Pull-Ups and Plug-Ins

by Tina Blue
August 27, 2004

It was about 2:00 on a Saturday afternoon in June of 1999 when I dropped by for a surprise visit to two of my daycare kids at their family home.  I was out doing errands, and since I was in the neighborhood I thought I would just pop in to say hi.  These kids were among my all-time favorites.  Each of them had come to my daycare at the age of 2 months, and they were adorable. 

At the time of this particular visit, Diane* was 4 and Danny* was 10.

I was flabbergasted when Diane came running to greet me--wearing pull-ups and sucking on a pacifier!

I had toilet trained this little girl when she was two years old, and I had also taken the pacifier from her at about the same time.  What on earth was she doing with pull-ups and a pacifier at such an advanced age--and in the middle of the day, no less?

Yes, I had been troubled that she had begun having "accidents" during daycare hours.  In fact, for several months she had been going in her pants about as often as she made it to the potty.  And, yes, she had also begun begging for a pacifier several months earlier, despite having been broken of that habit at age 2.  I was planning to talk to their mother, to ask if Diane was having problems at home that I didn't know about.  Stress often causes such regressions to infantile behavior. 

But as it turned out, there were no special stressors involved. Just parental laziness.

As I stepped into the house, Danny said, "Uh-oh."

He knew perfectly well that I wasn't going to approve. In fact, I learned later that he had been warned by his mother not to say anything to me about his little sister's pull-ups and pacifiers. Mom knew as well as Danny did that I was not going to be pleased.

Now, it is true that I was just the daycare provider, not the children's mother.  But having cared for these kids at least 11 hours a day, 5 days a week since they were 2 months old, and sometimes in the evenings and on weekends as well, I was very much a part of their life.  Besides, like most of the mothers I sat for, Janice treated me more like the children's grandmother than like their sitter.  She frequently turned to me for advice about matters of health and child-rearing.

That's why Janice looked so sheepish when she came into the living room.  She knew she was in for a talking to.

This is what I learned.  The previous December, the family had driven to Ohio to visit Janice's mother for Christmas. Janice and her husband had decided it was easier to put Diane in pull-ups for the long days on the road than it would be to make the numerous stops a 3½-year-old girl's limited bladder capacity would require, especially because like most of today's parents they tended to keep their kids quiet by plying them with endless cups of juice and soda. 

I also learned that they had been giving her a pacifier for well over a year.  At first they were giving it to her only when she woke up at night, but soon they were giving it to her when they put her to bed, and then pretty much all the time, day or night.  Anything to keep her quiet and prevent her from demanding attention.

See what I mean by parental laziness?

Actually, I do sympathize with exhausted parents and their desire for a little peace and quiet at home.  But let's face it, if you are spending most of your small child's waking hours away from her, then you really do need to be paying attention to her during the few hours a week when you are actually together at home.

     It is certainly easier to keep her in pull-ups than to remind her to go potty before you leave the house or if you see her so engrossed in an activity that she has forgotten to pay attention to her body's signals. But once a kid is potty-trained, putting her back in pull-ups during the day simply makes it too easy for her to decide that going potty is more trouble than it's worth.  It interrupts favorite activities, and it really is a big responsibility for a very young child.  Given a chance, a lot of kids would willingly slip back into the carefree condition of having their parents or babysitters take full responsibility for keeping their tushies clean.

Furthermore, the technology involved in modern diapers and pull-ups is truly remarkable. They really do keep baby's bottom as dry as the advertisements claim. Old-fashioned cloth diapers are very uncomfortable for a baby when they are wet or soiled, but a modern disposable diaper draws the wetness away from the baby's bottom, so that many kids don't find it all that uncomfortable when their diapers are nasty.  Without that discomfort, they have even less incentive to graduate to the potty.

Not only does this make it harder to train them in the first place, it also makes it even more likely that they will completely regress if we start letting them wear daytime pull-ups after they have been trained.

As for the pacifier--don't get me started.  I am not a fan of pacifiers.  I won't fight a parent who has already decided to use one, but I certainly never would start an infant on a pacifier, and if I can forestall a mother before she sticks one in her baby's mouth for the first time, I will.  I would much rather see a child suck her thumb than depend on a pacifier.  Pacifiers get lost and fall out of the kid's mouth onto the floor. And since infants tend to get hooked on one specific type of pacifier, if that type becomes unavailable, they are inconsolable.

I have seen too many children who were devastated when they had to surrender their binkies, and too many parents who could not stick to it when they decided to break the habit. I don't have a problem with thumb-sucking, as long as it doesn't continue during daytime when kids start school--mainly because they will be teased by other kids if they suck their thumb in school.  But I really do not like pacifiers at all.

Four different children that I know continued to suck pacifiers so far past any appropriate age that doctors and dentists had to warn their parents to get rid of the things because they were interfering with speech development and dental well-being. In fact, Diane's parents were finally persuaded to get rid of the pacifier only when a dentist told Janice that Diane's teeth and jaw structure were being deformed by it.

Once a child is potty trained, she should not be stuck back into daytime pull-ups for the sake of parental convenience (though she should, of course, be given pull-ups to sleep in if she can't make it through the night dry). A child should not be rushed into premature toilet-training, but once trained, she certainly should not be encouraged to lose that precious new skill.

And by the age of two, she really needs to lose the pacifier. 

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