Living with Children: Pull-ups and delayed toilet training


I finally tracked down the fellow who invented the so-called “pull-up.” His name is Lucapher (Big Lou) Saytan. Reputedly, Mr. Saytan lives in an underground bunker from which he develops and markets various nefarious technologies, the most notable of which are the so-called “smart” phone and video games.

All kidding aside, a number of years ago, I began to notice an significant increase in the number of parents whose four-, five-, and six-year-old children were still wearing diapers. In every case, it appeared as if an otherwise intelligent child’s toilet training module had crashed.

Before I go on, and to keep the parasites at bay, I am obligated to inform the reader that correlations do not prove cause-and-effect. They point to the possibility of cause-and-effect, but pointing and establishing are two different things.

Therefore, the fact that nine out of ten, by my estimate, of these kids were wearing “pull-ups” does not establish that these highly absorbent loincloths bring about a delay — including the myriad of problems associated with delay—in self-control over elimination.

But it might. I happen to think there’s a strong link. The name “pull-ups” gives the impression that small children are able to pull it down (and then back up) when they want to use the toilet, which, in my poll, was almost never.

Consider that the “pull-up” is essentially a disposable diaper without tape closures. When a child poops in one, you don’t want him trying to pull it off because, well, use your imagination. Parents don’t even want to extract a child from a “poopied” “pull-up” because of the massive clean-up job that ensues, which explains why they sometimes cut it off with scissors, which must then be sent to the Centers for Disease Control for sterilization and disposal. Lawyers are reading this, so I should point out that I was kidding about the CDC.

Over the years, I’ve counseled with hundreds of parents who were using “pull-ups” with older preschool children who should have been (and could have been) completely trained by their second birthdays.

Yes, thanks to the Freudian toilet training mythology of pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton, the pediatric community promotes the wholly false notion that waiting until well after a child’s second birthday is going to be to the advantage of all concerned. Does it involve more frustration to house train a four-month-old puppy or a one-year-old dog? Hello?

My theory is that because “pull-ups” feel no different from diapers, they often result in the same behavior — to wit, pooping and peeing without consideration of time or place. Furthermore, because of its super absorbent property, a child wearing a “pull-up” experiences little or no discomfort when he/she urinates in it; therefore, the process of toilet training many a “puller-upper” is extended.

Then there’s the matter of using “pull-ups” with children who have not developed nighttime control. They feel like any other diaper, remember? From a child’s perspective, if it feels like a diaper and smells like a diaper, it’s a diaper!

As is the case with daytime control, “pull-ups” can delay nighttime control. Furthermore, as nighttime control is delayed, the habit of peeing while asleep grows ever-stronger, which means the child is likely to have a long-term problem with bedwetting (or, as the case may be, “pull-up” wetting).

Have you noticed that “pull-ups” are now made in sizes that fit school-age children? Doesn’t that speak volumes?

[Family psychologist John Rosemond:, Copyright 2022, John K. Rosemond]