly adopted 13 year old daughter whom we got the first week of march.We told her that we would be starting her off with cloth diapers and plastic pants on her 24/7.we had one drawer in her dresser with just the cloth diapers and pins and the next drawer with just her rubberpants in it.We got all of her rubberpants in pastels and baby prints.Her first night,she took a nice warm bath,then laid on her bed and i pinned the cloth diapers on her then put a pair of the baby print rubberpants on her then her pjs.she is now used to the cloth diapers and rubberpants and wears them 24/7.she gets nervous at times and wets so i change her right away.We will keep her in the diapers and rubberpants for the next few months untill she is fully adjusted to her new home.

  28. Anonymous6:55 PM

    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?

  29. 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.

  30. Anonymous7:44 AM

    To anonymous who made her First communion at 15:My parish requires the girls to wear a cloth diaper and rubberpants with white tights over them under their poofy white dresses for baptisms,first communion and confirmation.My daughter had to wear them for her FC at age 10 and again at 16 under her confirmation dress.


You MUST enter a nickname with the "Name/URL" option if you're not signed in. We can't follow who is saying what if everyone is "Anonymous."