Michael & Marian Carrying Nelle & Charlotte     Toilet Training Wars
               Commentary by Michael Kauper

   Ideally, toilet training children should not be a struggle. However, life is seldom perfect. Here are some ideas which might help make life easier during the toilet learning process.

   First, however I want to comment on another type of "Toilet Training Wars". I am referring to the Toilet Training Wars between adult experts competing to give advice to parents! The casualties may be the children. Professor T. Barry Brazelton of Harvard has accepted a mountain of grant money from the makers of Pampers in an apparent exchange for his endorsement of their new giant diaper. The diaper is designed for kids who delay toilet learning until age 4 or 5.

   In TV commercials for the giant diaper, Brazelton gives advice on when to toilet train your child. Professor Brazelton declares "It must be his decision!"   I feel that this advice is misleading and generally harmful to the child.

    As the adult and caregiver, you are responsible for toilet training decisions. Try as you might, you cannot give this responsibility to your child. It's not fair, it's not honest, and it doesn't work.

   The age at which children are toilet trained is increasing dramatically. Arguments rage across the media, vying for the public's attention. In my opinion most academic and professional experts are giving parents bad advice, particularly with the idea of allowing children to delay toilet training indefinitely.

The Good News

The scary warnings by experts from Freud to Brazelton are hugely exaggerated.

   After helping well over 100 children all the way through toilet learning, I have found that potty training children is relatively  easy and safe. The scary warnings by experts from Freud to Brazelton are hugely exaggerated.

   The greater challenge for me, as a child care provider, is helping the parents, not the kids. Today's over-indulged child is in more danger from delayed training than from too early training.

   Timely toilet training, at around age two, is not only more pleasant for the adults, it is also nicer and safer for the children. The terrible warnings about scarring your child's psyche are generally misguided.  Here's why.

Back to Basics

   A fundamental tenet of child psychology is that all children want to be loved and lovable. They need our love (hugs & kisses, touching, kind words, attention, physical support), and they also need our respect and admiration. Children need and want to feel lovable.

   We give respect to our children by saying to them "You can do it! I have faith in you." The child learns to say to herself, "I can do it. My parents believe in me."

   We give respect to our children by insisting at the developmentally appropriate stage that the child begin to learn cooperation, courtesy, helpfulness, responsibility, and courage.

   Giving our children love is completely different from teaching them to be loveable.

   Our love of the child is unconditional. We love them all the time no matter what they do, especially when they are very young. Learning to feel loveable, on the other hand, is highly conditional and depends on the child's attitude, behavior, and self-image. 

    To put this more bluntly, while nearly every child is loved, not all children feel lovable. No child can feel good about themselves all the time. Children come into the world loved;  they learn to feel lovable as they grow and develop. Our children must feel and experience their own competence and goodness to feel lovable.

Who's Kidding Who?

   Telling a two year old that toilet training is "his choice" is seriously dishonest. All healthy children will be required to use the toilet. Allowing your child to avoid this age appropriate responsibility reduces her chances to feel loveable, to feel good and competent.

   She can and should practice self-care at a pace that reflects her real growing capabilities. She needs to practice feeding herself, picking up her toys, listening to instructions, and sitting on the potty, all in accordance with her developmental achievements. These requirements are not subject to the child's preferences. 

   Children will often protest against something that they actually want. The teen may object to a curfew, and secretly be grateful to be protected. The student may dislike homework, but strongly approve of adults who require her to learn.

   Toddlers may protest their first few potty practice sessions. The best assurance you can give a child is your clear insistence that she participate nicely, and that she give it a try. Even if she fusses and cries the first few times, I recommend that you persist in brief, frequent potty practice sessions. If she does not want to at first, I practice more often with her, not less often.

Worst Case

   Children know when they are out of line. They are aware of being hurtful, obnoxious, demanding, rude, whiney, disrespectful; even if they don't always know how to stop. (They also know all about cute and charming!)  Being immature, they will think that if they can get away with hurtful bahaviors, then it is right  to do so, that the adults somehow approve. (Otherwise the grown-up would make you stop, right?)

   The resistant or combative toddler, insisting on "going" in her diapers, knows that other kids use the potty; and that her parents use the toilet. She knows she is doing something wrong. Even though she is getting what she asks for (insists on), she may not be getting what she actually wants. She may feel inadequate; she may feel embarrassed; she may feel her parents don't respect her.  

She or he may need you to require her to be loveable.

   She may feel that she is not quite lovable. This is a typical parenting paradox. If we indulge the child, and leave the potty decision up to her, we may be doing more harm than good. Your child may need your active support in taking difficult or scarry steps, such as deciding to try the potty. She or he may need you to require her to do the right thing.
(See Fussing,Whining, and Tantrums.)

   Perhaps I can offer some reassurance to the hesitant parent. Your children respect you and believe in you more than you will ever know! The greatest reassurance you can offer your child that potty training is OK is to insist on potty training in the same way you may insist on seat belt use, toy clean up, or courtesy to Grandma.

No Fear!

   The secret of great toilet learning is to insist... gently;
                                                           ...to be firm... softly;
                                                  ...to be timely... patiently;
                                                  ...to be positive... flexibly.
    Toilet training is not a race, but you must begin when you undersatnd that she is ready.
It must be your decision, not hers. Professor Brazelton had it backwards.

   I will try to describe what we do here, in our licensed family child care home. This is not entirely fair, however, for several reasons. For one thing, we have children in toilet training almost all of the time. The babies grow up seeing older children in all stages of learning to use the potty. They can see that kids use the potty chair and the toilet.

   Another more mysterious advantage we have is that we are not their parents. Kids will often do things for their teacher or caregiver willingly and then fight with their parents over the same activity or issue. This is because children are driven to test their parents.

Kids are rotten to their parents because parents are the most important people to a child; parents are the greatest;
parents are the center of the child's universe.

   Some parents seem to be worried by this puzzling behavior. I can see how it might shake a parent's confidence to see their child being a little angel at day care and then throwing a fit at home! Please read and believe my reassuring words: kids are rotten to their parents because parents are the most important people to a child; parent's rule; they are the center of the child's universe.

   Testing your parents is safer than pushing your luck with someone outside your family. Also, your parent's opinion is the most important opinion in the world. Kids often push the limits with their own parents because they want to find out what the most important limits really are.

How I Toilet Train Children in My Child Care Home

  *** Disclaimer:  I have 30+ years of experiemce toilet training happy, healthy, children of generally above average intelligence blessed with a good family life. I have no experience teaching toiletting to special needs children. ***

   Before beginning, is the child ready? Can she put two or more words together in a partial sentence? Can she follow two or more directions, such as "Take off your hat and put it in your cubby."? Can she pick up a small pebble or a bit of food between her thumb and finger in a neat pincer grasp? If the answer to these is "Yes", then she is probably ready to begin toilet training.  The brain connections are complete enough for a child to feel a full bladder or bowel.

   First, we practice sitting on the potty. Many children resist:  they scream, struggle, or cry. I respond by holding them on the potty for a minute or half minute, no more, and I speak soothingly. I try to get the child's attention, for at least a moment. I may ask her or him to be quiet, or to look at my face, or to wait just a moment before I let them off the potty.

   I repeat this a couple of times a day, or at least a couple of times a week. Soon the child's protests diminish, then disappear altogether.

   If the child is responsive to my voice, I offer to read a book. This can work miracles. Nearly all of the children I have trained love to be read to on the potty. They sit on the potty while I read, for 5, 10, even 20 minutes.

   Once you are able to read to them -- cooperatively-- the rest is fairly easy. We sit on the potty and talk or read several times a day. We have several books which feature potty stories. A great favorite is "Everyone Poops", by Taro Gomi. Any book which your child enjoys will do nicely.

    I am not in a hurry.  I try to put them on the potty after they have been dry for some time, because they are more likely to  produce a tangible result. I am patient. Days, weeks, or even months may go by before something "happens".

   This being a child care setting, I make sure that the young learners see the elder masters using the potty or toilet successfully. Most two year olds admire and imitate the four year olds. Mixed ages are a great advantage for us.

   Potty candy, potty candy, potty candy!!  Yes, we have used it, and I now consider "potty candy" to be a reasonable tactic. For 20+ years I did not, because most experts recommend against it. Faced with a difficult case, I tried potty candy a few years ago. It worked well. The other children noticed and wanted in on the action. I agreed, and for several years we rewarded potty "success" for all of the children with one tiny M&M candy (Mini Baking Bits).

   The kids love it, they learn faster, and I have not seen any ill effects. After the children have used the toilet successfully for a few months, we simply "run out of candy". The children continue to use the potty for the obvious reasons, and everyone is happy.

    Even so, at this time, 2010, 2011, we are once again not using potty candy. We have pulled away from candy for toilet success for several reasons. One of our families objected, and we wanted to respect thier preference.  Also, one of our children was unusually attached to the candy reward, and we had a hard time weaning her from the candy reward.

   In my opinion, potty candy is effective, but entirely optional. If I were training my own child, I am pretty sure that I would use potty candy. In the child care world, where each family is so highly individual, I will allow potty candy only if I feel certain that all of the families are in fairly close agreement and comfortable with the technique.

   Either way, you are responsible for when and how to teach your child to care for herself, while your child controls how quickly she chooses to cooperate.

   If these ideas do not work, if your child is well over three years of age and still not trained, seek help. Ask your pediatrician to  look for a possible medical problem. Ask your child care provider or your Mom for advice. Find a book or magazine article and get a second and a third opinion. Keep trying and stay patient.

   After 30+ years in child care, my message to our modern super-cautious parents is to "just do it" (NIKE). Eventually, she will appreciate your efforts!

Maybe when she is 25 or so...
Michael Kauper
Child Care Provider

Rev. 01-07-2011

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