Toilet Teaching
by Dr. Lewis A. Coffin III

The concept of our three or four year olds walking around in diapers was never considered a possibility. Therefore the process needed to start before the children actually reached that age, sometime around 18 months. There were no punishments, only praise and the calm certainty of success provided to each child. Using the potty was just one more privilege of growing up... not unlike moving to a booster chair at the table, having your own eating utensils, moving to a big bed, or choosing your outfit for the day. This expectation was reinforced naturally by the example of the older children. They were only too happy to demonstrate their potty prowess to the uninitiated.
       The current attitude towards toilet training seems to have sprung up in the 60's. We mustn't warp children's psyches by pressuring them to be potty trained until they somehow feel 'ready' to perform on the toilet. This attitude seems to be pervasive, in that so many children now also go to bed when they are 'ready', eat only what they prefer, and watch television as long as they feel like it. Consequently, we have three, four and sometimes five year olds dictating their own lifestyles while still wearing diapers or pull-ups. Wonder what disposable diaper company is behind this phenomenon?
       Latest studies advise that there is a "window of opportunity" in potty training. This "window" opens at about 18 months and pretty much closes by the age of 30 months. Beyond 30 months, the process often becomes a battle of wills, fraught with anger and frustration on both sides. A child of almost three is far more aware of, and sensitive to parental censure and feelings of failure, than is the 18 month old toddler. The older children are adept in exercising their ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder...aka the Terrible Twos), and have been known to resort to stool-holding in order to maintain control of the situation.
      Psychiatrists have long maintained that young children, when they first witness the flushing down the toilet of their "big job" can take this quite personally, considering this to be the loss of something that was a part of themselves. This "tragic" loss can be avoided by using the potty chair early on in the training, and having the child help empty the potty contents into the toilet, then letting the child activate the flushing mechanism. This approach seems to alleviate their feelings of personal loss.
       Other teaching aids that can certainly help the toddler accept the toilet as the more logical repository for the usual diaper deposits are the wonders of parental and peer examples. The little boy who witnesses his daddy's a.m. tinkle in the toilet is apt to want to imitate this uniquely male technique. The little girl who observes the different underwear colors and styles worn by Mommy will be more likely to eliminate (no pun intended) everything but the rare accident that would sully her choices. As far as pull-ups are concerned, I advise against them. It seems to be a way of saying it is alright to "go" in your pants, which defeats the purpose of having a potty chair. Failures should be consistently met with absolutely no censure, but rather with words of sorrowful resignation and expressions of hope for "next time." May the force be with you!

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