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Q. My son is 28 months old and not yet toilet-trained. My mother-in-law says he should no longer be wearing diapers, but on a recent talk show, a pediatrician said parents should be in no hurry where "toilet teaching" -- as he called it -- is concerned, because children will begin using the toilet pretty much on their own when they are ready. Who's right -- my mother-in-law or the doctor?

A. Though I have no way of knowing whether she is on target concerning your son, your mother-in-law is more generally correct than the doctor.

Saying that children will teach themselves to use the toilet when they are ready is like saying children will teach themselves to read when they are ready. There are indeed children who teach themselves to read, but they are a small minority. The same is true of children who teach themselves to use the toilet at an appropriate time. In both areas, most children require adults to initiate and guide the learning process.

This idea that parents should adopt a "come what may" approach to teaching children to be civilized about their bodily wastes is an artifact of Freudian notions to the effect that pushing children in this area could cause psychic "traumas" that would take later form as debilitating adult neuroses. Suffice it to say that Freud's theories, as novel and fascinating as they were, have no predictive value; therefore, they are scientifically worthless.

The fact is, teaching a child to use the toilet is no more significant than teaching a child to eat with utensils, except that children generally make more of a mess learning to eat than learning to dispose of their body wastes correctly.

Our cultural neurosis over this topic lingers on, however, fueled by well-intentioned professionals who regularly suggest that the term "toilet training" be changed to "toilet teaching" or "toilet facilitation" or something equally tedious. Their general skittishness over the use of the word "training" is certain indication that their mothers traumatized them with premature toilet dogma.

The overwhelming majority -- I'd estimate at least 90 percent -- of children are ready to be toilet-coached sometime between 24 and 30 months of age. Parents should capitalize on this readiness not for their own sakes, but because it is in the best interest of a child that he take this most significant of steps toward self-reliance as early as is reasonable.

Furthermore, if parents do not seize the opportunity to toilet-shepherd when a child is ready, his readiness may wane, resulting in a child who is indefinitely content with messy diapers. For proof of this, one need only talk with parents who, having missed the boat in this area, are now struggling with toilet-blase 3-year-olds. This increasingly commonplace state of affairs benefits manufacturers of disposable diapers and diaper rash cream and professionals who charge parents large fees for advising them on how to get 4-year-olds to put their tee-tee and poo-poo in the teeteepooper. It does not benefit children.

Children should not be rushed to grow up, but neither should they be denied opportunities to take charge of their own lives. Knowing when a child is ready to take charge of this area of his life is a simple matter, as is training (There, I said it! And I feel much better, thank you!) the child to use the toilet. Next week I will share Grandma's common sense concerning this process.

Questions of general interest may be sent to John Rosemond at P.O. Box 4124, Gastonia, N.C. 28054 and at on the World Wide Web.

If you or someone you know has parenting problems, call the Parents Anonymous 24-hour confidential Help-Line at 892-2172.

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