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There’s a Right Way to Potty Train?

What is better: a parent-oriented or child-oriented method?

Years ago, my husband was upset that our son had to be toilet trained in order to attend nursery school in the fall. I wasn't particularly worried and reassured my husband that our son would get the knack of it soon. Yet, like so many fellow parents, my husband felt anxious, and kept after me to "work on it." I assured him that, "Our son won't go off to college in diapers."

But, what is the right time to start toilet training? Should parents adopt the parent-oriented method (where young ones are given firm direction and instructions to start using a potty), or the child-oriented method (where the toddler approaches the transition on his or her own terms)?

In her book, The Business of Baby, Jennifer Margulis addresses the issue of toilet training, observing, “By 2001 the average age of potty training rose to thirty-five months for girls and thirty-nine months for boys.” While different methods work for different toddlers, Margulis believes that this “fear”—along with the “child-oriented” training approach and influence from big diaper companies—are key factors in more cases of delayed potty training. She explains, “In the early 1950s, before the widespread use of plastic diapers, 90 percent of American children were potty trained by the age of eighteen months.” She adds, “Americans have come to fear potty training, worrying they will inadvertently harm their child in the process.”

Focus on Your Child’s Temperament

For many parents, the choice comes down to reading your child. The principle that knowing how to potty train your child starts with personality is a key message in Stress-Free Potty Training: A Commonsense Guide to Finding the Right Approach for Your Child. Authors Sara Au and Peter L. Stavinoha, Ph.D. say parents should start with their child’s behavior and most dominant personality characteristics to then know how to toilet train. For instance, if your child bounces off the walls with remarkable energy and moves quickly from one task to the next, she may fall into the “Impulsive Child” personality type—approaching potty training with her may be radically different than training with a “Sensory-Oriented Child,” an “Internalizing Child,” a “Goal-Directed Child” or a “Strong-Willed Child.”

For example, a “Goal-Directed Child” tends to respond best to praise as a reward. They’re able to appreciate the job well done, the authors say. The “Sensory-Oriented Child” who is extra sensitive to loud noises or drastic changes in temperature, the key is to gently coax him into the process, so that he doesn’t feel shocked by the transition to the potty. In this case, “Modeling the behavior yourself is always the best way to begin,” Au and Stavinoha explain. It helps to narrate your actions aloud to get your young one used to the process. Stress-Free Potty Training offers ways to determine which category your child fits into, as well as specific potty training tips for each child temperament.

Is My Child Ready?

Parents are the true experts on their child, and can best determine whether he needs extra guidance or just a few works of encouragement. An examination of multiple studies on toilet training determined 21 signs of readiness, including being able to understand “potty vocabulary,” being able to take her pants on and off, and showing an interest in the potty.

To ease those parents who feel that any issues their child encounters such as “accidents” or urinary tract infections, the authors of “Toilet Training Method is Not Related to Dysfunctional Voiding,” published in Clinical Pediatrics, explain that any problems are not likely to result from parent’s methods.

Parents facing toilet training resistance may want to read, It's No Accident: Breakthrough Solutions to Your Child's Wetting, Constipation, UTIs, and Other Potty Problems by pediatric urologist Steve J. Hodges, M.D. Key information from the book is also available in this article., “The Dangers of Potty Training Too Early: Doctor’s Case for Late Training.”

Please share your tips and/or potty training stories in the comment section.

Related: 5 Steps to Prepare Your Toddler for College

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Anonymous. “The Dangers of Potty Training Too Early: Doctor’s Case for Late Training.” 25 June 2012.

Au, Sara, and Stavinoha, Peter. Stress-free Potty Training: A Commonsense Guide to Finding the Right Approach for Your Child. New York: AMACOM, American Management Association, 2008.

Colaco, Marc, Johnson, Kelly, Schneider, Dona, and Barone, Joseph. “Toilet Training Method Is Not Related to Dysfunctional Voiding.” Clinical Pediatrics, 1 November 2012 DOI: 10.1177/0009922812464042

Kaerts, N., Van Hal, G., Vermandel, A. and Wyndaele, J.-J. “Readiness signs used to define the proper moment to start toilet training: A review of the literature.” Neurourology and Urodynamics. 31: 437–440. 6 March 2012. DOI: 10.1002/nau.21211

Margulis, Jennifer. The Business of Baby: What Doctor’s Don’t Tell You, What Corporations Try to Sell You, and How to Put Your Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Baby Before Their Bottom Line. New York: Scribner 2013. Print.

Copyright @ 2014 Susan Newman

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