Dr. Lewis A.
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
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
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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