Now or later? Debate over toilet-training goes on
January 13, 1999
"We started Friday about lunch, and I'd say by Monday we were done," Shiverick says. "We didn't leave the house basically for a weekend. He's very eager to please, so when he saw that it made us happy, he was happy."
Shiverick's son, J.T., was 2 1/2 at the time.
But you might hear a story more akin to Jackie Lewis' tale about son Austin.
"We've tried it all," Lewis says. "I've tried the pull-ups on him ... We'll even offer him double prizes sometimes, and that don't even work ... I don't know what to do."
The struggle to get Austin out of diapers has gone on for a year, starting when he turned 2.
The answers won't come easy -- even the experts disagree on when and how to toilet train children. And some are waging a public battle.
"I just don't feel like timing ought to be the issue," says Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, one of the country's best known pediatricians. "I think it ought to be an issue of whether the child's really ready to take over this kind of autonomy."
Family psychologist John Rosemond, who advises parents through his books and newspaper column, disagrees. He devoted a series of columns last month to debunking Brazelton's method.
"In a nutshell, my philosophy on toilet training is that it ought to be done between 24 and 30 months, that it's relatively easy, that we are making entirely too big a deal of it in our culture today," he says.
Starting earlier or later, Rosemond said, could lead to problems.
Rosemond's ideas, Brazelton says, sound "very logical," if you're toilet training a puppy.
And your pediatrician's advice may differ from either of these experts.
"Toilet training is a window of opportunity that's unique in every child," said Dr. Sara O'Heron. "Each child has their own timing and readiness, and the way that you know is when they get interested in your toileting or other people's toileting habits."
O'Heron said that window usually opens between 18 and 36 months.
Despite all this disagreement, everyone agrees on one thing: The age of toilet training is going up. Studies show that during the 1960s, 90 percent of children were out of diapers by 2 1/2 years. Today, just over 20 percent of children are trained by that age.
But the reasons for the change differ too, depending on who you ask.
"We're seeing a delay in toilet training today because parents are being encouraged by the experts to let their children make the decision," says Rosemond, "and children are not capable of making a decision of this import."
Others say it's the convenience of disposable diapers -- and the heavy promotion of new, larger-sized diapers.
Brazelton not only approves of the new bigger diapers, he promotes them in television commercials for Pampers.
"Disposable diapers certainly give us a chance to delay toilet training and let the child choose his own timing, and this has probably played a role in delaying toilet training," Brazelton says.
But Rosemond said that parents are often too lax in enforcing toilet training.
"T. Berry Brazelton doesn't get it," he says. "The issue is the mother's ability to disentangle herself from her child between her child's second and third birthdays and establish herself as an authority figure."
The experts may never agree, but then it may just be a personal preference.
Dr. Bruce Taubman, a pediatrician at Children's Hospital in Philadelphia, is one of the few doctors who has collected extensive data on toilet training.
Thirteen percent of the children in his study, published in 1997, had trouble with toilet training. And most of those, he told The New York Times, "resolved the problem without intervention."
Correspondent Rhonda Rowland contributed to this report.
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