Helpful Tips for Older Kids Still in Diapers

Susie McGee
Contributor: Julie Kirk
Girl legs sitting on toilet potty

When is it time to worry about your child's potty training delay and older kids still in diapers? The experts don't always agree, and you certainly know your toddler better than anyone else. However, do you subconsciously make excuses for your big kid's inability to use the potty?

Helpful Tips for Parents With Older Children Still in Diapers

Potty training problems can be frustrating for you and your child. The following tips may help with potty training older kids:

  • Set a timer for 'potty time'. This will help your child learn a 'potty routine'. For example, the timer can be set for once an hour. When the timer goes off, have your child sit on the potty even if he doesn't feel like he has to go. Only have him or her sit for a few minutes at a time. Prolonged potty sitting is not necessary or recommended.
  • About 15 to 30 minutes after eating a meal have your child sit on the potty. Typically, this is the amount of time it takes for your child to have a bowel movement after eating.
  • When your child is interacting with children who are already potty trained, you can point out how they don't wear diapers anymore and your child may be encouraged to follow suit.
  • When potty training, make sure your child wears clothes that are basic and easy. No snaps, belts, zippers or one-piece outfits just in case the 'urge to go' comes up quickly.
  • You may want to try letting your child go without wearing a diaper for part of the day, but make sure it's a day where you have time to keep a close eye on him or her. Of course, be prepared for potential accidents or messes.
  • You can make potty training fun by turning it into a game. You can race your child to the potty. The winner gets to sit on the potty first. (But let him or her win, of course.) For a boy who is learning how to urinate standing up, you can use ice cubes or cereal such as Fruit Loops or Cheerios for target practice with his urine stream.
  • Since your child is older and can communicate, openly discuss diapers and potty training. Is there a fear involved with his or her potty training? Be sure to listen to your child's concerns and make sure he or she is comfortable with the potty training process.
  • High praise is always recommended when potty training even if the potty is empty. Positive reinforcement is the key.
  • It is inevitable that accidents will happen during potty training. If your child has an accident, do not punish, embarrass or tell him or her how disappointed you are, this could lead to setbacks of any progress that has been made.
  • You can try a reward system by making a chart and using stars or stickers for every successful potty visit. After your child accrues 5 stars, for example, he'll receive a small reward.
  • Offer to treat him to his favorite ice cream or fun kids restaurant if he successfully uses the potty.
  • Teach your child how to check if their own diaper is dry. This gives them an active role in the potty training process and if it is dry always reward with positive reinforcement, a hug or high five will do the trick.
  • Let your child pick out some new, fun 'big boy' or 'big girl' underwear that they can wear when they are ready.

Keep in mind, each child is different. What works for one child may not work for another. It can be a trial-and-error process and it is important that you don't ever let potty training becoming a power struggle between you and your child.

Concerns About Older Kids Still Wearing Diapers

Is it time to start worrying? Are older kids still in diapers considered developmentally delayed? Will your kid still be in diapers when he starts kindergarten, or worse when he's 10 or 15?

Big Kids Wearing Diapers Is a Legitimate Concern

While some of these questions may seem ridiculous, they really are legitimate concerns. If you've ever perused the internet on this topic, you might be a bit astounded to read all the entries from parents seeking help for their kids. Depending upon the site you visit, you might just run across these questions, and suddenly your worries may not seem so serious!

  • "What's with this thing with companies making diapers for kids who are 7-8 years old?"
  • "Do parents really put their older kids in diapers for a trip to Disney World?"
  • "What I would like to know is what is the big deal about diapers on older kids? My 10-year-old wears Goodnites day/night--my 15-year-old wears youth diapers day/night, and my kids are not babies. My 15-year-old was wearing Goodnites, but they were leaking too much."

For many of you, the term older kids still in diapers actually refers to toddlers or preschoolers, maybe even kindergarteners. How old is too old?

Toddle in diapers with grandma playing at home

Ask Why Your Older Children Are Wearing Diapers

Before you begin worrying and trying to remedy the fact that your older child wears diapers, you really need to consider his or her motivation. Are you unable to potty train your child because of physical problems, emotional problems, or a combination of the two?

Physical Issues

In regard to physical problems, keep in mind that some kids have smaller or overactive bladders, causing them to have more accidents or to have difficulty staying dry at night. In this case, there are products, such as Goodnites, which are designed to keep your child comfortable and help him avoid an embarrassing situation when away from home.

Emotional Issues

Emotional problems may be a little more difficult to diagnose and handle. Take a look at what is going on in your life and the life of your child. Significant, life-changing events can have a direct bearing on the behavior of your child. While a three-year-old who suddenly reverts back to wearing diapers might be of little concern, a four or five-year-old who suddenly begs for a diaper or begins to mess his pants is more distressing.

  • Has someone close to your child moved, left, or even died recently?
  • Are you and your partner having problems, separated, or divorcing?
  • Have you recently had another baby?
  • Have you moved into a new home?
  • Have you gone back to work?
  • Has your child's daytime caregiver changed?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might have just found your answer. Your child may feel the need to revert back to his younger days simply for emotional comfort. While you don't want this to last forever, the best step you can take is to be loving and patient. Eventually, you may want to discuss this with your pediatrician. He or she may recommend counseling for you and/or your child if the problem persists as your child grows.

Motivation and Positivity Will Pay Off When Potty Training

When it comes to potty training, be consistent about your expectations and keep your child motivated. It is important to be patient and have a positive attitude. However, if there is a chance that your child is having difficulty potty training due to a physical problem, it is best to talk to your pediatrician.

Helpful Tips for Older Kids Still in Diapers