Every spring, which is usually when mothers start thinking of getting rid of their child’s diapers, I am bombarded with young mothers, all asking the famous question of “When should I start?” They ask it with a huge expression of guilt and confusion on their faces and when we talk further, they explain how some surrounding people, most commonly from the older generation are exerting loads of pressure upon those new seemingly but not actually inexperienced mothers.
As some of them have read books, studied and took courses that render them more knowledgeable than their mothers. So, a young mother comes up to me with confusion and hesitation all over her face, asking doubtfully whether she is late or early. Asking to start or not to start.
My advice is always, that each and every mother owns her own motherly instinct by which only she could sense and decide the right start for her child. But she has some homework to do first before developing her strategy. She should read different study based opinions concerning this matter, ask various professionals, attend workshops, and finally take her own decision based on her own motherly instincts. After all she will be required to do all the work, so she should be the one to decide the appropriate time.
Let me take you through the ups and downs of different opinions throughout the previous years.
A look at the History of Toilet Training: (Lekovic, 2006)
A vast fluctuation has been observed in both the method and starting age for toilet training, and very interestingly it was always according to social trends and not scientific discoveries. This explains the pressure young mothers experience from the surrounding community and how this social pressure is able to steer things towards a certain direction.
- In 1914, professionals were advising mothers to regularly place their infants on a small potty as young as 6 months of age, to use praise and rewards and never to blame or scold.
- In the 1920s, the rising popularity of the behaviorist J.B Watson, recommended more severe methods and harsh procedures like for example the “Soap stick” which was introduced in the rectum to stimulate bowel movement when the child is seated on the potty! It was advised for mothers at that time to start as early as one month and to be done by 8 or 9 months of age!
- Between the 1930s and the 1940s, was the emergence of the psychoanalytic theory which emphasized on how the behaviors of early childhood caregivers, dramatically influenced the child’s development later on. Also the theory of how the child’s environment (nurture vs. nature theory) is either as or more influential than his inborn factors. Sigmund Freud was one of the most famous psychoanalysts, who warned of the lifelong implications that potty training might have over the child’s personality.
- Dr. Harold Orlansky, 1949 tried to prove that there was no link between parenting methods and later development of the child’s personality, but his conclusions were later ignored.
- The well known Dr. Spock, nearly at the same time in 1946, recommended that potty training shouldn’t start at least till the child is able to sit independently, which is 6 months of age.
- Then in 1957 came Dr. Robert R Sears, who stated that severe pressure and tough methods added emotional problems and resistance to the child and didn’t in any way speed up training.
- In the 1970s till 2002, several studies have shown favorability for initiation training and recommended an early start of around 18 months of age to enable the child to finish by the age of 24 to 36 months. A direct correlation was found in a study published in the journal of pediatrics in 2003, between the age of initiation and the age of completion.
Our Experience at CLC nursery and preschool:
As a nursery dealing with large numbers of children at a time, and choosing to carry this responsibility with our clcian parents whom we consider our partners in raising the child’s potential and capabilities. We also needed to do our homework and continuously explore studies and opinions of various professionals to be able to build our own strategy, which in turn is proposed to the parent who is always free to accept or refuse it.
Accordingly, we chose the average middle ground; from our observations across the previous 10 years, we found out that children aged 18-24 months were the most successful to yield the best potty training results.
We also observed that before 18 months is sometimes achievable but needed a huge amount of patience, endurance and effort from the mother. Such enduring mothers are quiet honestly getting scarcer every day due to the modern requirements and responsibilities. We have perceived that most mothers try to go through this with minimal effort and when asked “ Can you do this for months without losing your nerves or scolding your child in any way?” The answer is almost always “NO”!
The CLCian methodology:
We have been developing and updating our methodology at CLC for the past 10 years.
The start is a potty training workshop for parents who are willing to start by the spring season of every year. CLC teachers are required to attend this workshop to be aware and able to follow up their children accordingly.
The CLC psychologists also attend this training and consecutively conduct a similar one for the “helpers” who are responsible for regularly taking the children to the toilet in a fun and favorable as well as encouraging way.
The psychologist then sits with all the parents who have decided to start the potty training to agree upon a well-balanced reinforcement strategy and warn against the common mistakes we have previously witnessed during this phase.
The CLCian method is all about using, story telling, pretend play and puppets to help the child understand the idea, followed by regular reinforced visits to the toilet.
This method has been successful with most of our 850 CLCian graduates except for those who were subjected to an angry parent at home who out of frustration could take the child several steps back and maybe even affect the child’s development and personality.
That’s why I believe that it’s more about the caregiver’s readiness and tolerance than of the child’s. While you are watching for signs that hint your child is ready for the toilet training, also check out your own readiness for the process.
Finally, potty training is a naturally acquired habit, which the child automatically gains by imitation of his surrounding environment. It just needs a willful parent who is ready to go through the effort. So, if the mother or caregiver is ready, it will most probably be a smooth and successful and even enjoyable experience.
Have a smooth and happy potty time!
Lekovic, J. (2006). diaper free before 3. New York: crown publishing.
Oesterreich, L. (2007, February). Understanding children toilet training. Family Life,
By Dr. Mona Youssri
Child Psychiatrist, Family Counselor & CLC founder