Q. What are your feelings about the idea, as expressed by (a well-known parenting authority) that "only the child knows when he's ready to be toilet trained?"
A. Equating toilet training with walking, which is indeed a skill parents cannot teach, is akin to lumping apples together with walnuts. Only a child knows when he's ready to walk, but the only people qualified to determine when a child is ready for toilet training are parents.
The "child-oriented" approach, as it's called, has resulted in ever-increasing profits for manufacturers of disposable diapers. I'm convinced that where children are concerned, however, it has created more problems than it has prevented.
Until the "let the child do his thing" attitude toward toilet training became "correct" in pediatric and psychological circles, it was rare for a child older than 30 months to wear diapers during the day. In those not-so-long-ago times, the parents of a child who was not fully daytime trained by age 3 were generally regarded as lazy, if not downright neglectful.
Typical of their peers, my children, Eric, 29, and Amy, 26, were fully trained at 28 and 24 months, respectively. In Amy's case, the entire process took less than a week! Some 25 years later, it's not at all unusual for a 3-year-old to still be wearing diapers during the day and for the child's parents to have made no authoritative move toward training.
Older pediatricians, ones who still dispense traditional toilet-training advice, tell me they've noticed a significant increase in toilet problems since child-directed training became vogue. "Holding and soiling" is the most common problem, for which a combination of medical and psychological therapies is usually prescribed.
While there are no comparative statistics available, the reports of psychologists with whom I've spoken confirm my own professional experience. From 1972, when I began counseling parents, to 1990, when I left private practice, I noted a significant increase in the number of parents seeking help with toilet problems involving children 3 and older.
The contention that "early" training -- between 22 and 30 months of age (when the typical child is ready) -- is potentially harmful is myth, pure and simple. There is no good evidence to back it up.
The issue is not so much when a child is trained as how the child is trained and in what emotional climate the training is conducted. For example, the parent who can't wait to stop having to change messy diapers is likely to create problems by (a) initiating prematurely, (b) putting undue pressure on the child, (c) making a generally big stink about it, (d) all of the above. On the other hand, a relaxed approach, yet one involving clearly communicated expectations, can result in success with children as young as 20 months (not all, mind you, but some).
The primary issue is independence, which encapsulates self-control and mastery. Late toilet training extends a child's period of infantile dependence and, by extension, retards self-control and mastery. That's not good. Late toilet training, by many professional accounts, creates as much anxiety for children as does premature parental pressure to use the toilet. That's not good. Late toilet training adds unnecessary nonbiodegradable matter to landfills. That's not good.
Proper, timely, parent-directed toilet training is good -- for children, parents and the environment.
So, how should parents approach toilet training with a young 2-year-old? Regrettably, I must postpone an answer until next week's column, but here's a tease: I call it "The Naked and $75 Method." Stay tuned.
John Rosemond is a family psychologist in North Carolina. Questions of general interest may be sent to John Rosemond at P.O. Box 4124, Gastonia, N.C. 28054 and at www.rosemond.com/parenting 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.