Prev Next
The Daytime Caretaker vs. Nighttime Potty Training

The Daytime Caretaker vs. Nighttime Potty Training

By Amalah

Dear Amy,

My mother-in-law took over watching my three children (2.5-year-old twins and 6-month-old baby) when I went back to work from maternity leave. After the New Year, she potty-trained the twins and did a great job with it. It took about a month but they effectively have no accidents during the day, can tell us when they have to go potty, etc. She did all the heavy lifting, supplied the prizes, everything. She is amazingly patient and awesome and we love her so much.

BUT. One of her stipulations was that they could not sleep in pull-ups once they were potty trained. That is the rule. It is hard and fast. We cannot argue. So they have been in training pants/underwear at night for maybe 2 months now and it is terrible. I would say between the two of them we have one night a week where someone doesn’t wet the bed. We are constantly doing laundry, having to get up and change the sheets and give baths at 3 in the morning, all the while trying to keep them quiet so they don’t wake up the baby in the next room, etc, and it is really wearing on my husband and I. Between this and the baby who mostly sleeps through the night but sometimes doesn’t, it is just hard.

This morning my husband told her he was getting pull-ups on the way home. The rate of failure is so much greater than the rate of success in the night time arena and we can’t take it. Her response was that we are making them step backwards to make life easier for ourselves and for our own comfort. But is it really stepping backwards if they aren’t successfully making it through the night consistently? If anything, it seems to be getting worse and we are just tired of feeling like we are in a losing battle.

We don’t give them juice at dinner. We only let them have one sip of water before bedtime and they go potty multiple times during/after the bedtime routine. I’m not sure what else we can do except to say they aren’t ready for this right now and maybe try again in a few months.

I love my MIL a lot and I care a lot about what she thinks (much more so than my husband does) – especially about our parenting. I know that if we switch to pull-ups we will get a lot of comments about how she disagrees with us and that stresses me out.

What is the norm for pull ups at bedtime? Is it reasonable to expect 2.5 year olds to make it through the night? Is it really selfish of my husband and I to make them “regress”? Please help, Amalah!

Sincerely,
Pottied Out

Let me skip all my usual wind-up and get right to the main point: Day training and night are two separate processes and require two separate stages of physical development. I’ve written about night-training before — many children are capable of controlling their bladders and bowels during the day, while awake, but have simply not yet hit the physiological milestone where their bladders are capable of WAKING THEM UP and holding urine in all night. And there’s simply no sticker chart in the world that is going to change that. It’s not a matter of discipline or will or general stick-to-it-ive-ness, it’s a matter of your child’s individual physical development and OH DEAR GOD, YOU HAVE TWINS AND A SIX MONTH OLD. GIVE YOURSELVES A BREAK.

Your mother-in-law’s approach to potty-training is not unusual or even necessarily “wrong.” The teacher at Ike’s toddler preschool program is famously known as the “potty-training whisperer” because of her success rate at getting all her little two-year-old charges fully trained and graduated to the primary program by three years old. On our first day she outlined her potty-training plan — wait for interest, let peer pressure do most of the work, toilet seat adapter rather than separate potty chair, emphasis on big-kid underwear and no pull-ups.

I have no problem with any of this, really, but if you think Imma gunna be changing wet sheets five or six times a week instead of putting my kid in something adequately absorbent at night just because I don’t want his preschool teacher to judge me, you cray. You totally, totally cray. My kid, my sleep, my laundry, my say.

My oldest day-trained long before he could stay dry at night. He wore pull-ups for awhile, and eventually I suspected that he COULD stay dry but was mostly just not bothering to get up in the morning. I told him pull-ups cost too much money and he was going to wear the same one-size cloth diapers as his little brother. BAM. That solved that problem right quick.

My second child managed to do both at the same time (around 2.5 years old, yes), though he had a pretty spectacular regression after Ike’s birth. My pediatrician recommended the same thing: Put that kid back in a diaper. Not a pull-up, not a diaper masquerading as some kind of in-between big-kid pant, but a diaper. Like babies wear.

I include these anecdotes for two reasons.

1) EVERY KID IS DIFFERENT. The common wisdom is that boys take longer to night-train in general, but there will always be exceptions to that. But just because one 2.5 year old can stay dry at night doesn’t mean all of them can, and in fact reinforces the idea that kids who wet the bed past toddlerhood have something “wrong” with them, when many of them simply aren’t there developmentally. Their brains don’t wake them up, end of story. Their bladders empty involuntarily, just like it did when they were babies. Forcing a kid who isn’t physically capable to wake up in a puddle of urine and wet sheets night after night, losing precious sleep time to baths and pajama changes, sounds kind of…awful? Once in awhile, sure, it happens. Almost every night? That’s just a bladder/brain connection that hasn’t happened yet.

2) THE IDEA THAT ABSORBENT PANTS CAUSES IMMEDIATE “REGRESSION” ISN’T NECESSARILY TRUE. While my nighttime potty-training experiences were totally different with my first two, both times I was able to use diapers as a motivator. My kids tried harder when faced with the idea of going back to diapers.

I don’t even like pull-ups that much: They’re expensive and counter-intuitive for daytime and lots of kids get attached to them (especially for number two) and will “hold it” until nap or nighttime when they can go in a pull-up. But for a situation like yours, when your have kids who are reliably trained during the day and are maybe one growth spurt away from training at night? They’re great. And they aren’t going to screw everything up and cause death and destruction and a zillion daytime accidents.

I really agree that your twins are simply not physically ready to stay dry all night and you should save your sanity and try again in a couple months. Like when the pull-ups start staying dry a couple times a week. (It helps to get the jump on them, BTW, and wake them up yourself and immediately corral them to the bathroom, rather than letting them wake up and “go” in the pull-up after holding it all night.)

As for your mother-in-law…sigh. Boundaries, man. It’s great that she’s helpful and loving and providing such an invaluable service to your family. But it’s still YOUR family. She is not there at night; she doesn’t get to dictate what happens when your children are in YOUR care. You say you “cannot argue;” I say the hell with that, of COURSE you can. They are your kids. If you disagree with something she’s doing, you absolutely have the right to tell her that. She is the caretaker. You are the parent. You get a say here. You get a say in EVERYTHING. 

Here’s an article on nighttime potty training — one of probably a million out there that says essentially the same thing. It’s impossible for a child to stay dry at night simply because they “want” to. Only 66% of children under three are capable of staying dry, and no amount of bedwetting and sheet-changing is going to make a lick of difference for the remaining 34%. The author also recommends putting your child in pull-ups if they are having more than two or three accidents A MONTH. Contrast that with your two months of almost nightly accidents, omg.

Basically, your MIL is wrong here. Her approach is really nice in theory and obviously worked like gangbusters during the day and that’s awesome. But she’s missing a crucial bit of SCIENCE behind night-training and you and your husband are suffering needlessly because of it. (Your twins, too, as they probably are frustrated with waking up wet and uncomfortable and getting tossed in the tub night after night.) I’m sure she’s afraid that all her hard work at training the kids during the day will be immediately undone if you put them in pull-ups at night. But you’ve done things her way for TWO MONTHS now. It’s not working. It’s not her fault and it’s definitely not yours. It’s just SCIENCE.

Beyond this particular situation, however, I MEAN IT ABOUT THE BOUNDARIES. She shouldn’t get to berate you guys or bully you into doing things “her way” all the time. You shouldn’t be dreading daily comments and general undermining about your parenting. You shouldn’t be driving yourself crazy because of an Invisible Authority Figure is judging what you do during the hours when she’s not there, the hours when YOU are in charge of your children. That’s a painfully high cost for free childcare. Yes, she sounds wonderful in many ways and obviously raised at least one awesome child, your husband. But lady, you have twins and a six-month-old baby. You get to win so many parenting experience badges based on that info alone.

Buy your children some pull-ups. Get them up and out of bed and back into underwear before she arrives if you want to, but refuse to feel ashamed if she “catches” them some days. You did your own independent research into the issue and have decided that they are not physiologically ready and the accidents are taking a toll on the whole family, so you plan to try again in a couple months, end of story. You’re not deliberately undermining her potty-training efforts, and you’d appreciate if she stopped with the comments that seem to undermine your parenting efforts, because NO.

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

icon icon
chat bubble icon

Comments

newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Jeannie
Guest
Jeannie

Yes, I second the above. Some kids just are NOT ready to be dry at night. My oldest was ok during the day at three, but didn’t get out of pull ups / diapers at night for another YEAR — and he is nowhere near the latest I have heard. A friend of mine’s kids still wet the bed on occasion; they are 5 and 8. (My youngest OTOH did it all — day and night dry — in three weeks at 2.5.) It’s a totally different physiological process than daytime, and it’s not something you can just “will” yourself… Read more »

SarahB
Guest
SarahB

Good God…two months of poor sleep and all that laundry because you didn’t want to contradict your MIL?  

She has way, way overstepped…all decisions about the children are yours and your husband’s, plain and simple.  You can listen to her input as you would any caregiver’s, but the final say is always yours.  She’s not worth keeping as a caregiver if she can’t accept that basic fact.

M
Guest
M

I have anecdotal evidence to add to the mix re: nighttime potty training, but it’s really just anecdotal.  What I really want to do is to commend Amalah for helping Pottied Out claim her rights as a parent.  Like Pottied Out, I too somehow feel like I’m stepping on my Mom’s, my Mother-in-law’s, or anyone else with more children’s toes when I disagree with their parenting advice (which is funny because in everything else I’m very opinionated and have no problem stating my views).  I hope it helps Pottied Out to hear that she has a say, too–the loudest say–just… Read more »

Sara M
Guest
Sara M

Totally second Amy’s advice here. My 5.5 YO was day trained about his 3rd birthday and is still in pullups at night. Which he SOAKS through almost nightly. He is such a heavy sleeper that he doesn’t hear his 3.5YO brother wake up crying from bad dreams or leg pains in the bottom bunk below him. That same 3.5YO day and night trained in about 2 weeks when he was a couple of months shy of 3. He has maybe one night accident a month and gets up at least once a night to go potty. Have no idea how… Read more »

Megan @ Mama Bub
Guest

I second all of this. My son was day trained for a solid YEAR before he was night trained, and then one day. Ultimately, he did need a bit of encouragement from us to night train. We tried going without pull ups for naps and that worked, so we went to night time as well. However, there’s no way he was ready at the same age he day trained. My daughter is two and a half and fully day trained, but nowhere near being night trained. Same thing. This isn’t a battle I’m willing to fight. As for having to… Read more »

Rachel N.
Guest
Rachel N.

A to the MEN.  My 10 year old JUST LAST YEAR was able to finally sleep through the night without accidents.  We even resorted to medication for sleepovers and such to avoid the social stigma with friends. I too wet the bed weekly until MIDDLE SCHOOL, and wished I’d had the option of pull-ups or ANYTHING that would help me avoid the morning shame.  Every child is different, and they will overcome the night time accidents when their bodies are ready, and no amount of finagling will get them through it any faster.  /rant

MR
Guest
MR

Respecting her opinion does not mean you automatically let her make the choice. It just means you hear her out. At that point you are free to say “nope, not gonna work for us, not even trying it”, or try it and stop, or whatever. You have tried this for waaaay too long. It isn’t working. In fact, it is making it worse because your kids are exhausted, YOU are exhausted, and this is putting too much pressure on everyone. Give yourselves a break. Use the dang pull ups. And if she makes ANY comment, tell her you appreciate her… Read more »

Nancy
Guest
Nancy

Our girl twins day-time trained at age 3 — thank goodness for their daycare teacher who bootcamped the whole class at once! But it probably took another 6-9 months to get there at night. We kept them in nighttime diapers and that was fine for us. We never bought or used pullups. We just waited til they stayed drier and drier at night, then started to play up the BIG GIRL-ness of getting rid of the night time diapers, and then DH and I went on a trip and grammy worked her persuasive magic during those few nights. We had… Read more »

Julie
Guest
Julie

My son day potty trained at 3 and FINALLY successfully night potty trained at 6. Our pediatrican told us the same as Amy’s advice-its a physical thing. So I agree, not ready, try again in 3 to 6 months. Also-your house, your kids, your sanity.

Bonnie
Guest
Bonnie

I am going to share what we did, which I know would not work for everyone. My son day trained at 21 months and night trained at 22. For us, doing it early made it easier. For night training, we brought a little potty into his room and set his sleeping butt on it before we went to bed, and then again at about 3 am. We quickly realized the 4 am potty was unnecessary. He’s a really difficult sleeper but he does fine with being barely woken up to pee. He is 27 months now and we still take… Read more »

JFC
Guest
JFC

I know it will be really really hard for you to do NOT what your MIL thinks, especially because you love & respect her so much.  But you’re right that it sounds like the twins just physically aren’t ready yet, and this is exactly the kind of circumstance where it might be easier to let your husband be the “bad guy” with his own mom.  If you get comments about it, feel free to just say that “[Husband] and I just don’t think they’re quite ready, and we’ll try again in a few months”, “[Husband] and I don’t want them… Read more »

rosa parks
Guest
rosa parks

a doctor said that children can not control thier bladders until thier at least 3yrs.

Jessica
Guest
Jessica

K, here is my standard reply to situations like this. “Next time you’re at the doctor, we’re only using medicine from the 70’s, too.” Sorry but SCIENCE. We know so much more now, and it’s silly to frustrate ourselves and get huge ego around issues that just aren’t under your control.  Show her the science, then do it how YOU think is right. If you need to take her to the Doctor and have him/her teach her, fine, but don’t let outdated ideas ROB YOU OF YOUR SLEEP.  OMG I have a 4 mo old and I let nothing, no… Read more »

cindy
Guest
cindy

Day training and night training are so different. I have twin daughters, and one was pretty fully night trained by about age 4. The other one didn’t stay dry at night until she was 6. Her body just wasn’t ready.

Martha
Guest
Martha

can’t second this advice enough! We went through incredibly successful daytime training with my daughter when she was a few months shy of 3. We did the 3 Day Method, which is VERY directive about not using any nighttime diapers. Which meant for about 2 months we were up 5 nights out of the week dealing with an accident. At her 3 year check up, our pediatrician shook us out of this nonsense, told us to give her a diaper or pull up because her body could not wake her to tell her she had to pee, and we rolled… Read more »

Alex
Guest
Alex

Ditto, ditto, ditto. We tried the whole hog with our son closer to 3 years, and day trained in one long weekend, but didn’t even bother waking up for a wet bed at night (he’s a fantastically deep sleeper). After 2 months of daily laundry we put him in pull-ups, and like magic he was dry most nights (don’t know if it was the extra physical pressure of the pull-ups vs. underwear maybe?) . After 3 months of mostly dry pull-ups we tried underpants again but the boxer variety, working on the extra pressure theory(even though I doubt there is… Read more »

Claire
Guest
Claire

I agree.  With all of it.   There’s a psychological component too, and it’s just not worth messing with that to follow your mother-in-law’s orders.  My daughter was dry in her pull-up every morning for a month (long after being day-trained), so we took the pull-ups away.  And then we moved. And she had accidents every day.  So we put her back in pull-ups, and then one day she decided she didn’t need them anymore.  And no more accidents.   So, let your kids guide you on this one.  They are doing SUCH A GREAT JOB with day training –… Read more »

Jillian
Guest

Lordy. My 5-yr-old is still sleeping in pull ups and he’s been potty trained since 2.5. He sleeps like he’s in a coma. When we try to go without pull ups, wetting the bed doesn’t wake him up. Neither does turning on the lights. Or vacuuming under his bed. My younger son didn’t potty train until he was 3.5 and he was dry at night at the same time. All just to say… different! All kids are different! Your kids don’t seem to be ready. I would get your sleep back and try it again at 3. Your MIL clearly… Read more »

Brianna
Guest
Brianna

Just to add my two cents – Both my brother and I wet the bed until we were 11 (11!). We tried everything from restricting liquids, to having my mom wake me up during the night. Obviously I had no desire for this to happen. My doctor was supportive of us doing whatever we had to do to be comfortable until I grew out of it. Which I did. One day, it just stopped – and never happened again. We were grateful for the product ‘goodnights’ (absorbent underwear for bigger kids). Trust your gut. Your kids don’t want to wake… Read more »

Christine
Guest
Christine

Could there be a compromise? The point of not waring disposable pull-ups is so that they will feel wet when they go, right? And they are staying dry some of the time? What about cloth trainers? Something like bummis (about $12/pull-up on amazon and have waterproof exterior). That, and putting them on a waterproof flannel pad as their top sheet so if leaks happen its really easy to take the pad off. Seems like it might help you avoid conflict with MIL, and reduce nighttime work and laundry. And potentially get the effect MIL is hoping for – that if… Read more »

E's Mommy
Guest
E's Mommy

My oldest was daytime trained at 2.5 years and was not able to stay dry at night until 7.5 years. I can count on one hand the number of accidents he had during the day after being potty trained. Wearing a diaper at night didn’t cause any daytime regression. His pediatrican was not at all concerned and said just what Amy said, for a certain percentage of kids, their bodies just take longer to mature enough to keep them dry at night.

Julie w
Guest
Julie w

My identical boys trained at daytime at 30 months. A month later the kid with all kinds of gross motor dine motor and speech delays was night trained too. They have both just turned 4 and his brother (typically developing) is just now sort of ready to stay dry at night. Each and every kid is different. And twin parents need their sleep. I am glad to spend the $0.30/night to have a happy set of 4 year olds. My pediatrician isn’t worried until puberty.

Kim
Guest
Kim

I made every mistake in the potty training book with my 6yo, but here’s the thing – that kid was dry 90% of her mornings from an absurdly early age. And she could hold it and hold it and hold it, and she did not day train until she was well past 3 1/2. Night training was a breeze because she was pretty much there already. My youngest is now well over 3.  I tried bootcamping her – no go.  I tried just putting her in panties, and accepting accidents.  Took me two months to clue in that, while she… Read more »

Autumn
Guest
Autumn

Thanks to all the commenters about the variety in toilet training.  I’m tentatively planning on boot camp over labor day weekend with my then 2 year old, but I wasn’t sure how night training would work if she’s still in her crib and can’t get out. 

Brooke
Guest
Brooke

Yup! My daughter was daytime potty-trained at 20 months, but was not nighttime potty-trained until 3.5. She wore underwear during the day and pull-ups at night until I noticed she could go 3-4 nights in a row dry, then really pushed for nightime training. The nighttime pull-ups made no difference to her daytime routine at all. I thought I’d add that it sounds to me like you are somewhat insecure or unsure in your parenting, and perhaps differential to your MIL, who sounds like a fantastic mom and grandma. I second Amy’s opinion on this – and want to let… Read more »

lindswing
Guest

My 3.5 year old has never, not even once, been dry overnight, and he’s been daytime potty trained since he was 2.  Often, despite limiting liquids in the evenings and a last minute potty trip, he soaks through his overnight pull-up and we’re left with all kinds of laundry the next day (because he MUST sleep with 7 blankets and every stuffed toy he owns).  He’s always worn a pull-up for naps, and he’s just naturally stopped wetting almost ever during those.  I was adamant about no pull-ups during the day during training, but the stakes are just too high… Read more »

Wallydraigle
Guest

I read the entire letter before realizing the MIL didn’t actually live with the letter writer. So, yes, BOUNDARIES. Why does she even have to know about the pull-ups, let alone have a say? I can’t imagine how exhausted you must be. Our older daughter potty trained very easily, but took a looooong time to stay dry through naps and nighttimes. She was well over four years old before she started being dry at night. Our other one was potty trained at 2.5 and was completely dry for naps and nighttimes within two weeks. We did NOTHING different between the… Read more »

mary
Guest
mary

We have never been able to get underpants under the diaper to work. The diaper never covers the underwear well enough. Do we just need bigger diapers?

YoYoYo
Guest
YoYoYo

Our DD had issues just telling us about going potty then anything, took a while before she finally stopped having accidents during the day. Once we got through that hurdle, I wasn’t going to worry about nighttime potty training until I saw signs of better bladder control.
Yea, that took less than a month.

Moral of story: PICK YOUR BATTLES WISELY!

Also, tell you MIL that she has her rules while your children are with her, and you and DH have yours. No Negoitations.

Wendy
Guest
Wendy

We had a ‘eureka’ moment when someone suggested we doubled up our matress covers. Our kids beds are made up of mattress – plastic sheet – normal sheet – plastic sheet – normal sheet and sometimes..one more plastic/normal layer…that way if an accident happens, we whip off the offending layer and Pj’s, kid back into bed – deal with sheets in the morning. It helped us immensely – sorry if I’m reposting an old idea!

Arnebya
Guest

My youngest is 3, 4 in September. He wets during the night because we still give him water (or, gasp!, juice before bed). Y’all. I just don’t have any damns to give about nighttime. I figure around 4 I’ll wean him off the water and stop drinks altogether after a certain time, but until then? I cannot make myself care (b/c like the advice suggests: it’s physiological and I know he ain’t eeeeeeeeeven hardly ready.) I do agree, though, that the MIL in this situation is wrong. Be grateful, sure, that she is doing all she does and helped you… Read more »

Laura
Guest
Laura

YESSSSSSS! Honestly – there is no such thing as night time potty training. When their little brains and bladders catch up, they stay dry. My first son still has nighttime accidents – it runs in our family (my mom WISHES they had pull ups when I was young!) my younger son was instantly dry at night – there was no training involved. For my oldest I tried restricting fluids after 5, I tried waking him up at 11pm (which only resulted in a crying child on the toilet) and I tried cold turkey for a week. None of it worked.… Read more »

Amanda
Guest
Amanda

Jumping on here for two quick points, even though the post has been quiet for a little while.:  1)  If they’re not making it through the night, it’s perfectly acceptable to wake them for a pee.  It will be far less of an interruption than a midnight bath.  Gradually you can move the night time pee break out and eventually they may not need it until 5am, etc.  I’ve been reading “Oh Crap. Potty Training” by Jamie Glowacki and she’s amazing.  You can buy the book or check out her blog.  She also has an online radio show where she’ll… Read more »

Renee
Guest
Renee

Great read & comments…..my daughter is 5 in August & is such a deep sleeper she just will not wake up during the night (we’ve tested it, thrown her in the air, shaken her…..nothing…..the kid is like a log). We’re about to trial a alarm system to help her out, but we expect it will probably still take 2 months to be effect. 

Chin up to all the parents out there who are in the same situation as us, it sucks, but truth is some kids have better bladder control then others, some are deeper sleepers than others…..every kid is different

Layla
Guest
Layla

I know this is an old post, but I’m hoping someone can give advice anyway. My oldest son was completely potty-trained, day and night, by 18 months through nothing I did. He woke up, wouldn’t wear his diaper, and didn’t look back. He has had literally two accidents in his entire life. Fast-forward to my almost two year old. He has day trained in just a few days with maybe 5 accidents the entire time, and no accidents at nap time. He takes long naps, usually around 3 hours. He wets the bed every night though. I don’t let him… Read more »