- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 19, 2005

The buzz in American parenting of late surrounds infant “elimination training,” or training children as young as 6 months to signal their mothers when they are about to “go,” upon which said moms hold them over or help them sit on a toilet, potty, bucket, the kitchen sink or some other suitable (?) receptacle, into which they release.

My regular readers know I am an advocate of toilet training before age 2, so many have asked — as have several journalists — what I think about the parenting fashion du jour.

As attested to by the several thousand mothers who have had success with the method, infant elimination training (IET) obviously works. Getting it to work, however, requires that a mother become almost obsessively attentive to her child for months, the actual number of which will vary from child to child.

Then, once a child is trained to give the proper signal and is releasing on his mother’s cue, she must continue to devote significant time and energy to doing for her child what he cannot do for himself and will not be able to do for himself until he is well into his second year of life — helping him get in and out of his clothing, for instance.

Promoters of IET point out that it is eco-friendly, whereas disposable diapers most definitely are not. I suspect, however, that this movement is not driven primarily, or even largely, by environmental concerns.

Even so, cloth diapers are eco-friendly as well, and typing “cloth diapers” into an Internet search engine brings up dozens of companies from which they can be obtained. The studies that have been done on cloth versus disposable diapers beg lots of questions but consistently find that children who wear cloth diapers train earlier — generally before age 2 — than children who wear disposables.

Unfortunately, a good number of today’s moms are highly susceptible to the marketing of parenting fads that hold forth the promise of helping them “bond” more effectively with their children, and sure enough, IET promises exactly that.

Never mind that the “bonding” lacks empirical definition (thus my quotation marks), studies have failed to confirm the efficacy of most nouveau bonding techniques (e.g. sleeping with one’s child), and children raised by mothers who are simply adequately affectionate and attentive are as happy, if not happier, than children of mothers who consciously try to “bond.” In today’s mommy culture, the “bonder” is the good mommy. This, I suspect, is IET’s hook.

Once upon a time, and not so very long ago, toilet training was simply and straightforwardly accomplished before a child’s second birthday. Since then, psychobabble has transformed it into a big deal that arouses great anxiety in mothers and results in children as old as 4 still wearing “Little Depends.” Infant elimination training only reinforces the wrongheaded notion that toilet training is a big deal.

Toilet training an 18-month-old typically takes several days to several weeks. With this age child, neither micromanagement nor a symbiotic relationship between mother and child is necessary. In fact, a mother can arrange an 18-month-old child’s environment such that he requires very little help from her where toileting is concerned. I am not persuaded that IET is a viable alternative to this sensible, relaxed and traditional way of going about this teaching.

One final note: Pediatrician and toilet-training book author T. Berry Brazelton, who has steadfastly maintained that toilet training before age 2 is psychologically harmful, was quoted in The New York Times as saying he’s “all for” IET.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).

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