Potty training can be a scary transition: not only for your child who has been used to going in their diaper their whole life, but for you too!
It is the true test of parent patience to teach the new skill of potty training and deal with messy failures over and over again.
Throw in all this new terminology, like “training pants,” “pull-ups,” and “toddler underwear,” and you might be about ready to “pull-OUT” your own hair!
Let’s start by breaking down the difference between training pants and regular toddler underwear.
The main difference between training pants and underwear is the absorbance factor. Training pants have many extra layers of fabric to absorb messes, while underwear is two layers of cloth — mildly absorbent for the occasional dribble, but not designed for frequent accidents.
Training pants come before regular underwear in potty training, though some parents opt not to use them at all, going straight from pull-ups to underwear.
Let’s dive in and find out more.
Training Pants Explained
Training pants can be cloth or disposable, but for clarity’s sake, we will be discussing cloth training pants in this article.
Disposable training pants are essentially the same thing as pull-ups.
(Click the link to read about the differences between pull-ups vs training pants.)
Training pants are a happy medium between regular cloth underwear and cloth diapers.
Cloth training pants are made of multiple layers of absorbent cotton material to soak up any pee when your child didn’t quite make it to the bathroom in time.
Some brands also have a water-resistant outside layer, further keeping moisture in the pants instead of leaking out.
They are made specifically for potty training, hence the word “training” in the name, and are a great stepping stone from pull ups to underwear.
Training pants allow your toddler the experiences, good and bad, of real underwear without having soaked pants every time he or she has an accident.
The bad: training pants let your child feel the unpleasant sensation of having soiled underwear, which some would argue is a great deterrent from having another accident.
They’re absorbent to a degree, but don’t hold nearly as much pee as a diaper.
When your child has an accident in a regular diaper or pull-up, they’re not going to feel that uncomfortable.
The good: They get to feel like a big kid with (almost) real underwear. Let your child have fun by picking out a favorite cartoon or movie-themed character to sport on their new training pants.
For some kids, this is an excellent motivator for them to use the potty. You could try enticing them with a new pair every week they go accident-free (or nearly accident-free, it’s up to you)!
You can put training pants on your toddler when you are around the house or when you are out and about.
Just don’t put them on at night if your toddler isn’t night potty trained yet.
(Regular diapers or even pull-ups are good for nighttime potty training. Read more about diapers vs training pants here.)
Pros & Cons of Training Pants for Potty Training
- They are a step up from the diaper world: They are a good transition from diapers or pull ups to regular underwear.
- They can be used as incentives for success: Colorful and cartoon-themed training pants can be incentivizing for more successful potty training.
- They still have the negative effect of having an accident in underwear: Your child still experiences the bad sensation of wet underwear without a huge mess for you (because of some absorbency).
- They encourage independence: Training pants encourage independence because your child will likely be able to pull them up and down themselves, unlike regular diapers that need a parent’s help
- They aren’t totally absorbent: If your kid gets the hang of potty training but still has some minor accidents, all you will need to do is throw the training pants in the washing machine when an accident happens. However, these training pants can only hold so much mess, and definitely cannot be substituted for diapers.
Toddler Underwear Explained
Underwear is the final stage of potty training.
Though your little one will likely still have accidents, there’s a sense of accomplishment when your toddler dons underwear that you’re close to the end of the tunnel of diaper days.
Toddler underwear is just a smaller version of adult underwear, although often it has just a small amount of absorbency for the occasional dribble.
For girls it’s one piece of fabric with elastic around the legs and waist with another layer of fabric in the crotch area.
For boys, it’s brief-style underwear with another layer of fabric on the front.
There’s a hole this area called a “fly,” but most men don’t use this feature to use the bathroom, and it’s probably much easier for your little boy to pull his underwear down instead.
The best kind of underwear for potty-training toddlers has fun patterns that they like on it.
There’s tons of options out there, just like training pants.
Examples include dinosaurs, Paw Patrol, diggers, pandas, princesses, and polka dots. Whatever your child gets the most excited about is what you should get them.
Toddler underwear should also fit well.
You want it loose enough to allow them to pull their underwear up and down themselves, and also not too loose or tight to be uncomfortable feeling.
So, When is the Best Time to Bring Out the Big-Kid Underwear?
First, you need to make sure that you are ready for underwear for your child.
Just because you’re putting underwear on your child doesn’t mean they are done with accidents for good.
You need first to ask yourself if you have the time and patience to clean up accidents that happen in underwear. If you feel ready for that, then go for it!
It’s also a great time to put underwear on your toddler when they can either use the bathroom by themselves, or they tell you almost every time when they need to go.
They are also ready for underwear if cleaning up small accidents doesn’t upset them too much.
If your toddler gets too worked up over small accidents, they may not be ready for underwear yet.
Finally, you may want to bring out the underwear if your child needs a little more motivation to get out of diapers by enticing them with new, cool-looking underwear designs.
Pros and Cons of Regular Underwear During Potty Training
- Underwear is perfect for the last stage of potty training: It’s most useful when it’s the most convenient: when your child has fewer accidents, can tell you when they need to go potty, or just go by themselves.
- It fosters total independence: By now, your child can pull their pants and underwear all the way up and down. Underwear is great for this.
- Fun designs give a feeling of excitement and pride: Toddler underwear has arguably the most variety in designs that interest your child.
- Underwear has next to zero absorbance: You have to evaluate whether you and your child are ready for underwear, either because your child has few accidents or is not bothered by them, and you deem yourself patient enough to deal with cleaning up.
- Starting underwear before your child is ready could be discouraging: You know your child and their potty-training readiness the best. Accidents all day, every day could be frustrating for you and discouraging for your child, and could result in regression.
Hopefully by now you feel less baffled when thinking about the differences between training pants vs. underwear.
In case you missed it, the main difference is that training pants have more absorbance than underwear and can handle small accidents — underwear can only soak up a bit of dribble.
Also, training pants typically come before underwear in the stages of potty training.
Some parents skip cloth training pants altogether. It’s all up to you and what you feel is best for your child’s potty training situation.
Before you go, check out:
- The difference between diapers and pull-ups
- The difference between bibs and burp cloths
- The different types of diapers
Hope this helps!