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How to Transition a Toddler From Diapers to Underwear

by Candace Webb, studioD

According to child clinical psychologist and professor of pediatric psychology at University of Kansas Edward Christophersen, underpants are used because a diaper is too difficult for a toddler to remove when he or she uses the toilet. Christophersen also advises parents to transition to underpants when the toddler shows signs of readiness, including grunting, straining or using words to indicate the urge to relieve himself or herself.


Your child needs to be ready to transition to underpants if he is going to be successful. Clues of readiness include understanding verbal directions, a dislike of being in soiled diapers and the ability to to remain dry for at least two hours at a time. He should also be able to pull his pants up and down.

Potty Chair

An introduction to the potty chair sets the stage for what will be expected. Sitting on it several times a day while fully clothed is a beginning step. Praising this effort and offering hugs or stickers provides a positive association with the seat. Let him control when he gets off the chair each time to build his confidence in his ability to control his toilet activities.

Diapers First

According to the Mayo Clinic, your toddler should remain in diapers during the initial weeks of toilet training. This allows him to begin grasping the concept of toilet use. Encourage him to relieve himself in the potty chair by removing his diaper during his toilet sitting time. As events progress, move to pull-up diapers, which absorb accidents and can be pulled up and down by your child.

Underpants Appear

Wearing "big boy" underpants is an exciting transition for most children and typically occurs several weeks after the training officially begins.According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the underpants should be worn at all times outside of nap and nighttime, when diapers may be used. Concentrate on waking hours success before attempting sleep time success.


Buying your toddler underpants with his favorite superhero or an exciting cartoon character on them encourages him to remain dry so he can wear them. Let him help choose what underwear he gets at the store and share in his excitement that he is a big boy and now no longer needs diapers.

When Issues Arise

It will take time for your toddler to understand the difference between a diaper and underpants. Praising success and requesting help with cleaning up accidents will lead the way to dry underpants and no more diapers. Accidents are going to happen. It is part of the process. Most toddlers are able to complete the transition from diaper to underpants without looking back.

About the Author

Candace Webb has been writing professionally since 1989. She has worked as a full-time journalist as well as contributed to metropolitan newspapers including the "Tennessean." She has also worked on staff as an associate editor at the "Nashville Parent" magazine. Webb holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism with a minor in business from San Jose State University.

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