Ask an expert: My child treats pull-ups and undies like nappies

Tip: squeeze the TP roll so it doesnt roll freely.
Tip: squeeze the TP roll so it doesnt roll freely. Photo: Getty

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We asked Essential Baby members what their child’s major issues are in the toilet training process. Here, Dr Cathrine Neilsen-Hewett, the Director of Learning and Teaching and Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Early Childhood and a mum of three, addresses a problem many families encounter.

• My child has started resisting toilet training
• My child won't wee or poo on the potty 

My child is fine to use the toilet when she’s naked, but she treats undies and pull-up training pants as nappies and is more likely to have accidents when wearing them. How can we get past this?

Dr Cathrine says: This problem isn’t uncommon. One of the simplest explanations for this behaviour is that young children find it much easier to make it to the toilet in time when they don’t have many layers to pull down. The time between when children begin to feel the urge to urinate or have a bowel motion and the actual release of this is quite short, particularly during the early stages of toilet training. You can help your child to make it to the toilet in time by ensuring they’re dressed in loose clothing that is easily removed.

At other times, toddlers and preschoolers often leave it until the very last minute to get to the toilet, and then simply aren’t able to make it in time. Young children are very reluctant to tear themselves away from playing just to go to the toilet, which, by comparison, is really rather boring. And of course wetting your pants or pull-up training pants certainly causes significantly less disruption to their playtime than wetting the floor … unless, of course, someone finds out, then you have to go and get changed!

Tips to try

• Having a schedule or reminding your child to go to the toilet every two or three hours can help. Explain that whatever activity they are engaged in will still be there when they return – and, in fact, they’ll be back much sooner than if they wet their pants and need to be changed.

• Using reward charts or extra praise for the times they don’t have an accident can motivate some children to be more responsive to their body’s cues.

• Keep an eye out and help them to identify when they might need to go to the toilet. Keep in mind that young children have very limited attention spans, and the ability to focus on multiple things can be quite a challenge. If there are lots of things competing for your child’s attention they are unlikely to pick up on these cues.

Talk to your child – remember that toilet training is a team effort, which means input from you as well as input from your child. If your child has been toilet training for quite some time and has experienced many successes, try and help them identify those times that appear more challenging. Why are they more likely to wet when wearing undies or pull-up training pants?

• If you find that your child only wets when wearing pull-up training pants, it may be a sign that you need to remove these and move permanently into undies. Taking your child to the shops with you and letting them pick out ‘special’ undies can be a big motivator for them to make it to the toilet, as they won’t want to get them wet or dirty.

Share your toilet training challenges and tips with other parents in our Toilet Training forum.