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Mom toilet trains kids with matter-of-fact approach

| Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2008

I've said many, many times that letting a child older than 30 months soil and wet herself several times a day is an insult to the child's intelligence.

Actually, I absolutely know, and historical evidence confirms, that it is easier to train a child at 20 months than it is to wait much past the child's second birthday. (Ask yourself: Is it easier to house-train a 6-month-old puppy or a 1-year-old dog?)

As the age at which toilet-training begins has increased (by almost a year in the past 50 years), so have toilet-training problems. In the mid-1950s, researchers at Harvard determined that almost 90 percent of 24-month-olds in the United States had been trained successfully. That so many of today's 3-year-olds still are in diapers and "pull-ups" can only mean that today's kids aren't half as smart as kids were in my generation (and our parents never claimed we were gifted.). I am cheered, however, to learn that there still are intelligent children in the world, as evidenced by this story:

The mother of a 27-month-old reads a magazine article about "readiness signs" and, noting that her son displays none of them, decides to toilet train him.

Yes, you read that right. She correctly ascertained that the writer of said article simply was engaging in "parenting correctness." Mom promptly announced to her son that they had no more diapers; therefore, he would have to use a potty from then on. They went out together and bought a potty and big-boy underwear.

She writes, "I didn't hover, nor did I ask or remind him to use the potty. I was training him, not me. I was prepared for plenty of accidents, and figured each one would be a lesson in cause and effect. When he wet, I said something like 'Gosh! That looks uncomfortable. Let's get you changed.' I didn't force him to clean up by himself, or scold him. I just responded matter-of-factly. He got stickers to put on the potty and some mild praise each time he was successful, but not a party."

Three days later, the child was accident-free. His mother thought she had been lucky, but has since had the same experience with two subsequent children, none of whom have, she admits, "gifted and talented bladders."

Her third child, a girl, insisted upon using the potty at 18 months. Mom was a bit skeptical, but had another accident-free child within three days.

Several weeks later, the parents decided to have her use the big toilet. Because she couldn't get up on her own, Mom or Dad had to help. Eighteen months later, the child still was demanding assistance, and the parents were still helping.

Enough is enough, they decided. Mom demonstrated how to attach the potty seat to the big toilet and mount it using a stepstool. Mom then told the child that there would be no more help, even if she became hysterical. Mom also informed her daughter that if she wet herself, she would clean the mess up on her own. The little girl recently told her teacher, who had offered to help her go potty, "My mommy says I have to do it all by myself, and I ab-so-lute-ly can."

There is no mystery to this success story. First, the mother began training before her kids got so used to messing themselves that it was no big deal. Second, she conveyed clear expectations and equally clear instructions. Third, she responded to mistakes with a calm, matter-of-fact attitude. Most important, however, she approached toilet-training with no apprehension, as if it were the most natural thing in the world -- which, in fact, it is.

John Rosemond is a family psychologist.

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