Toilet Training: Battle or Breeze?

Parents Really Do Have a Choice.

Some of us have been there. Some of us are approaching it. Some of us are waging the war even as we speak. But all of us get through it, eventually. The age-old triangle of toilet training, kids and parents is one that often gets the better of parents and can be an enormous source of tension and frustration for everyone. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Parents really do have a choice on how to approach training and there are ways to avoid the classic struggle for power between them and their soon-to-be-trained tots. “I frequently get asked when is the right time to begin toilet training, and there are so many, and varied right answers,” says Dr. Sheri Ross, LSP. “Physical readiness, overall interest, the level of a child’s cooperation, the ability of a child to understand what’s expected are all important gauges. A mom and dad’s attitude is a very important component to either a positive or frustrating training experience.”

Apart from the financial desire to skip the Pampers aisle at the store, most parents still use a child’s age as a classic indication that toilet training should begin. And for the most part, some type of training program is usually initiated between 2 years and 3 years of age. Today, the general consensus among parents seems to be that any child who completes toilet training at less than 2 years old ranks in the “wonder kid” group. Conversely, any 4-year-old who remains untrained usually prompts a firestorm of advice from friends and relatives around the globe on how to get junior out of diapers.

So just how big a deal is age today, when it comes to toilet training? One study has shown that children in 1975, compared to kids in 1947, completed toilet training later – significantly later. In fact, in 1947, 60 percent of all 18-month-olds studied were completely trained. In 1975, the percentage of 18-month-olds who were completely trained fell to 2 percent. Not surprisingly, the percentage of children who completed training over 33 months rose from 5 percent in 1947, to 42 percent in 1975. And this trend continues today. Children are simply completing toilet training much later than their moms and dads as tots.

“We need to remember that society has changed, too,” says Dr. Melanie Goodell. “Moms and dads are far more mobile, and disposable diapers accommodate active schedules.” So, it seems the pressure to train early is off. But is it really?

Even though it is socially acceptable for training to commence and be completed at a later age, the training process is not without its ups and downs. There are lots of good ways to motivate children at home, says the doctors at LSP. Here are a few of their suggestions for children between the ages of 2 and 5 years:

  • Have children earn privileges (e.g. TV, library or play-in-the-park time) by first using the toilet.
  • Special design underwear is often a big hit.
  • Give minor incentives for using the toilet. Reward in large amounts for bowel movements, and a limited amount for urine.
  • Once a child understands the process, avoid conversation and constant reminders about using the toilet. Pressure always triggers resistance. Rewards really do speak louder than words.
  • Look upon episodes of wetting and soiling as “accidents.” And expect that there will be some. This helps to keeps the focus positive. Lectures, threats or punishment never work.


Naturally, there are those children who need extra help because they persistently refuse to sit on the toilet, or they hold back. “We are here to support parents in their home training efforts and help them avoid useless and potentially harmful interventions,” says Dr. Sheri Ross. “There are many effective strategies we can employ to help families survive the frustration of a child who resists. It is important to to transfer the responsibility for toileting to the child. Parents can promote cooperation by offering a child a reward that he greatly values.”

“Even though we tell ourselves as parents that training our kids to use the toilet should not be a ‘big deal,’ we have to really feel that way,” adds Dr. Melanie. “At LSP, we encourage our parents to take the pressure off themselves and their tots-in-training. We have a lot of good ideas and can also offer some book and audio suggestions for both you and your child.”

If you have questions about toilet training, call us at LSP We’d like to help you and your child make this important step together in a positive, upbeat way.

© Lake Shore Pediatrics, Ltd. 1994, 2002. All rights reserved.