Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Potty Training: What Does “Ready” Really Mean?

After taking a brief break to talk about my new grand-niece, I'm back to potty training. The time is right given that potty training in warmer weather is easier and spring (we hope) is right around the corner for many of us.

Parents frequently hear that it’s best to wait until a child is “ready” for potty training before beginning the process. But what exactly does the term “ready” mean? For the answer we turn to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) Guide to Toilet Training (2003). According to the AAP, parents should watch for readiness in three specific developmental domains: physical, cognitive, and emotional. Over the next few postings, we’ll take a closer look at what’s required in each case starting with physical readiness.

According to the AAP, in order to actively participate in potty training, children must be physically able to:
• Sense when they need to eliminate
• Delay elimination long enough to get to the potty
• Sit independently on a potty chair

At what age do these skills typically appear? This is an easy question to answer based on the information about the history of potty training I described in my 1/14 posting. If you’ve had a chance to read that entry you may remember the fact that before the invention of the disposable diaper in the early 1960s, children in the United States were routinely trained by 18 months! Is there any reason to suspect that children have changed so radically over the last 50 years that they’ve completely lost these physical abilities? Obviously not! If that was the norm up until the 1960s, then clearly children today are physically ready for potty training well before age 2.

In other words, it’s simply a cop out (as my son would say) to use a lack of “physical readiness” as an excuse to delay potty training until children are 2.5- to 3-years-old.

Stay tuned for discussion of cognitive and emotional “readiness.”


Linda Acredolo, Ph.D.
Co-Founder, the Baby Signs Program
Professor Emeritus, UC Davis

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