Friday, May 9, 2008


Ideas about toilet training keep changing. A hundred years ago, for example, the general idea was that mothers knew best; babies were ready to train when their moms thought they were.

Later, in the 1930s, most experts took a tougher stand. A U.S. Government publication told moms to start training at birth and be done by 6 to 8 months. It recommended using a "soap stick rectal conditioner." I don't even want to know what that is! Mothers were supposed to hold children to a strict schedule, "not varying the time by as much as five minutes."

In the 1950s, "child centered" toilet training became popular. The main idea was that training should be about the child's needs, not the parents' convenience. This was the era of psychoanalysis, which taught that early parenting mistakes could mess children up for life. No wonder parents were nervous!

Dr. Spock was more relaxed and reassuring. In my 1945 copy of The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care (the edition my mom used) he wrote, "From what people say, you might get the impression that the only way a baby becomes trained is by the parent's strenuous efforts. It's a lot easier than that. Generally speaking, babies gradually gain control of their bowels and bladders as they grow. The most that a mother needs to do is to watch her child... and give him some positive encouragement."

Lots of mothers, and fathers too, have been watching and watching and... watching some more. In the last half century, the average age of toilet training has inched up, both in the U.S. and many other places. Super-absorbent disposable diapers might have something to do with it. Sometimes even I find it hard to tell whether or not a baby has peed, and I have my hands in diapers all day long. For whatever reason, it's not unusual to find three- and even four-year-olds who still don't feel comfortable on the potty.

In response, perhaps, some modern parents have started toilet training when their babies are still, well, babies. The idea that babies can control their sphincters even before they can walk is far from new. Way back in 1977, the top pediatric journal ran an article about the toilet training practices of the Digo people of Kenya. There, bowel and bladder training began in the first few weeks of life in 88 percent of households, and "reasonable night and day dryness" was expected by four months.

How did they do it? The authors observed, "The Digo baby's first two months are spent in almost constant physical contact with the mother, in her arms or strapped to her back for comfort, sleep, and maternal convenience." This constant contact allowed the moms to learn to read their babies' cues, and to teach the babies to link certain positions and sounds with the act of "going."

The techniques aren't difficult to learn or to adapt to modern settings, and many parents are choosing to do just that. Parents who go this route also often say that they feel a special closeness with their babies. I suspect that they sometimes feel a special dampness, too.

Anyhow, like I said, there clearly are many paths that lead to the same dry, clean end. You can choose whichever way fits you and your baby best. I hope you'll use this blog to share your successes and problems with me and with each other. And if you have a really great idea,please let me know, all comments are wellcomed!

1. Posted by Mary K on Thu, May 08, 2008, 5:23 pm PDT

When it came time to potty train my children who are now full grown, I would tell them that "MOMMY" had to go potty and they needed to help her. I would urge them into the bathroom and have them help me go potty. It worked with all 4 of my children. My 31 year old daughter was potty trained by the time she was 2, my son who is 29 was potty trained by about 2 1/2, my 19 year old daughter was trained by 2, and my last child, a 2 1/2 lb preemie was trained by the time she was 3.

2. Posted by Cat F on Thu, May 08, 2008, 6:28 pm PDT

whatever u do, don't spank them for their accidents... just tell them and show them you're 'throwing away' their big boy/big girl underwear, u know batman, my little pony, whatever it may be, worked great for me....



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