"Potty training is two things—it's learning to hold, consolidate and put your pee and poop in a proper place, but it's also breaking a habit, a lifelong habit," says Jamie Glowacki, potty training expert and author of Oh Crap! Potty Training . "If you think about it, some kids are in diapers out of the womb before being fed. It's a lifetime habit that has to be broken."
As a parent who's heading into training waters, you're faced with a plethora of options for various gear promising to make the transition out of diapers a little easier, like potty training pants. What makes for a pair of the best potty training pants? And is there a difference between potty training pants for boys and girls?
Training pants come in two basic forms
While a slew of companies on the market tout potty training pants, they really come down to two varieties—cloth and disposable.
"Disposable potty training pants feel and function the same as diapers. Your little one typically won't feel much of a wet sensation after an accident as they draw moisture away from the skin," says Dr. Eboni Hollier, a Houston-based pediatrician board-certified in developmental, behavioral, and general pediatrics.
Cloth trainers feel like big kid underwear but feature a triple-layer of fabric in the crotch area.
"That triple-layer of fabric absorbs pee so that you're not changing panties every two minutes when a little dribble comes out," says Glowacki.
Which are the best potty training pants for your child?
This is a matter of opinion. Cloth potty training pants appeal to parents because they're more cost-effective than their disposable counterparts and gentler on the environment.
"A benefit of using cloth training pants that are typically made of a natural fiber, like cotton, is that they allow your toddler to feel wetness when he's had an accident," says Dr. Hollier.
Glowacki is a staunch supporter of cloth training pants.
"I'm fully onboard with cloth trainers," she says. "Pull-ups are diapers so it extends potty training for a year. You can't take a child who has two to three years of a habit and then give them the same thing and tell them to do something different."
In defense of the disposable training pant, some parents consider them more convenient.
"They fit the same as underwear and feel the same as diapers when worn because they are made of the same material," explains Dr. Hollier. "The main difference and benefit of disposable potty training pants is that a child can step into them like stepping into a pair of underwear. This may help your little one feel more confident and independent. However, a downside to this is because they essentially work the same as diapers, they don't allow the child to feel wet and uncomfortable after having an accident. This discomfort can be motivating to use the potty and therefore is an important part of potty training."
The right time to introduce training pants
Again, potty training strategies differ, but Glowacki breaks her philosophy down into blocks, beginning with leaving your child bare-bummed around the house at the start, then going commando with soft clothes.
"You don't put on underpants right away," she says. "In my experience that's sort of a fatal flaw because undies are tight around the upper thigh and the waist, just like a diaper. There's muscle memory that happens. It's a layer of fabric that can feel similar to a diaper and the muscle memory is a cue, 'I put this thing on and I can just pee and poop in this.'"
Glowacki introduces cloth training pants or underpants in block four of her training philosophy, encouraging the child to roam around in just panties at home.
"That double layer of fabric seems to mess up the child and it can also be a manipulation if the child can't get their thumb into both pieces of fabric, they can't get their pants down in time," she says.
Glowacki recommends cloth training pants if a child is struggling with dribbling.
"Dribbling is any wetness under the size of a half dollar," she explains. "If the panties are damp but not wet, that means it's dribbling. For most kids there is some dribbling in those first couple of weeks so I highly recommend cloth training pants. Five years ago they were kind of hard to find but now they're everywhere so I'm really happy they made a comeback."
In terms of disposable training pants, Dr. Hollier feels they are best used in the evening.
"Most children potty train between 2 and 3 years of age and most are not able to stay completely dry at night, which is where wearing disposable potty training pants during sleep can help," she says.
Potty Training Pants for Boys v. Girls
Glowacki says there really isn't a difference between potty training pants for boys and girls, the pants are designed the same way. The important part is to find a pair that have the triple-layer of fabric in the crotch. She does note that if you can find a pair featuring your child's favorite animated character, that can entice them to stay dry.
"Character undies tend to do best because there's this integrity about not peeing on Percy or Elsa or whoever is on your pants," she says.