Back in the 1980s when my children were young and not yet potty trained at 30 months, my mother-in-law would gently chastise me by saying that her kids were all trained by 18 months. At the time I thought that was pure exaggeration—the result of faulty memory or the desire to inspire me to get the kids trained. Now I know she was telling the absolute truth!
It turns out that before the 1960s children were routinely trained by 18 months—some estimates being as high as 95% of children. Given how distasteful and time-consuming it was to deal with the cloth diapers of the day, such an early age is understandable. Cloth diapers had to be rinsed out in the toilet, laundered in strong detergent and hot water, hung out to dry, folded and stacked—all steps that had to be repeated just a few days later. No wonder moms were eager to get their children out of diapers!
All this changed in the early 1960s with the invention of the disposable diaper. The good news was that their absorbency meant that babies stayed dryer and their ease of use meant that parents’ work was reduced. There was good news for the diaper industry’s bottom line, too, given the rapturous response parents had to this incredible new invention. It shouldn’t be a surprise, therefore, to hear that the industry began promoting the idea of later and later training.
By persuading both parents and pediatricians that later was better and by creating bigger and bigger diapers, the diaper industry has managed to move the average age of completion from younger than 18 months to over age 3—and still climbing! Most recently the industry introduced a size 7 diaper that can accommodate 6-year-old kids! And don’t let the name “pull-ups” fool you. They are simply disposable diapers in the shape of underpants.
The trend toward later and later training would be fine if it was good for children—but it’s not! It’s not good for children or their parents—and it’s definitely not good for the environment.
I’ll explain all this soon. Stay tuned. . . .
Linda Acredolo, Ph.D.
Co-Founder, Baby Signs Program
Professor Emeritus, UC Davis