Monday, August 31, 2009

Can earlier potty training help prevent child abuse?

The Problem
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), “…more abuse occurs during toilet training than during any other developmental step.” (Source: Schmitt, B.D. Toilet Training your child: The basics. Contemporary Pediatrics. 2004; 21 (3): 120-122. As quoted in AAP Potty Training Guide (See also

Examples: Some recent cases reported in the Wichita Eagle (KS) - July 08, 2009

*Summer 2008: A little girl was severely beaten for soiling her diapers. She was then stuffed in a pillow case and trash bags and placed in the attic. A medical examiner said the girl was likely still alive and suffocated over the course of several hours.

*Summer 08: In Memphis, police say a 2-year-old girl was beaten to death by her father over a potty training issue.

* June 09: In Sacramento, Calif., a 27-year-old man was arraigned on murder charges for allegedly throwing his girlfriend’s 4-year-old son against a wall after the boy urinated in his diaper in the night.

*June 09: A husband and wife in Phoenix were accused of severely beating their 4-year-old daughter because she had not gone to the bathroom.

* And in Columbia, S.C., a father is in jail after being accused of kicking his 3-year-old daughter in the head and stomach, critically injuring her, over potty training issues.

WHY the problem?
These are examples of out-of-control parents who obviously lack the knowledge and skills to handle potty training. However, even the most educated and savvy parent will tell you than potty training is challenging.

The basic problem is that, all too often, parents assume that “waiting until a child is ready” means waiting until the child volunteers to learn to use the potty. Unfortunately, that seldom happens. The result is that too many parents keep waiting—as their child turns 2, 3, or even 4!

But at least children this old can talk and, therefore, tell you when they need to go. Isn’t that critical? The answer is no. According to child development expert, Dr. Linda Acredolo, “the age at which children become really verbal (around 24 months) is also likely to be when they also are beginning to strongly assert their independence. As a result, delaying potty training until they can talk all too often ends up involving a huge battle of wills.” Instead, parents who begin potty training before age 2 can tap into a period of development when toddlers are still relatively complaint and are naturally more inclined to imitate parents and siblings.

But if they can’t talk, how can they communicate their need to go? Here’s how.

Signs for Success
Babies love to use sign language to help them communicate before they can talk. By teaching babies the sign for “potty” (make fist with thumb between first two fingers, shake), they can easily communicate to their parents when they have to go. With the use of simple potty-time signs, babies can take advantage of the physical and emotional readiness that develops around their first birthday—and before their favorite word is “no.”.

Early potty training may not work for all children due to individual differences, health factors or developmental delays, but it will work for most – and it offers the promise of reducing parental frustration and protecting children from potential abuse.

Happy Signing!

Linda Acredolo, Ph.D.
Co-Founder, Baby Signs Program
and the Baby Signs Potty Training Program
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