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The Best Way to Time the Pull-Ups to Underwear Switch

Updated: Dec 30, 2023

Inside: When should you switch from pull-ups to toddler underwear in potty training?

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Timing family dinner means getting food on the table before the kids turn into hangry loons. Running more than a half hour late? Then I can get caught up doing more peacemaking than cooking in the dinner hour.  

Ever watch an overtired child go to bed 30 minutes late?

Suddenly the behavior swings to looking anything but tired..

Bathtubs turn into battle zones to get the kids in or out, shampooed or rinsed.

When pajamas finally slip over sleepy heads, the kids’ wired energy spills into the bedroom.

They feel ready for a disco party rather than bedtime books.

I quickly learned that you can see wildly different behavior when your timing is off with toddlers.

The same holds true with potty training — and the toddler underwear. How quickly do you add in the underwear?

How you time it can mean the difference between potty training wins or seeing a mess of accidents.

Wildly different outcomes.

When should you switch from the pull-ups to toddler underwear? And is it as simple as one day your child is in pull-ups and the next day they're in underwear? Here's what you want to know..

The best way to time the pull-ups to underwear switch

If you've read Oh Crap Potty Training, then you know that potty training, your child learning the process for how to pee and poop in the potty, is not as simple as pull-ups one day and underwear the next.

There is a method to switching from pull-ups to toddler underwear.

It's laid out well in Oh Crap Potty Training, and I'll share a peek here. Let's start with what you should absolutely NOT do when you start potty training..

You're all set to ditch those pull-ups.

You're excited about that cute character underwear. You're thinking the undies surely will be enough to inspire your toddler to use the potty. Wait!

What you don't want to do is put aside the pull-ups and then start your child in underwear the next day. Why is this such a big mistake in making the switch from pull-ups to toddler underwear?

Because there's this tricky thing called muscle memory.

Your child has been in a diaper since birth. Since day one, your little babe has been diapered in disposable or cloth diapers and peeing and pooping in that snug feeling of a diaper.

That's all your child has known.

So now, you feel ready to start potty training. But your child has spent 2 or 3 years now with the pattern of peeing and pooping in that snug-feeling diaper.

Do you know what also feels like a snug-feeling diaper?


So here's the pattern I see as a potty training consultant. If you switch over from pull-ups to toddler underwear right away, what often happens is a slew of accidents.

Sometimes it's just pee, pee, and more peeing right through the pants.

Sometimes it's a whole lot of dribbles.

Sometimes it's the poop.

So parents start seeing all these accidents after adding in underwear right away, and here's what they assume..

They timed it wrong. Their child is clueless and not *getting it*.

But really, it's often that muscle memory sensation.

To the child, the snug feeling of the underwear is similar enough to a diaper that it's almost an automatic response. Especially with poop, that layer of fabric with underwear provides the snugness and privacy that it can easily trigger a poop in the pants.

So what's the magic time frame?

As Jamie notes in Oh Crap Potty Training, you need to stack up success with your toddler to build a solid foundation for potty training. To put it simply, moving from bottomless to pants commando is the key.

By waiting on the underwear, and keeping your child in commando for a few weeks, you remove that muscle memory.

It's a key part to not seeing random accidents once you're through the first week of potty training.

It's a key part to saving you from having lots more laundry to do in that first month.

Timing is everything!

Related: I talk through timing the underwear, getting back out in the world with your potty training toddler, and how to find that solid success in the early days of potty training in my e-course Potty Training Solutions!

Then when you do introduce underwear to your toddler, your child will already have using the potty down solidly. It will be a real confidence boost that now you can bring in these adorable undies.

Here you go, you did it! (is the message you're sending your toddler, a positive message.)

The best way to switch from pull-ups to toddler underwear

When it is time for you to make the switch from pull-ups to underwear, here's a peek at my favorite toddler underwear. I recommend starting out with what's called potty training pants or cloth training pants (which are also helpful for night training.)

But remember with those undies...give it a little time and you'll be golden.

Related: I love this children's book all about undies (the illustrations are adorable!). The funny monster shops for the perfect pair of underwear.

Illustrations: Citrus and Mint Designs

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