Dear Sentimentalist

Dear Sentimentalist,

From a very early age, our daughter, who is now 4, took very well to potty training during the day. Since that time, however, our parenting skills seem to be on the decline, as we have created a mutual dependence on the “pull-up”. And yes, although the pull-up is easy and reliable for us as parents, our daughter is showing more and more interest in ditching it. My initial thought was to try a plastic sheet, and my wife has considered middle of the night wake-up calls to take our daughter to the potty. What can you recommend?


“Reluctantly Ready to Ditch the Pull-Up”

Dear “Reluctantly Ready”,

In all things potty training I say “follow the kids lead”. If Little Miss seems to be ready to ditch the nappy, then help her do it. Now that might mean a few extra long nights for you and her mother, but I think all parties concerned will see it is well worth it when you are no longer dealing with soggy pull-ups in the morning. I never mind changing baby diapers, but there is definitely something kind of icky about a diaper that it is saturated with child-pee. In order to make the leap you will need a waterproof bed cover, extra pajamas, a little patience, large amounts of caffeine (for the parents), and a big dose of positive reinforcement.

(Yay for no pull-ups!)


Here is how I would start. The dialogue begins on a Thursday morning. We started on a Thursday because you can usually get away with being sluggish on Friday at work. Then you have the weekend to recover. Fingers crossed you are ALL sleeping through the night by Sunday.

Begin by telling your daughter she is going diaper-free from now on. When you tell her, make it sound fun. Fun means do a little dance, tell her how grown-up you felt when you no longer wore a diaper at night, and then make sure to say it will really differentiate her from her younger brother who still wears a diaper. Don’t say it in a teasing way, but more in a “You do it first and then next year as the big sister you can help your brother ditch his diaper too!” sort of way.  Then as the day goes on I would slow down the consumption of liquids. Regular amount of fluids with breakfast and lunch, and then maybe just a small glass of milk with dinner. If she begs for water at bedtime I would make it a smaller serving than usual, 1/4 of a glass or 1/4 of a sippy cup.

At bedtime do the usual ritual: books, teeth brushing, snuggling, etc. Then right before you turn the lights out make one more trip to the bathroom. Even if she says she doesn’t need to go, take her to the potty and have her sit there. With my girls, nine times out of ten they will end up going once they are on the potty. Then it is off to bed. Even if mom and dad are not tired, I would recommend heading to bed a little earlier than usual, assuming you will be woken by a cold confused child who wet the bed and forgot she got rid of the pull-up. If you have trouble going to bed early I recommend a large glass of red wine for mom and whiskey on the rocks to induce tiredness for dad.

(This ought to do the trick.)


If and when the wake-up happens your daughter might scream for you, or cry. She’ll definitely be dazed and confused. Remember, they are used to the pull-up. She will most likely call you because very few children or adults can stay asleep once they are lying in a pool of their own urine. (Some of you at this point might have a little chuckle about “that” guy in college who wet his bed regularly and it definitely didn’t wake him. That guy is not normal.)

(This will protect the mattress and save time.)

The waterproof mattress protector means much less work during the night. Best bet is to have a second set of sheets and clean jammies out and ready to go before bedtime. Then when the accident happens you can throw the dirty sheets on the ground, give the mattress protector a quick wipe, change pjs, and all be back asleep 20 minutes later. You may be changing sheets a few nights in a row, so this is where the caffeine comes in.

(Sleep deprivation’s best friend.)

For us, the accidents happened twice a week for about 2 weeks before she really got it. About six months in it happened one other time, but that was really our fault for not telling a young sitter to put her on the potty before bed.

Keep in mind – Rome was not built in a day. Some kids just take a little longer to kick the habit. If she keeps wetting the bed night after night I would just casually put the pull up back into the game and try again in a few months. Like most other things that we learn – talking, walking, reading and writing – this task also will be mastered. Very few people head off to college wearing pull-ups. Good luck and write us if you have more questions along the way. If you send them in the middle of the night, when you are up changing sheets, we will get back to you first thing in the morning.

With Love,
The Sentimentalist

ps One other option is to carry your daughter to the bathroom at 11pm and gently encourage her to pee even if she is half asleep. This didn’t work for us because our child is pretty stubborn and doesn’t listen to us, even when she is asleep. I jest. It works for some kids, but beware – you run the risk of waking your child. Children who wake and won’t go back to sleep is another topic for another time.

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