Low Tone And Toilet Training: Pull-Ups or Cloth Training Pants?

My post on clothing choice when toilet training a child with low muscle tone  Low Tone and Toilet Training: Teaching Toddlers to Wipe covered a lot, but it did not include a very important garment:  underwear.  I am putting pull-ups and their generic equivalents in the underwear category.  Many would not, as they are as absorbent as a diaper, disposable, and most children themselves do not think of pull-ups as step toward being a big boy or girl.  Apparently they do not watch or believe the ads.

Here is why it is worth thinking about your choice of undergarment:

  1. Kids with low tone often aren’t as aware of touch input as other children, and aren’t bothered by the very mild warmth and wetness of an absorbent undergarment.  Sometimes they don’t even notice it at all.  That will make it harder to recognize when they have had an accident, or when they need to get to the toilet right now.  This sensory-based issue is one of the two big issues with teaching low-toned kids Why Low Muscle Tone Creates More Toilet Training Struggles for Toddlers (and Parents!).  Being able to dash to the potty and successfully avoid an accident is a big deal for them.  This is an accomplishment, and wearing a garment that prevents them from experiencing success reduces training progress.
  2. I understand that having an accident is not fun for either the child or the parent, but it is memorable.  No one learns unless the lessons are memorable.  Understanding what those body signals mean and respecting them is the cornerstone of training, and for kids that need to listen to their bodies, it is essential that they not ignore them.  The Baby Whisperer even encourages parents with children that refuse to sit on the potty and intentionally make in their pants (not exactly an accident, but a mess nevertheless) to take off their clothes themselves and jump in the tub, then wash themselves off.  They get some help, but this isn’t playtime.  There is no quick wipe-off as they stand in front of the TV, watching the show they refused to leave to go potty.  Her thinking is that it is not done as a punishment at all, it is a natural consequence of intentionally not answering the call of nature.  No harsh words, no threats, but no continued watching of that show either.
  3. These children are often unsteady when they are calmly standing still, so being in a rush to pull their underpants down to use the potty is not likely to make them more stable and coordinated. Picking a garment that they can pull up and down easily under pressure is the only kind way to go.   You may have to try both to see what your unique child can manage, and do dry runs Low Tone and Toilet Training: The Importance of Dry Runs (Pun Totally Intended).  I explained it to a stylish mom this way:  if you have to use the toilet really badly and you have spanx and stockings on, think about how embarrassed you would be not to make it in time.  That is what many kids feel every time they need to go.  Dads, if you do not know what spanx are, ask!  Imagine wearing bike shorts under your khakis. Then add thin long underwear over the bike shorts.  Got it?
  4. Some kids are mature enough to care about the graphics on their clothing, and it’s enough to motivate them to commit to toilet training in the first place.  If you can only find the specific superhero that your son adores on a pull-up, you may have to use it, at least at first, to get him excited about learning.
  5. The companies that manufacture pull-ups would like you to believe that they are the only way to get out of diapers.  They are not. You can use cloth training pants, which have a thick crotch area to absorb small accidents.  Some parents have their kids wear 2 pair at a time for extra protection.  They aren’t that bulky.  You can also buy breathable waterproof covers for these pants.  The quality and comfort of these covers has improved over time.  But they do not have a princess on them…
  6. If you go for the cotton pant/waterproof liner combo, you will have to be more vigilant and have kids change out of them more often.  Some kids have more sensitive skin, so make sure you are giving them a little diaper cream as a barrier if you know that your child has had some diaper rash as an infant. As your child stays dry for longer periods, you can even take off the cover for more breathability.
  7. Pull-ups are one-and-done, no way to decrease the level of absorbency and safety.  There is one strategy that “kinda” works for the younger kids:  a pair of underwear and then the pull-up.  They get wet/soiled and kids have a modified experience of an accident without as much mess.  But even this solution limits the real-life experience of really, really having to get to the toilet on time.  This is one reason why children do not want to give up the pull-up.  The older toddlers understand all too well that it is a huge leap from diapers or pull-ups to a thin pair of underwear.  That seems to me to put a lot of pressure on a small child.  I think that this is one reason that toilet training all children has moved later and later.  It has nothing to do with less pressure on them to train or more freedom of children to choose.  They are afraid to fail at something that their parents clearly value.  They want to please us and succeed for themselves.   We should do absolutely everything we can to help them feel good about themselves while learning this important life skill.  Having an accident can be an opportunity to learn and not be judged.
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