Starting in 1914, the U.S. Department of Labor Children’s Bureau put out a series of publications called Infant Care, which provides us with an interesting history of toilet training philosophies over the years.
The 1914 edition recommend toilet training to begin by the third month “with the utmost gentleness.” The 1929 and 1935 editions recommend a method that use suppositories to put the baby on a strict schedule of bowel movements. In 1938, parents were advised to start bowel training as early as the sixth month.
However, by 1951, fears of psychological ramifications from early training emerged. And parents were advised to wait “between one and a half to two years” to commence training. In 1957, the average age of starting toilet training was still under one year, at eleven months, and 90 percent of children were dry during the day by two years.
Today, toilet training takes place much later. In 2002, the average age that parents recognize their child “showing an interest in using the potty” was about twenty-four months, and daytime dryness was achieved on average at almost three years of age. Nighttime accidents are now considered normal until five or six years of age.
It’s easy to speculate on the reasons for the increasing age of successful toilet training. Is it because children are getting harder to train, or are parents more concerned about the psychological effects of early training? Or, do parents simply have less incentive to toilet train with modern diapers, washing machines and indoor plumbing? Whatever the reason, most books on babies and child care advise parents not to be concerned if their child is not toilet trained until the age of three or even four—its comforting to realize that all normal children, and even most developmentally challenge children, eventually learn to use the toilet.
Some children—usually girls—become potty trained very early, simply by sitting on a baby potty in the bathroom and imitating mommy. Others—most often boys—seem to actively resist training, even though they are obviously aware of the need to eliminate and sufficiently verbal to understand a parent’s explanations.
Pediatrician Linda Woodard believes that a child can and should be trained by thirty months; in her professional experience, children who are trained at an older age have more problems learning to use the toilet.
Numerous books and manuals address the subject of toilet training the modern child. Most agree that it is fruitless to begin training until your child is ready. Signs if readiness includes:
- Your child signals that his diaper is wet or soiled
- Your child seems interested in the potty chair or toilet
- Your child says that he would like to go to the potty
- Your child understands and follows basic instructions
- Your child feels uncomfortable if his diaper is wet or soiled
- Your child stays dry for periods of two hours or longer during the day
- Your child wakes up from naps with a dry diaper
- You child can pull his pants down and then up again
Actual training involves discipline in the true sense of one word—a learning process in which the teacher provides instruction through example, explanation, watchfulness and praise.
Start by allowing your child to be present when you go to the bathroom and make him feel comfortable in the bathroom. Allow him to see urine and bowel movements in the toilet. Let him practice flushing the toilet—he will love doing this! Have your child become familiar with the potty chair by placing it in the normal living and play area. You can also install a potty seat on the toilet and let him sit there if he wants to. Allow your child to observe, touch and become familiar with the potty chair. Tell him that the potty chair is his own chair; he can sit fully clothed on the potty chair, as if it were a regular chair if he wants to.
After your child has become used to the potty chair and sits on it regularly with his clothes on, try having him sit on the potty without wearing pants and a diaper.
The next step is to show your child how the potty chair is used. Place stool from a dirty diaper into the potty chair. Allow him to observe the transfer of the stool from the potty chair into the toilet. Let him flush the toilet and watch the stool disappear down the toilet.
After your child has become comfortable with flushing the toilet and sitting on the potty chair, you may begin teaching him to go to the bathroom. Keep him in loose, easily removable pants—you can tell them “big girl” or “big boy” pants to motivate your child.
Place your child on the potty chair whenever he signals the need to go to the bathroom. Your child’s facial expression may change when he feels the need to urinate or to have a bowel movement. He may stop any activity he is engaged in when he feels the need to go to the bathroom.
Most children have a bowel movement shortly after eating, and they urinate within an hour after having a large drink. So in the early stages of toilet training, parents need to be watchful.
In addition, to watching for signals that your child needs to urinate or to have a bowel movement, place him on the potty at regular intervals.
Stay with your child when he is on the potty chair. Reading or talking to him when he is sitting on the potty may help him to relax. Praise your child when he goes to the bathroom in the potty cghair, but do not express disappointment if he does not urinate or have a bowel movement in the potty. Patience is key! Once your child has learned to use the potty chair, he can begin using an over-the-toilet seat and a stepping stool.
Experts disagree about whether to use disposable training pants. Some thinks that training pants may confuse children and make them think that it is ok to use them like diapers. This may slow the toilet training process. Others think training pants may be helpful steps when you are training your child. Sometimes, training pants are used at nighttime, when it is more difficult for a child to control his bladder.
It is normal for a child to have an occasional accident even after he learns how to use the toilet. Sometimes, children get too involved in activities and forget that they need to use the bathroom. Suggesting regular trips to the bathroom may help prevent some accidents.
If your child does have an accident, stay calm. Do not punish him. Simply change him and continue to encourage him to use the potty chair.
Some children learn to use the toilet with just a few weeks of training; others take as long as three to six months. If your child resists, discontinue training for a while and then take it up again.
What if your child reaches preschool age, has normal communication skills and still resists toilet training? You may need to take your child out of diapers and just hope for the best—usually the embarrassment of wet or soiled pants will quickly convince your child that using the toilet is best. Some parents, in desperation, have used reverse psychology and forbidden their recalcitrant five-year- old to use the toilet! In defiance, the child becomes toilet trained.