With New Year's resolutions with fresh starts and the finishing of the Christmas season with messed up schedules and lots of travel, January seems to be when parents begin thinking about potty training. Some will start. Others will gear up as the year progresses and fall preschool deadlines loom in the ever nearing future.
In talking to mothers for years now, I have begun to think that potty training is highly dependent on the parent. Some will start at birth, others at 12 months, 18 months, 2 years, 3 years, etc and they each have success. So, is there truly a right and magical time? or just a time that works well for an individual family? Is there a time when the child is just ready? or has it come to the point that it doesn't matter if the child is ready or not, to get into preschool, it has to get done. According to studies the amount of time spent with children on average potty training is about the same regardless of the age at which the potty training was initiated. (Blum et al 2003) Maybe the real question to ask ourselves is, "Am I ready to potty train my child?"
I tend to look at the world from different perspectives at times and would like to mix this societal potty training readiness angst with my own personal sense of irony in parody. Instead of asking the question, "Is my child ready to potty train?" lets replace it with the question, "Is my child ready to walk?"
Hypothetical parent: My child is now 9 months old and pulling up on things do you think my child may be ready to walk.
Oh Sage and Popular Advisor: Don't push your child at this stage his muscles won't be fully developed for walking until month "x" so don't even try. When your child is ready to walk he will tell you and it will be easy. Of course realize that your child won't be considered walking until he can get up by himself walk across the room, walk over objects, as well as climb stairs without toppling over. So until he has these individual skills you may want to wait to teach your child to walk.
Realistically: When our child starts pulling up on things and showing an interest in walking we applaud this new feat and get interested right along with him. We spend countless hours walking around the house holding on to both hands; we may purchase little walking toys, and when that first tentative step is taken we clap and hoot, tell our friends and call grandma. Falls happen. Trips left and right. Sometimes we wonder if the child should wear a helmet. But, we allow the child the time to learn to walk and we help and guide along the way. Eventually, a couple months down the road the child will tackle stairs and before we know it they are walking everywhere without a care and we aren't even aware of the moment they became free walkers.
Potty training is much like walking. It is a human skill set that we value in our society. It is somewhat dependent on muscle tone and usage. When your child shows an interest in the potty why not get interested too. If your child is not interested in the potty, is there any reason not to encourage his interest like you would encourage your child in standing as pre-walking skill. Children can practice sitting on a potty first thing in the morning and before baths. When that first tinkle makes its way into the toilet we can clap and hoot, tell our friends and call grandma. Accidents will happen. Maybe an embarrassing moment here and there. Sometimes we will wonder if the child should just be in diapers. But, we allow the child time to learn to pee and poo at regular intervals into a selected basin and we guide them along the way. Eventually, a couple of months down the road the child will go to the bathroom on his own initiative. Months down the road you will realize that potty training is complete and you won't even be aware of the exact moment it happened.
The steps along the way during potty training are just as valuable as the steps to walking. And we don't impede walking until it can be done easily with vigor and grace, likewise why impede potty training until a child can for example: communicate effectively, pull clothing up and down, has an emotional or social awareness (what ever that means), can open a door, turn on a light, ad nausea. What most of the potty readiness skill checklist fail to mention is that the skill sets they are listing are skill sets for potty training mastery. Without all the skills you can begin the journey and learn them along the way. Even if your child can not walk, you can help them get to a toilet and sit.
Again, let me emphasize that each family is different and choosing when to potty train will be influenced by your families structure and needs more than any other one factor. Also, each family's style of potty training may be different much like our styles for discipline are. Fill up your parental tool box with great potty training ideas and as your child needs them you can pull them out and help your child have success with his own personal bent.
Blum NJ, Taubman B, and Nemeth N. 2003. Relationship between age at initiation of toilet training and duration of training: A prospective study. Pediatrics, 111: 810-814.
For an easy read regarding timing and modern potty training philosophies click here