Atlanta-- Recently, Susan and Glenn Flugman made an exciting discovery about McDonald's "Chicken McNuggets" and their son Travis, 4, who still isn't toilet trained.
"We realized whenever he ate them he was guaranteed to go," says Mrs. Flugman, 39. "So we bought some McNuggets and fries, raced home, put him on the potty, and waited."
Forty-five minutes elapsed while the Flugmans anxiously watched Travis dine.
"It was a McNugget, a french fry, a McNugget, a french fry. All he did was eat," says Mrs. Flugman. "But at least now we can say we've tried everything."
Everything? Probably not. Never before in thehistory of humankind have parents had such an array of toilet-training aids help potty train children.
Indeed, what once was accomplished with a small pot and plenty of parental patience has blossomed into a multimillion-dollar market encompassing toys, books, dolls, games, videos and clothing, not to mention bathroom tissue. Even that small pot has gone high-tech. Today's potties are portable, inflatable, collapsible, cushioned -- and some even play music.
Still, even in the '90s, potty training is pretty basic: a child, a parent, a potty.
So why does it make parents want to tear their hair out? Or drop off their children at day-care centers and say, "You do it"?
"Because you can lead a child to the toilet, but you can't make him go," says a wry Steven Jaffe, an Emory University child and adolescent psychiatrist and the father of one.
Debbi Adelman, 42, a mother of three who has finally made it to the last stage -- "Now all I do is wipe" -- of potty-training 4-year-old daughter Samantha, couldn't agree more.
Syas Mrs. Adelman, "I used to think, 'Oh, my God! How does a mother allow a child to wear diapers at 4?' Then I had a child like that."
"It does get frustrating," laments Jeannette Beck, 31, who, along with husband Iggy DeBlasi are on their third attempt at toilet-training their 3-year-old twins, Rose and Elizabeth.
Ms. Beck and her husband are among the many parents who must also deal with the one-step-forward, two-steps-back nature the toilet-training experience.
In other words, a "dry" child today doesn't necessarily mean a "dry" child tomorrow.
Not surprisingly, pressure from relatives (Mrs. Adelman's mother hinted, "Shouldn't you get her out of diapers?"), society ("Going out to restaurants or other places is easier with a potty-trained child," says Melinda Polites, currently toilet-training son Peter, 3), and hectic lifestyles turn normally calm parents into anxious but determined potty-trainers.
Armed with such toilet-training aids as "Batman" underpants, "Tinkle Time Targets," "Once Upon a Potty" books, "Magic Potty Baby" and other potty training dolls, "Kids Prints" bathroom tissue, and "Potti Perfect Pet" and other colorful sticker reward systems, parents gently break the news to toddlers that there's life after Pampers.
And while pottying is pottying, there actually is something new in toilet training beyond these fancy gizmos.
"Fifteen or 20 years ago, toilet training was viewed as: Would the child submit to the will of the parent?" says Dr. Jaffe. "But we've gotten away from the idea that this must be done at 1 1/2 . Now we view toilet training as a process rather than a deadline."
Ted Ayllon, a child and adolescent psychologist, adds, "The idea is to provide the child with an opportunity to triumph. So a parent can say, 'See, you can control your body by moving your leg, by jumping. And here's another interesting way.' "
So when is the right time to toilet-train?
Most pediatricians say that for girls, it's between 2 and 2 1/2 , and for boys, between 2 1/2 and 3. But doctors and parents both agree there really is no "right" time.
"Forget whatever you read in books. Each kid is different," says Mrs. Adelman. "My daughter Melissa, now 16, was 27 months old when I asked her, 'Do you want to wear panties like Mommy?' 'Yes,' she said. So I put a pair of panties on her and explained, 'When you have to go, tell me.' And that was that. My second daughter, Jaime, now 14, took one solid month to toilet train. And Samantha, well, I'm still wiping."
Atlanta pediatrician Victor Polizos advises, "Parents always need be patient. And you can't lose with that old adage that children will do it when they're emotionally and physically ready."
Parents must be ready, too.
Early in 1992, when Jeanie Wilson first attempted to toilet-train daughter Katie, now 2 1/2 , the experience wasn't a success. "It was too early. I was too busy," says Ms. Wilson. "But last summer both of us became simultaneously ready and it happened."
Pediatrician Jackie Gotlieb believes a child basically learns toilet training in four stages. She explains: "The first stage is letting you know afterward, either verbally or nonverbally. The second stage is holding it in. The third stage is being able to release it when you're told to, and stage four is the complete understanding that you stay dry, you stay clean, and you use the toilet to stay dry."
Some children, like Mrs. Adelman's Melissa, actually can learn all four stages in one day. Other children take a good deal longer. Wise parents don't compare.
"In the past, having a child potty-trained . . . implied good parenting if your child could do it early. . . . It indicated how smart your child was, a myth," says Dr. Gotlieb. "What it really measured was whether the parent put the child on the toilet frequently enough so that the child stayed dry in between. And this involved much more parent training than child training."
Savvy parents know when their children have trained them.
But if nothing is working, day-care centers are the last resort.
"Parents bring their kids in all the time," says Nicki Aronson, owner of a day-care center. "They'll say, 'It's time for him to be toilet trained. We don't know the first thing about it, but we wanted him to be where you'll know what to do.'
"Parents try to do their best, but sometimes don't have the skills or time it takes to accomplish the training effectively," she adds.
But whether they do it themselves or take their children to experts, parents all agree on one thing about toilet training.
"Afterward, it's blessed amnesia," says Stan Hibbs, a child and adolescent psychologist. "When it's over, it's like, 'That wasn't so bad after all.' "
When all else fails . . .toilet training aids
* "Once Upon a Potty" by Alona Frankel (Barron's Educational Series, $5.50).
* "Potty Training Your Baby" by Katie Van Pelt (Avery Publishing Group, $6.95).
* "Toilet Training in Less Than a Day" by Nathan H. Azrin (Pocket Books, $4.50).
* "Toilet Training: Vicki Lansky's Practical Parenting" by Vicki Lansky (Bantam Books, $3.95).
* "Your New Potty" by Joanna Cole (William Morrow and Co., $4.95).
* "Sam's Potty" by Barbro Lindgren (Morrow Junior Books, $6.95).
* Tinkle Time Targets for boys by Little White House Enterprises, $4.95.
* Kids Prints bathroom tissue from Angel Soft. At most supermarkets; prices vary.
* Magic Potty Baby by TYCO Industries Inc. A doll with her own flushable toilet. At most toy stores, suggested retail $25.
* Potti Perfect Pet. A 20-week animal-shaped training chart (pig, dinosaur, elephant or hippo), plus 72 "happy stickers." By PPP Enterprises; under $10. Call (800) 395-9969.