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On Going Commando

On Going Commando

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

About a year ago you helped me through the issue where my daughter was potty trained but refused to poop on the potty. I was pregnant and desperately trying to get her out of diapers before the baby came. Once we took your advice and relaxed about it and it became no big deal, she naturally started pooping in the potty and was done with diapers, except at night, by the time the baby arrived. So, thank you! Now it leads me to my current issue.

My daughter has been using pull ups at night for all this time. (We tried putting her in cloth diapers, but she was a heavy wetter and it ended up with her sleeping with the pee against her skin all night, so she ended up with a nasty rash/yeast infection, so we switched back to disposables.) I don’t have an issue with her using the pull ups and figured at some point she would be keeping her diaper dry all on her own, and that’s when we would stop putting them on her. She is 3.5 now, so she is still pretty young. We have found that if we have her go to the bathroom first thing when she wakes up that she is keeping her diaper dry 4 or 5 times a week.

Lately she has been really big on “No! I don’t need a diaper!” She seems really insistent about not wanting one. I don’t know if that’s just because, well, she is 3.5, and insistent about everything. Or if she really doesn’t want the diaper any more. I know that we could probably do the whole restrict fluids before bed and all that stuff to help her stay dry (I could even wake her when I go in to feed her sister), but I am hesitant to do it.

Maybe I am just reacting with Mommy guilt because I so overreacted last time. But the nights she does pee in the diaper, she is still filling it up quite a bit. And there was a night that I was super sleep deprived and forgot to put a diaper on her and she peed, and I can’t shake the image of her slumped shoulders and the tears on her face because she had wet her bed. I’m not sure why it was such a big deal to her (cue more Mommy guilt thinking I did this), but it WAS, so I am really hesitant to just make the switch to panties overnight and have this happen occasionally, even though it would probably be the fastest way to get her out of the diaper at night. I don’t want to screw this up again and put pressure on her to get out of diapers at night if she isn’t ready.

But SHE really seems to want to be done with the diapers, even though she isn’t dry every night. She tells me she kept the diaper dry, even when she didn’t, probably because she can’t feel it. But, she gets a little yeasty even in the Pull up, so I am hesitant to do something that leaves the wet against her skin. Please, oh wise Amy, help me out! What do I do now? I’m hoping there is maybe some way to do this I haven’t thought of.


Okay! So the pull-up-to-panties part of your question is easy. You have a three-and-a-half-year-old who is staying dry four to five nights a week and insisting that she doesn’t want to wear a diaper at night anymore. So…listen to her. Make the leap. Done.

Seriously, she sounds ready, or about as ready as she’ll ever be until you take away the safety net of the pull-up. And while overnight potty-training is different for every kid, if it helps to put your mind at ease here: both of my children ditched the nap-and-nighttime pull-up by around your daughter’s age — Noah was probably only a month or two younger, while Ezra was not quite two. For Noah, we made the switch after about five dry nights in a row. But it was probably less than that with Ezra (my memory is fuzzy!) because like your daughter, he was insistent that he was all done with diapers. I figured it couldn’t hurt to piggyback on his enthusiasm, even though I wasn’t completely convinced. What did we do?

  • restricted fluids after dinner for the first few nights,
  • made sure they went potty at the last possible minute, and
  • put a waterproof pad under the sheets

Eventually, one night, you hear them come out of their room and use the potty unprompted. They wake up dry. And that’s about it. It really, really isn’t that big of a deal, EVEN IF there is an accident. Although changing wet sheets and comforting a crying wet child at three in the morning isn’t fun, it’s NOT the end of the world. For you or for them. I promise!

Which leads me to the other part of your letter: Oh sweet lady, you have GOT to let go of the mommy guilt and the second guessing of yourself! So you forgot to put her in a diaper and she wet the bed, and while the experience upset her, it CLEARLY didn’t scar her for life or give her some kind of complex about the potty or going to bed. In fact, I’d say her reaction was exactly what a potty-training child SHOULD do: she understood what happened, she did not want it to happen again, and now she wants to move forward and prove that she is a big girl who doesn’t need diapers. If she HADN’T reacted at all to the bed-wetting, then that’s simply a sign of a kid who doesn’t yet “get it” and should stay in pull-ups awhile longer. A kid who is embarrassed and frustrated is a kid who understands the process and is a motivated learner. SEIZE IT.

If it happens again, well…it happens again. The important part is making sure your reaction is the right one, and judging by your letter I’m pretty confident you aren’t the type of mom to go in there and shame and yell and belittle her while you strip the bed. Calmly change the sheets and stay upbeat and encouraging. Hey, it happens, honey. You are still such a big brave girl for not wearing a diaper! We’ll just try, try again, okay?

Don’t let her emotions freak you out: She’s feeling what she’s supposed to be feeling, you know? I know we all have this urge to shield our children from every possible negative feeling like sadness or shame, but we can’t. Nor should we, all the time. Those feelings are part of the big scary process of growing up — they’re natural and valid and in this case, have nothing to do with YOU DOING SOMETHING WRONG.

Worst-case scenario? She has a string of back-to-back accidents and goes back into pull-ups. Institute a sticker chart and give her a goal — five dry pull-ups in a row mean she can go back to big-girl pants at night. Since she can’t feel the wetness, buy the kind with the “vanishing design” feature on the front. In the morning, instead of asking if she’s dry (since she always says yes), have her look for the picture and tell you what she sees. Then make the goal three or five (or whatever) dry nights in underwear and buy her a toy or treat, just to leave her feeling extra-proud and confident and to erase any bad thoughts about the previous accidents.

So. Deep breath. Follow her lead and listen to her. Lots of kids need to ditch the pull-up before they make it across the home stretch of potty training, and require a bit of nervous trust from their parents. Leap! And the dry sheets will appear.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


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.

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  • KJ

    March 7, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    This is a really minor point in the scope of your letter, but one of my favorite related pieces of advice is to double-sheet the bed – put one waterproof layer, a sheet, then another waterproof layer and another sheet. So if you do have to do a midnight (or early morning) sheet change, it’s less of a production – easier on both of you!

  • Kim

    March 7, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    We just went through this, except our reason was that we had run out of pull-ups one night. When I told her that she would have to wear her sister’s diaper, she flipped. I had her use the potty, put on a pair of the thicker panties and that was it. She had only one accident and that was because she didn’t use the potty right before bed. Like Amy said, restrict the fluids before bed time and insist they use the potty right before bed. Even if they just went potty before bath time and are saying they don’t have to go again, insist. I didn’t think my daughter was ready (like your daughter, she’d have dry days and a few wet days with pull-ups) but she sure showed me! Good luck!

  • Whozat

    March 7, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    This is how we ditched night time diapers, too. My daughter (just over 3 at the time) said she didn’t want one, so we gave it a try. 

    I make her pee right before bed, then get her up right before I go to bed, and maybe once before that. 

    If she wakes up and needs settling (she still nurses, so if she gets awake I nurse her back down), I take her to pee first. 

    She’s usually dry, but if she wets, we just handle it and try not to make a big deal out of it.

    I have a vinyl (?) waterproof cover on the mattress – not the sort of water resistanty one, but actually wipe-the-pee-off-dry-it-keep-doing waterproof and that works great. 

    I may try to pick up another and do the double cover/sheet/cover/sheet thing, though, because she’s always very unhappy about being awake and waiting for her new sheet!

  • yasmara

    March 7, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    Yes! Double-sheet the bed! You can even triple-sheet it. It makes life SO MUCH EASIER. Just dump the peed-on sheets somewhere (laundry sink, washing machine, bathtub) and LEAVE THEM until you’re ready to deal with them in the morning. 

    Our 2nd son had a harder time staying dry through the night, so my husband used to wake him up to pee right before we went to bed (well, I was probably already asleep). Adding that to restricting fluids, peeing before bed (sometimes twice – once before brushing teeth & once after) meant that accidents were fairly rare.

    Don’t get me wrong, they absolutely did happen – but with the multiple sheets technique, we were spared much middle-of-the-night drama (and in fact, he most often wet the bed first thing in the morning, peeing before he was totally awake).

    If she wets the bet too often, she may want to go back to the pull-up, but washing sheets once in a while is soooo much cheaper than pull-ups!

  • JCF

    March 7, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    We ditched diapers at night at the same time we potty trained during the day–2.5 for both my son and daughter.  My son had accidents a few nights in a row, then stopped, but he still wets the bed during big life events (new baby brother, moving, Daddy started a new job with different hours), and just in general once or twice a month (not surrounding any big events).  It isn’t any big deal, now that he’s 4.5 especially.  He just gets himself up, changes pajamas, pulls off the top sheet layer (we double sheet, as many posters have mentioned), and hops back in.  We don’t find out about it until morning.  

    My daughter, now almost 3.5, NEVER has an accident.  As in, she had an accident the very first night in undies, and has never done so since, in a whole year.  I think we got lucky on that one, but it was a pleasant surprise!

    Our big motivation was like yours: the kids were ready to give it a try, and they both had started getting rashes from diapers.  Honestly, the occasional bed wetting is better than spending money on Pull-Ups or dealing with nasty, painful rashes!

  • Susan:)

    March 7, 2012 at 6:45 pm

    At two and a half, my niece was done with diapers. She did not want to wear them at night at all. So, she went to bed naked and we kept the potty chair in her room. If she had to go St night, she used the chair, kind of like a chamber pot. Never had an accident until just before she turned four. Then for some reason, she started wetting the bed. We told her she would gave to wear a night diaper again and she was adamantly against that idea. So she herself was motivated to go potty before bed and we restricted her bedtime water. Back to normal!

  • Liz

    March 7, 2012 at 10:23 pm

    We went cold turkey into undies from pull-ups with my daughter when she was about 3.5 yrs old. She kept getting rashes from the pull-ups and I was tired of using them. Even though she’d go potty right before bed, they were always very wet when she woke up but we went ahead anyway. It was a rough few weeks where I had to change her sheets every night in the middle of the night. I was never angry about it and she always knew it was no big deal, just a part of it all and we’d get through it. And we did.

  • Julie W

    March 8, 2012 at 10:52 am

    A child may be ready for no diaper support even if the child has a super wet diaper in the morning. If 4 hours pass and your child wakes up from some nighttime disturbance does he/she have a dry diaper? Then you may have a child that wakes up in the morning, pees in the diaper and then gets up. I was suspicious that this was the case with my boys (I dunno…the wet diapers just seemed _Freshly_ wet i n the morning) and it took a couple of weeks but we are mostly accident free at this point (just under 3 y.o., otherwise trained at 2.5). We also use the potty chair as a chamber pot. One boy uses his in his room right after he wakes up and the other one lugs it into our bedroom then sits down and uses it first thing in the morning.

  • Emily B

    March 8, 2012 at 11:51 am

    This is an awesome excerpt from a book about causes of wetting/soiling accidents–I just ordered a copy because my son has issues with soiling at age 5 that have been going on for a year.  The authors make the case that many pee accident issues including overnight can be traced to constipation pressuring the bladder.  Might be worth a look.  I have no stake in the book, just thought it could really be helpful for others.

  • Cheri

    March 8, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    We switched my daughter cold turkey to underwear at night–she was probably close to 4.5. ( when she had pullups on she woke up with wet pullups.) I double layered the sheets , and she never had an accident. We were pretty amazed.

  • MR

    March 8, 2012 at 4:59 pm

    Thanks everyone! She is officially out of diapers. I didn’t put one on her last night and she was dry this morning, so we are on our way!

    And, Amy, thanks. I didn’t even realize how guilty I was feeling from last time until I read your response and burst into tears. In my office. At work. Yay. *rolling eyes at myself* I try hard not to hold on to Mommy guilt. I just don’t think it is worth it. So I am banishing her (mommy guilt) again. I have an incredible kid, and she got that way in some part because of me. Besides, if I don’t ever screw up as a mom, what will she talk about in therapy as an adult? 😉 I always “joke” that if your kids don’t need therapy as adults, you didn’t do your job right. Besides, I don’t want to teach my kid to be perfect. I want to teach them how to learn from mistakes and move forward. Thanks for reminding me. 🙂