- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 7, 2006

Knowing that I recommend toilet training between 18 and 24 months, and apparently feeling a tad contrary, a reader recently shared with me the positive experience she had toilet training her son when he was 3 years, 3 months old.

She writes that she didn’t want the hassles, and especially the accidents, involved in training a younger child, so she decided to wait until he was 100 percent ready. At 3 years, 3 months, he said, “Mommy, I want to wear underwear,” and that was that. He was toilet trained in one day. The added advantages of waiting, she says, are that from the get-go he was able to undress and dress himself, wipe himself and wash his own hands.

Letting her share her experience proves I am a “fair and balanced” columnist — but now it’s my turn. I’ll begin by pointing out that as recently as 40 years ago, a 3-year-old who still was wearing diapers generally would have been regarded as the victim of lazy parenting. Ironically, however, the parent of said child has been anything but lazy. She has, after all, spent three years changing diapers when she could have spent just two, or less.

The popular notion that children younger than 2 are not “ready” to be toilet trained is belied by the fact that in 1956, Harvard University found that more than 80 percent of American 24-month-olds were accident-free.

This notion of “readiness” is rather odd. If “ready” means that a child can sense the need to eliminate and has the dexterity to put himself or herself on a potty, then children achieve readiness around 12 months of age. Granted, the younger the child, the more assistance he or she will need with such things such as taking off clothes, which is why I recommend that children be naked from the waist down at home during the training period. This is how children traditionally have been trained in Europe and parts of Asia, by the way.

If, however, “ready” means “willing,” which many parents seem to think it means, this is just another indication that we are raising a generation of homegrown terrorists.

This mother rolled the dice and won. The research is clear that the longer parents delay toilet training past 24 months, the greater the probability of serious problems, including the forced withholding of bowel movements and refusal to use the toilet. As I have said many times, it is easier to house-train an 8-week-old puppy than a 1-year-old dog.

The same is generally true of the difference between an 18-month-old toddler and a 3-year-old child. In the case of both the child and the dog, the habit of eliminating at will, whenever one feels the urge, has been allowed to strengthen past the point where it can be replaced easily by the more appropriate behavior. Every rule has its exceptions, and this mother can celebrate that her son was one of them.

I believe it is an insult to the intelligence of a human being to deny him the right to be diaper-free by age 2. After all, we expect 6-month-old dogs to have learned to scratch at the door when they want to go outside.

Finally, if this mom had started toilet training her son when he was 18 months old, both mother and child would have been emancipated from diapers in three months, max. In the final analysis, she did neither herself nor her son any favors.

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

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