I didn't know what to think of this thing, really. But my daughter, who is developmentally delayed, had resisted the idea of toilet-training for so long, I thought it was worth a try.
Ever since it arrived on our doorstep, it has turned the whole house upside down. Nancy loves it and simply can not wait to use it. She is so thrilled by her ability to control this event in her life that she now helps us keep our own lives in perspective: Whenever my husband and I come home after a grueling day in the workplace, Nancy runs to greet us at the door and tell us about her successes with the potty.
The curious thing about toilet-training is that I have never taken it too seriously. As my pediatrician said to me 10 years ago, when I asked him about toilet-training my first child, "Have you ever known an adult who isn't toilet trained?"
My mother took it more seriously than I, in the sense that for her and her generation, toileting was an important benchmark of progress - one to be struggled for and achieved. But then mother was using cloth diapers, a wringer washing machine and a clothesline in the backyard. I was using easy, disposable paper diapers.
Dr. Ken Citron is a child psychiatrist in private practice. He told me that the classic (Freudian) analytic view of a child's development still focuses on toilet-training as a pivotal event. However, many psychiatrists now believe that relationships between child and parent are worked out on a day-to-day basis, and toilet-training is a major event within that context whereby "a parent's style of discipline will bear on the child's development."
Betty Flint is a professor emeritus at the Institute For Child Study, a department of the Faculty of Education at the University of Toronto. She was a professor there for 25 years, specializing in infancy.
The impetus for training always comes from the parent, said Flint, never from the child. But that is because, at a certain stage in the child's life, we become aware of cultural expectations that it is time for our children to use a toilet. It's like table manners. We don't mind if our children smear food all over their faces when they are babies, but we do mind if they do that when they are 10.
And at a certain time, children should get out of diapers and start to use the toilet. Still though, "we should only initiate toilet-training when it is appropriate," Flint said. That is, when the child's toilet patterns begin to be consistent and when the child has the emotional capacity to deal with this big step.
Children between 2 and 3 - the normal age when the muscles are reliably mature - don't have large vocabularies and do have large fantasies. Their perceptions and fears - such as being flushed down the toilet - will have enormous impact on how agreeable they are to toileting. We just have to be patient with this, because they may have fears that our reasonable brains simply can't comprehend.
What both Flint and Citron said is this: If the child resists toileting, don't push it. "Don't make a battlefield of this," said Citron. "As long as you are in tune with your child, you'll find a way through this that won't be stressful. If the child becomes oppositional over toileting, it can lead to all kinds of problems later." Remember, although the parent initiates the idea, toileting success depends on a parent being responsive rather than assertive.
If you are in a hurry because you want your child trained so he can go the nursery school, you will have to put more of yourself into the effort - gently, said Flint. But if it doesn't work reassess your agenda. If you compel your child to toilet-train so that he can go to nursery school, there could be lifelong consequences and nursery school just isn't worth it. As Flint said, "If a child feels ashamed and doesn't really understand what hasn't happened, he will tie himself up in knots."
Flint has some guidelines for parents to consider about normal toilet-training situations:
Watch for the child's signal of readiness. When patterns begin to emerge, capitalize on them.
Attempt to toilet-train only when it is appropriate for the whole family, i.e. periods of stress such as Christmas or exam time are not ideal. Summer is often the easiest because we are all more relaxed and clothes come on and off more easily.
Don't leave the child on the potty alone. Sing, read or talk to him. He needs you there while he gets used to the process and learns to make connections between the feelings in his body and performance in the toilet.
Don't leave the child on the potty more than 10 minutes. No one will perform after that. And you'll get frustrated, which will lead to conflict.
If no progress is made within about 10 days, drop it for a month or so, before you try again
Reward is everything. Praise him whenever he is successful. And if nothing happens, it just doesn't matter. Scolding can have profound effects. It is usually your agenda that gets discouraged if he doesn't perform. So take a look at your own agenda and question why you are imposing it on your child.
We've all seen parent who scold a young child when he has an accident in his pants, or misses the toilet. This is unfair. Children try. Don't crucify them if they aren't perfect. After all, it's only a mess and an automatic washing machine will clean most of it up for you.
Stay cool. My doctor was right. I don't know any adult who isn't toilet-trained.