Pediatrician’s toilet-training advice should be flushed

Toilet training has become the single most difficult parenting hurdle of the preschool years.
Toilet training has become the single most difficult parenting hurdle of the preschool years. TNS

Q: Our twin girls will be 3 in a few months. Our pediatrician recommended that we start toilet training at 32 months, which we did. After several months and lots of gnashing of teeth, one of the girls finally got it. The other one, however, seems oblivious to our efforts. This has become frustrating, and I’m afraid we’re showing some anger at this point. The pediatrician says we should put her back in diapers until she’s 3 and then start over. What do you think?

A: The wrong-headed notion that toilet training should not begin until 32-36 months became conventional wisdom in the pediatric community in the 1970s. As a result, toilet training has become the single most difficult parenting hurdle of the preschool years. Contrast the problems that today’s parents are experiencing in this area with the fact that in the mid-1950s, Harvard researchers determined that nearly 90 percent of children were not only trained, but accident-free before 24 months of age.

Delayed toilet training is associated with resistance, constipation and intestinal problems, not to mention a high level of parent frustration. For this reason, it borders on scandalous that a significant number of pediatricians continue to recommend this problematic approach.

Your great-grandmother was able to toilet train an 18-month-old in less than a week because she did not think that toilet training was potentially apocalyptic, that one wrong move on her part would scar her child’s psyche forever, and she made her expectations clear. Today’s parents tend to approach the process with great trepidation and anxiety, which results in micromanagement, which results in push-back of various sorts on the part of the children. In addition, today’s parents employ a passive, rather than authoritative, approach. They ask questions like “Do you have to use the potty?” as opposed to making statements like “It’s time for you to use the potty.”

Under no circumstances should you take your pediatrician’s advice and back off. If you do, you will only make more problems for yourself and your daughter down the road. First, put the potty where your daughter spends most of her day. Second, allow her to be naked from the waist down while she’s at home. Third, confine her to one or two rooms of the home (in one of which sits the potty). Fourth, feed her a diet that is high in fiber (e.g. oatmeal) and lots of water (as opposed to sugar-sweetened junk juice). Fifth, set your stove or oven timer to go off every hour or so, at which time you tell her that the buzzer means it’s time to sit on the potty. Direct her! Do not ask questions or coax with offers of goodies! Sixth, and perhaps most important, do not hover. Let her “own” the process. Lastly, sue your pediatrician for causing you unnecessary emotional trauma. Just kidding … or not.

After she’s toilet trained at home, which shouldn’t take more than a few weeks, begin introducing her to public toilets. All of this is spelled out in more detail in “Toilet Training Without Tantrums,” by yours truly. Your local library has it or can obtain it for you.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his website,

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