How to Potty Train When Your Child Wants Diapers

a potty-training child thinking about using the toilet

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Toilet training is hard—especially when your child keeps insisting on a diaper. No wonder, few concerns generate as much angst and self-doubt among parents as teaching this routine, daily business.

It seems so simple. Once your child can sense they need to go to the bathroom, then they can and will start using the toilet rather than diapers. Right? Well, like those in the trenches know, it's rarely that easy.

Similar to the wealth of advice and strategies on handling the familiar challenges of how to get them to go to (and stay in) bed (tear-free) and eat their peas (without spitting them out), there are enough theories on the best potty training methods to make your head spin. This gets even trickier when you're in the midst of teaching your child to use the bathroom but they keep insisting on a diaper instead.

What you need is to get on the same team. Sorting through the pros and cons of all the different approaches to eradicating the diaper is challenging at best. Try the below suggestions so you can get back to closely monitoring whether those wiggles mean somebody needs to find a potty.

Overview of Potty Training

We wish we could say there was a potty training solution that magically gets all kids to enthusiastically and reliably swap out their diapers for time on the potty. But in reality, there is no one agreed-upon "right" way.

The fact is that there are more ways to potty train than you can probably imagine. The best approach is to accept that each child may respond better to different tactics—and you won't necessarily know which one will "click" until you try.

Some popular methods include using training pants, videos, songs, rewards, positive reinforcement, hourly (or more) trips to the toilet, 24/7 naked bottoms, or spending an entire weekend in the bathroom. Banishing the diapers all together is another approach.

Some suggest potty training young toddlers. Others advocate for waiting until age 2, 3, or even 4. Still, others feel the child themselves should decide when they're ready.

Thus, the transition from diaper to underpants is definitely not a one-solution-fits-all scenario. Honoring personal preference, timing, and comfort (for both the child and parent) is key.

Make Sure Your Child Is Ready

You'll have a good sense that your child is developmentally able to work toward this skill when they start regularly showing the typical signs. Look out for the following indicators of readiness:

  • Brings you a diaper to go in it or to change into after soiling a diaper
  • Can follow a simple series of instructions
  • Dislikes the sensation of wet or messy diapers
  • Exhibits increasing independence, as in wanting to be "a big kid" and "do it by myself"
  • Is interested in "big kid pants"
  • Is willing to try
  • Knows when they need to go (at least some of the time)
  • Shows an interest in using the toilet

Why Kids Resist Giving up Diapers

It's important to note that even if your child exhibits signs of readiness, they still may cling to the diaper. Frustrating as this can be (for child and parent alike), know it's very common and also likely not intended as defiance.

Giving up the diaper, like any rite of passage while growing up, could feel genuinely upsetting—they're called "growing pains" for a reason.

Change is hard for all of us, and it's normal to stick to the comfort of our routines and what's known. To that end, it's key to capitalize on when your child no longer can tolerate a wet or dirty diaper (as in no longer finds the diaper comfortable)—and understand that you may need to push your little one a little bit out of their comfort zone to help them learn this vital skill.

Diapers May Feel Safe

Another reason a child might prefer a diaper is a worry of disappointing you or themselves with accidents. Therefore, it's helpful (and good for a child's self-esteem) to focus on the successes.

Praise and celebrate any positive steps, from keeping a diaper dry to alerting you right away when they didn't make it in time, or even just a willingness to try. Use any mishaps (in most cases, there will be many) along the way as teaching moments and avoid scolding, shaming, or punishments.

Stubbornness may also play a part—and that's OK. Young children learn by testing boundaries and build independence by making their own decisions. Power struggles are par for the course when we seek to implement new routines, teach new skills, or alter our expectations. Adapting to letting go of diapers is no different.

Guide Your Child to Success

Loving patience combined with holding firm to your objectives tends to work wonders. Aim to defuse rather than fan any power plays that pop-up. Equally important is to listen to your child.

Have empathy for their concerns and the fact that taking this leap towards bathroom independence is a big deal. It might even feel scary or sad.

They might resist because they still want to be your "baby." They may really like the design imprinted on their diapers (a problem solved by providing equally enticing big kid pants). Or, they might just like getting a rise out of you—and your attention.

But you might not find out why unless you take the time to observe and listen. Once they feel heard and their concerns are aired, you'll likely see greater compliance with your potty training plan.

Diapers and Potty Training

If you believe your child's reliance on diapers is getting in the way of toilet training, you may consider making them off-limits or limiting their use. For instance, you could choose to completely stop providing diapers.

This approach is best if you are following a fast and intensive potty training method where you spend several days focused exclusively on using the bathroom. Or, you might simply set aside designated times when your child can use them, such as during naps and/or outings, as well as prescribing times when your child will go without them.

Consistency in your policy is important, as well as creating a reliable toileting routine so your child knows what to expect and what your expectations are for them as well. Also, be sure to let your child know it's OK if they are a little upset about having to let go of using diapers.

You may want to work some flexibility into your plan, such as allowing an insisted upon diaper when your child is especially tired, not feeling well, or you have company over and can't give the potty training efforts your full attention. However, for the most part, holding firm in a kind, reassuring, encouraging way—even in the face of a tantrum or two—will send the message to your child that they are, in fact, ready to master this skill.

Consistency and follow-through are key. If you say, "No more diapers!" mean it. If you hand your child a diaper every time they want one, don't be surprised if they keep insisting on using them.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

For those kids who are especially attached to their diapers, it may be helpful to remove diapers from any place your child can see or get them. If you intend to go cold turkey, then it may ease the transition for your child if diapers aren't a visible temptation or reminder.

If you plan to move away from diapers more gradually, only bring them out at times (if using them at all) that their use is part of your potty training agenda, such as at bedtime or for a long car ride. If you're keeping the diapers on hand, be sure to put them in a place that is truly out of reach and out of sight like a cabinet with a safety lock.

Remember your reaction to your child's demands for diapers will be an essential factor in whether this works.

When your child asks (or wails) for a diaper when you want them to use the potty, try very calmly and firmly directing them to use the potty. Remind them that diapers are for bedtime only (or whatever your policy is).

Most importantly, avoid giving in to tears or tantrums. Instead, find another way to help your child feel supported. Soon enough, once they realize that you mean business, your little one will recognize it's time to try the potty.

That said, it's worth considering if your child's persistent demands for diapers may mean they just aren't quite ready. If you're not sure, review the readiness cues. If the signs don't seem to be there quite yet, it might be worth holding off on your efforts for a month or two.

Remember, there is no one right time. Forcing the issue may end up delaying success. Giving your child some extra time and space may even result in a faster, more positive potty training experience when you're both ready to try again.

Stay Calm and Encouraging

It's natural for you both to get worked up at times during this race to the potty but be attuned to the fact that your child will respond to a calm, self-disciplined attitude much better than to an annoyed one.

When your child has an inevitable accident, don't punish them or react with exasperation. Simply tell them that it's time to get cleaned up and help them with the cleanup steps. Use phrases like, "Good try," "Potty training is hard work," and "You really tried hard, I bet next time make it to the potty."

Instill self-confidence and pride in your child to convey that you believe in their future success.

While most kids do fine going back and forth between a diaper or disposable training pants at night and underwear during the day, some don't. For those kids, having a diaper sometimes is confusing and may cause them to dig in and avoid daytime potty training.

In these cases, it may work better to go with thick training pants, fewer fluids in the evening hours, and a protective covering on the bed. The inconvenience of a wet bed now and then will be made up for with a less confused child, no mixed messages about where it's OK to go to the bathroom, and ​potty training success during the day.

A Word From Verywell

It may feel like your child will never willingly abandon diapers, but if you stick with it, your child will be wearing (reliably clean and dry) big kid underpants soon enough. Some kids take days to master this skill, others may take months or longer.

Laughter and levity can work wonders to keep you both on track. If your child feels you are both on the same team, they will feel much more confident and enthusiastic about the entire process. The key is to honor that while the road to potty training, triumph may be bumpy, your child will get there eventually.

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Kaerts N, Van Hal G, Vermandel A, Wyndaele JJ. Readiness signs used to define the proper moment to start toilet training: A review of the literatureNeurourol Urodyn. 2012;31(4):437‐440. doi:10.1002/nau.21211

  3. Baird DC, Bybel M, Kowalski AW. Toilet training: Common questions and answersAm Fam Physician. 2019;100(8):468‐474

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By Stephanie Brown
Stephanie Brown is a parenting writer with experience in the Head Start program and in NAEYC accredited child care centers.