Late Potty Training is Correctable

What's it going to take for American parents to realize that just as it's far easier to house-train a 4-month-old puppy than a 1-year-old dog, it's far easier to toilet-train a 20-month-old child than a 3-year-old?

Fifty-four years ago, a study by Harvard University found that nearly 90 percent of America's children had been successfully trained before they reached their second birthdays. Today, after several decades of toilet-babble issuing primarily from pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton, parents wrongly think training a child younger than 2 is psychologically harmful.

So they wait. And wait. They're waiting, they tell me, for their children to show some of Brazelton's "readiness signs."

As a consequence, children become ever more accustomed to — and oblivious of — letting go in their diapers. When their parents finally try to entice them to use the potty, all manner of resistance develops, including refusing to use the toilet for bowel movements.

Several weeks ago, a mother asked me for advice about her 4-year-old, who was "absolutely refusing to poop in the potty." Mom was obviously ready to pack it in and run away from home, so I gave her a set of instructions that have proved helpful to lots of other parents in the same fix:

  • Stop talking to your son about using the potty.

  • Get rid of the diapers, pull-ups and such, and resolve to never use them again.

  • Every day, right after your son eats a high fiber breakfast, get him in the bathroom, naked from the waist down, and tell him his doctor said he has to stay there until he poops in the potty.

  • Don't stay in the bathroom with him. Don't offer incentives, or even encouragements. Simply tell him to call you when he poops or needs help.

  • Respond coolly to success, as if it's no big deal. Say no more than "That's good, you can come out now."

  • Gate him in the bathroom every day until he's having regular bowel movements in the potty.
A week later, Mom wrote, "We have success." When she introduced the plan, the little guy cried and generally acted like he was being traumatized, but Mom stayed the course.

"You will poop in the potty," she told him, and he did; and he has been ever since.

Lesson: The mistake of late training is correctable, and my experience is that the correction usually takes less than a couple of weeks.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents' questions on at www.rosemond.com.

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