Early Potty Training Key to Success
John K. Rosemond
What's it going to take for American parents to realize that just as it's far easier to house train a 4-month-old puppy than a one-year-old dog, it's far easier to toilet train a 20-month-old child than a 3-year-old?
Fifty-four years ago, according to a study conducted at the time by Harvard University, nearly 90 percent of America's children had been successfully trained before they reached their second birthdays. Today, courtesy of several decades of toilet-babble issuing primarily from pediatrician/author T. Berry Brazelton, parents wrongly think training a child under age two is psychologically harmful, if not impossible.
So, they wait. And they wait. And they wait. They're waiting, they tell me, for their children to show some of Brazelton's "readiness signs," which he snatched out of the thinnest of air to make it appear that his "child-centered" (a euphemism for upside-down) recommendations were based on solid science.
As a consequence of this waiting for the Godot of potties, children become ever more accustomed to and oblivious of letting go in their diapers. When their parents finally make the attempt to entice them to use the potty, all manner of resistance develops, including a problem that was rare fifty-plus years ago but is ubiquitous today: refusing to use the toilet for bowel movements.
Several weeks ago, a mother asked me for advice concerning her 4-year-old who was "absolutely refusing to poop in the potty." The child's resistance had been ongoing for some time and was associated with late training. Mom was obviously ready to pack it in and run away from home, so I went into my top-secret phone booth, changed into my Parentman costume, and gave Mom a set of instructions that have proved helpful to lots of other parents in the same fix:
Stop talking to your son about using the potty. Don't even ask "Do you want to try and poop in the potty today?" or other equally counterproductive questions.
Get rid of the diapers, pull-ups, and all associated things and resolve to never use them again.
Every day, right after your son eats a high fiber breakfast, gate him in the bathroom, naked from the waist down, and tell him his doctor said he has to stay there until he poops in the potty.
Don't stay in the bathroom with him. Don't offer incentives, or even encouragements. After putting him in the bathroom, make yourself scarce. Simply tell your son to call you when he poops or if he needs help.
Respond "coolly" to success, as if it's no big deal. Say no more than "That's good, you can come out now." Do not give a reward or even lots of praise.
Gate him in the bathroom every day until he's having regular bowel movements in the potty.
A week later, Mom wrote, "We have success." When she introduced the plan, the little guy cried and generally acted like he was being traumatized, but Mom stayed the course.
"You will poop in the potty," she told him, and he did; and he has been ever since.
Lesson: The mistake of late training is correctable, and my experience is that, as in this case, the correction usually takes less than a couple of weeks. But the wear and tear in the meantime!
Copyright 2009, John K. Rosemond
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents' questions on his website at www.rosemond.com.