Potty Trained or Parent Trained?

• Children differ in their readiness and ability to understand and perform the steps and tasks.

• Children's personalities influence whether they want to please their parents or be independent, feel encouraged or manipulated, will blindly obey or rebel against control.

• Some children relax and go with the flow while other children hold out and hold on, literally, even if they develop medical problems in the process.

So it really boils down to this: no matter what techniques, tactics and tricks a parent tries, a child’s intellectual, psychological and emotional makeup will determine the speed and success of potty training. There are no fully-functioning adults who aren’t potty trained, so eventually everyone learns this skill. In fact, unless a child has a medical condition or bad potty-training experience, all children will potty train themselves by kindergarten.

Furthermore, it is pretty much impossible for any child to be completely potty trained (totally independent and self-responsible) before 18 months old and unlikely before the age of two-and-a-half. Here's why:

Children cannot control the sphincter muscle (responsible for holding/releasing bowel movements) until they are at least eighteen months old. The muscle doesn't have that ability until that age. So anything that happens before that age is because the parent is trained, not the child.

Remember those ten steps and 14 tasks? Well #7 is wiping oneself, which isn't even physiologically possibly until a child's arm has grown long enough to reach his or her behind! Most children who are on-track developmentally will be able to do this task independently by kindergarten. So that means that no matter what method you use, your child still won’t be able to perform this final step of potty training independently until about the same age as every other child.

So don't feel inferior when some mother compares her so-called potty trained baby to your training-in-progress toddler. Just smile, knowing both children will complete the learning process about the same time no matter what the parent does...and some methods are healthier and riskier than others.

Yes, children consistently prove to us that ultimately their bodies are within their control. We can lead them to a potty but we really can't make them go.

So the choice is yours. How much time, attention, effort, and emotion do you want to invest in this? Unlike most "returns on investments" (ROIs), the more you invest in this process -- by making it a "big deal" -- the more it actually increases your risk of experiencing problems. Since every child will eventually do this naturally, your choice is whether to give encouragement or try to control the child.

Anytime potty training has become a big issue, you will usually find one of two things: Either the child had a bad experience and is fearful of going potty or the child felt the parent was too controlling and they are now in a battle of wills. Both can cause children to hold onto their waste to the point of developing a chronic medical condition! These problems take the longest to resolve and require medical assistance. It's not uncommon for these children to still not be fully potty trained by kindergarten.

Jody Johnston Pawel, LSW, CFLE is a second-generation parent educator and president of Parent’s Toolshop® Consulting. She is the author of 100+ resources for parents and family service professionals, including her award-winning book, The Parent's Toolshop at Parent's Toolshop® Consulting, Ltd. Since 1980, Jody has trained parents and professionals through her dynamic presentations and served as internationally recognized parenting expert to the media worldwide. Get practical parenting resources, including more information about this topic at Parent's Toolshop®'s archive.

Copyright © Jody Johnston Pawel. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC. Image © Jordi Delgado.