"As children grow older, parents must give them greater freedom, including greater freedom to make mistakes. "

Key to Toilet Training Success: Start Early

Q: Our twin girls will be three in a few months. Our pediatrician recommended that we start toilet training at 32 months, which we did. After several months and lots of gnashing of teeth, one of the girls finally got it. The other one, however, seems completely oblivious to our efforts. This has become very frustrating for us and I’m afraid we’re showing some anger at this point. The pediatrician says we should put her back in diapers until she’s three and then start over. What do you think?

A: Courtesy of one individual’s highly faulted research and neo-Freudian theories, the very wrong-headed notion that toilet training should not begin until 32 – 36 months became conventional wisdom in the pediatric community in the 1970s. As a result, toilet training has become the single most difficult parenting hurdle of the preschool years. Contrast the problems today’s parents are experiencing in this area with the fact that in the mid-1950s, Harvard researchers determined that nearly 90 percent of children were not only trained, but accident-free before 24 months of age.

Delayed toilet training—which the individual in question termed child-centered—is associated with resistance, constipation, and intestinal problems, not to mention a high level of parent frustration. For this reason, it borders on scandalous that a significant number of pediatricians continue to recommend this very problematic approach.

Your great-grandmother was able to toilet train an 18-month-old in less than a week because (a) she did not think that toilet training was potentially apocalyptic, that one wrong move on her part would scar her child’s psyche forever, and (b) she made her expectations perfectly clear. Today’s parents tend to approach the process with great trepidation and anxiety, which results in micromanagement, which results in push-back of various sorts on the part of the children in question. In addition (and largely because of their anxieties), today’s parents employ a passive, rather than authoritative, approach. They ask questions like “Do you have to use the potty?” as opposed to making statements like “It’s time for you to use the potty.”

Under no circumstances should you take your pediatrician’s advice and back off. I virtually guarantee that if you do, you will only make more problems for yourself and your daughter down the road. First, put the potty where your daughter spends most of her day. Second, allow her to be naked from the waist down while she’s at home. Third, confine her to one or two rooms of the home (in one of which sits the potty). Fourth, feed her a diet that is high in fiber (e.g. oatmeal) and lots of water (as opposed to sugar-sweetened junk juice). Fifth, set your stove or oven timer to go off every hour or so at which time you tell her that the buzzer means it’s time to sit on the potty. Direct her! Do not ask questions or coax with offers of goodies! Sixth, and perhaps most important, do not hover. Let her “own” the process. Lastly, sue your pediatrician for causing you unnecessary emotional trauma. Just kidding…or not.

When she’s toilet trained at home, which shouldn’t take more than a few weeks, then begin introducing her to public toilets. All of this is spelled out in considerably more detail in Toilet Training Without Tantrums by yours truly. Your local library has it or can obtain it for you.

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