As parents, it is natural to want to wean your child from diapers as soon as possible. It seems to represent your child’s level of development. The sooner diaper weaning is complete, the better.
But a child’s reality is more complex. The process of weaning itself might have an important influence on his adult life. Hurrying the process can deny him important developmental opportunities.
12 to 18 months: learning control
During this early period of weaning, the child begins to master control of his sphincter. His parents encourage him to use this self-control. But despite self-pleasure at this new ability, he senses an assault on his separateness. While his parents see a heavy diaper as a mess to dispose of, he sees his bodily functions as his only means of productivity. The familiar pleasure he gets from these products is taken away from him as soon as possible. The demand to restrain this production further takes away his sense of efficiency.
18 months to 2 and a half years: using bodily functions
As the infant becomes a toddler, he gains awareness of his power to “produce” or to hold back at will.
Chloe is two years and two months. She now has control over her sphincter and uses this to make her parents proud. By using the toilet, she obeys her parents’ wishes and keeps them happy. However, she is also concerned as to where her products go and is not sure if she will be able to produce more in future. Sometimes, she withholds her products in her body or in her diaper, as she does not want it to be taken from her. At the same time, it irritates her parents. Although this can be distressing to her, it also gives her power to control their mood, and uses it to assert her independence.
Pete’s mother allows him to flush the toilet if he uses it properly. At the age of two and a half, he loves watching his waste disappear. While he sometimes wants to keep his product for himself, having the agency to make it disappear gives him a sense of mastery over it.
Lena is only eighteen months old when her mother weans her off her diapers. Her mother has always replaced her diapers immediately. This seems to Lena that her product is being stolen from her. She gives in to her mother’s wishes so as not to be further punished, and goes to the toilet as if she has been trained. Just like a pet, this does not give her pleasure, but she does it because she fears her mother’s abandonment. Although she is trained early, she learns to be anxious and suspicious.
Two and a half years onwards: concluding the process
From two and a half years onwards, the process of diaper weaning is usually concluded. This indicates a major step in the toddler’s emotional progress. Instead of withholding his products as a demonstration of himself, he masters his self-image by using the toilet like a grownup. For this, his parents reward him with love and pride, and he continues this behavior onwards.
Chloe now (at three years) has perfect control of her bowels. Instead of the fear she used to feel at the disappearance of her waste, she now knows she will produce more. She enjoys the sensations associated with restraining her bowels and the consequent sense of expulsion, as a familiar constant in her life.
Pete is now four years old. He has mastered the process of controlling his waste. He uses it to make his parents proud. It also translates into other areas of his life. He knows how to control the intake of food, choosing to slowly taste foods that he likes before swallowing them.
Diaper weaning should help a child to develop healthy “rituals”. He learns to find a balance between keeping something and giving it up; the difference between immediate gratification and long-term satisfaction. It also gives him a pattern by which to relate to his parents – whether to fight or obey. If the diaper weaning is rushed, the child might not develop these important functions as fully, and it can be a source of insecurity rather than safety.
Diaper weaning also helps develop the ability to negotiate with oneself and with others. It shows him his own power and mastery, and that love and reward might come at a smaller cost.
Thus, the diaper weaning process has a major part to play in a child’s personality (or ego) consolidation. His self-confidence, self-control, self-esteem, and autonomy are all boosted. These characteristics will have a part to play in every area of his life. Love, ambition, and happiness all depend on a healthy self-awareness and worth.
Although diapers may be unpleasant, every parent must remember that weaning is more than just toilet “training”.