child sitting on a potty looking up

Potty Training Wars: Breaking the Diaper Dependence

By Amalah


Please help! My daughter will be turning 3 in about a month. For the last two months, we have been potty training and she is at the point where she will not soil herself if she has no diaper (she only very rarely has accidents) and can wait to go to the bathroom and sit on the potty to pee.

However, she insists on wearing her diaper though and we are now at the point where she allows us to leave the diaper open, and she hangs on to the front and end while she pees. I have tried bribing her with ice cream, etc if she takes the diaper off but she tells me she doesn’t want it, which is unbelievable — she would kill for ice cream.

I know she’s capable of peeing in the potty without a diaper, but we’re somehow stuck and not sure how to move ahead. If I don’t give her a diaper while she sits on the potty, she cries and cries (eventually I relent – maybe this is the problem)? We’re still putting the diaper on her at night and are thinking of just going all the way – no diaper ever and see if we get there.

Do you have any suggestions? I would so appreciate any ideas.


Oh, I would definitely,100%, for-sure take the diaper away.

Stop caving on the diaper

An almost-3-year-old doesn’t get to “insist” on a diaper, and while I am laughing in UTTER TODDLER PARENTING SYMPATHY at the visual of her literally peeing into an open diaper (does she make steely unbreaking eye contact with you the whole time too??) – nah. We’re done with that nonsense.

She’s being stubborn and more than a little ridiculous – in other word, she’s being a perfectly normal a 3-year-old; it’s practically their full-time job – but your job means you get to Be The Grown-Up Here. So yeah, stop caving on the diaper…at least during the day.

I would switch to pull-ups or cloth training pants at night, at least until you are able to determine her ability to stay dry overnight. (Is she waking up wet because she just prefers to pee in the diaper or because the bladder-to-brain connection isn’t quite there yet? Probably hard to tell at this point!) Invest in a good mattress protector too, in case you find even the pull-ups seem to be impeding her progress and feeding her dependence on absorbent pants vs. potty.

Get rid of any diapers

Get completely rid of any diapers you have (donate ’em, hide ‘em in the trunk of your car, whatever) and tell her that All The Baby Diapers have gone bye-bye. Show her a stack of underwear in the spot where the diapers used to be. You cannot relent and give in to her crying anymore, because it’s simply not possible to give her something that no longer exists.

Let her have some potty training accidents

But that also doesn’t mean you need to force her to sit on the toilet for ages and ages while she’s sobbing and actively holding it in. (Which is something we do want to avoid, as much as possible!) Since she rarely has poop accidents, I wonder if she’s possibly landed on this I’ll-sit-on-the-potty-but-give-me-a-diaper compromise to avoid pee accidents. If that’s the case, you might just need to let her have some accidents.

What to say to your toddler now that the diapers are gone

1. Explain again that All The Baby Diapers are gone and she needs to behave like a big girl and use the potty from now on.

2. Give her a minute or two but let her off before she escalates to crying.

3. Then distract, distract, distract. She needs to go but you don’t want her focused on holding it in. If she starts dancing around or giving increased signs of urgency, try to get her back to the toilet, but don’t force her. This isn’t a new or foreign concept to her. She knows what she needs to do.

Depending on her aversion to wet clothes or making a puddle, she might acquiesce by the second or third offer, or – if you can get her engaged and distracted with a game, TV, and/or snack – she might just stop thinking about it long enough that it just…happens, wherever she is.

(Pro Tip: Keep her off the upholstered furniture!)

What to do when there’s a potty training accident

You can keep her fully dressed during this experiment, or just in underwear, or let her go completely pantsless – it really depends on what level of mess you can tolerate and/or which one you think would bother her the most.

1. But no matter which option you go with, you’ll be making HER deal with it to some degree. She changes her wet clothes and underwear and takes it to the hamper or washer, she puts towels down on the floor and helps you clean it up, etc.

2. There is to be NO scolding or irritation on your part. Just be completely matter-of-fact about it. Yep. You didn’t go on the potty when you needed to go. This is what happens. Next time let’s use the potty instead, okay?

3. Rinse, repeat, and rinse out her clothes again.

Eventually, finally, she will understand that you are not hiding a secret stash of diapers somewhere and holding out for one is a lost cause. Make sure to have that ice cream ready to go in the freezer as a reward!

Could there be a fear bothering your toddler?

I do wonder, however, if there’s something bothering or even scaring her about peeing in the potty – maybe the noise of pee hitting water? The possibility of getting splashed? (I’d suggest the noise of flushing but since poop isn’t an issue, I’m trying to think of stuff unique to peeing.) If you can get her to talk about that a little bit, you can add other small touches to the process to help. Put a flushable diaper liner in the toilet bowl for her to pee on. Raise her up higher from the water with a different style potty seat.

Just don’t give in on the diaper again. Welcome to three years old! The age of Outwit, Outplay, Outlast.

(And ice cream.)


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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