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Potty training is often one of the most frustrating aspects of parenting. For many parents it is traumatic, but for others, it can be a delightful experience. Potty training can be completed a lot sooner than most parents are led to believe. With the right approach, your child can be through with it about the same time that some expects say that it should begin. The purpose of this paper is to look at toilet training from different perspectives, encompassing historical beliefs, westernized beliefs and other cultural beliefs. Throughout the paper the terms toilet training and potty training will be used to signify the same.
In Western societies during the 1950's and early 1960's, the belief of leading experts was that a child had to be old enough to comprehend what training was all about and to be able to understand the social connotations of it all. They also believed that before any real attempt toward muscle control could be made, the child's sphincter muscles had to be fully mature. At the time, this was thought to occur at approximately twenty-four months of age. Although, some individuals still abide by these guidelines, the old point of view is changing. Potty training can begin as early as the child's first year. We now know that sphincter muscle development can occur much earlier; between the ages of one and one and a half years. The argument that a young child lacks the comprehension to be trained has certainly lost credibility.
In other cultures, the age at which children are considered toilet trained varies. This may be because the definition of training is interpreted differently by other cultures.
In today's society, experts in the field of child development recognize it is really the parent's choice whether to begin a child's training early or not. As long as the parent doesn't apply pressure, there now seems to be little objection to an early start.
Potty training is not accomplished quickly. There are no shortcuts. Early training starts with an emphasis on recognizing sensations and connecting these sensations with the appropriate muscles. Total control is not possible until the sphincter muscles have fully developed.
Many parents do not understand how they could teach their baby something that appears so complicated. However, it is only as complicated as parents make it out to be. Teaching a baby is actually a lot easier than you would imagine.
Potty training involves more than teaching a child how to control a physical function. It involves helping a child to recognize a series of physical sensations, to understand what those sensations mean, and then to control the urge long enough to go to the potty. These sensations cannot be explained with words and a different approach must be taken to help the child to make the associations and to discover things for himself. This can only be accomplished on an emotional level.
Parental attitudes and responses provide the key for early potty training. When you place the baby on the potty, your immediate response will tell the child exactly what he/she needs to know. When the child starts peeing and you become excited, the child understands that this is good, but that it is also fun. If you do this consistently, within a short time the child will purposely try to pee on the toilet just to get that same happy response from you. This puts your child in touch with his/her body. In the beginning, the joy of sharing his/her accomplishment is really all the baby needs. A happy experience provides enough incentive for a child to carry on.
A toddler may understand your request to use the potty, but at times this may not be enough. If potty training has not yet begun, then the child is accustomed to ignoring his/her body's functions. At this point in time, you are asking the child to control this impulse. A toddler may consider your request not only unnecessary, but a major inconvenience.
The toddler's emotional needs are quite different from a baby's because his/her priorities at this point in life involve the establishment of autonomy. This is a fact, which cannot be ignored. By providing the child with ample opportunities to satisfy this emotional need, you will be better able to gain a toddler's cooperation.
Children enjoy learning new skills. They are mostly attracted to situations that provide a sense of challenge. The feelings of satisfaction that a child experience's each time it makes progress makes continued effort worthwhile. A lack of challenge allows little opportunity to experience such feelings of accomplishment and is therefore a hindrance to any learning process. As a child learns, he/she must have something to look forward to, to satisfy the need for self-accomplishment. If a child is faced with a task that is below his/her current capabilities, the lesson will be perceived as being boring and not worth the trouble.
It is important to remember that potty training cannot be completed until the sphincter muscles are fully mature, regardless of the child's age or the amount of training.
All babies go through the same stages and experiences while being trained. The toilet training process takes months to complete regardless of the child's age. A baby must learn what it feels like to be wet, to associate wetting with the muscles involved, and to recognize the feelings of a bowel movement or the need to go to the potty. As the baby becomes aware of the muscles involved, he/she naturally begins to use them. The more familiar the child is with the muscles, the more the child will try to use them and these muscles will therefore become stronger. As the muscles become stronger, the child learns to control himself for longer periods of time. Once the baby is fully aware of all the sensations, the child will then go on to the final stages of potty training. The child will learn to communicate the needs to you and finally to use the potty on her own.
In other cultures, however, toilet training a child is performed differently than we are accustomed to. This may create some tensions and problems amongst parents and caregivers. An example of this cultural difference can be seen in the Digo tribe of East Africa. Women begin toilet training their infants a few weeks after birth and expect some day and night dryness by the time the child is six months of age and complete dryness by one year of age. This is accomplished by having the mother and child in constant contact for the first two months of the baby's life. When the mother's sense their babies are about to void, they place them between their knees and use tactile interactions to aid and reward the children's eliminations. At approximately three to five months of age, young female caregivers between the ages of five and twelve take over care of the baby during the day. If an accident occurs, the attendants, not the infants are punished. In Digo toilet training, substantial emphasis is placed on the responsibility of parents and caregivers to recognize and attend to the child after an indication of a toileting need.
The Digo method of toilet training would not work in our Western society because children are not constantly held. For parents who have their child in child care, the caregivers would not be able to devote all their energies on one particular child.
In the Israeli culture, toilet training is performed in a different approach. Children attending child care in Israel were introduced to toilet training in an assembly line process. The entire group of children were lined up and sat on their potties together. This process serves two purposes. Firstly, it introduces the children to the potty and shows the child that everyone sits on the potty. Secondly, it allows the caregivers the opportunity to change all the children at one time, thus eliminating repetition of the task. For children who appropriately use their potty, the experience is filled with positive reinforcements and comments. This encouragement would reinforce the habit of voiding in the potty in the not-too-distant future.
In Western cultures, the use of disposable training pants provides the children with conflicting messages. The training pants are made from the same material that diapers are made of, but have the appearance of underpants. This prolongs the toilet training process and should not be used.
In the Chinese culture, babies had learned by the time that they were six months old, to indicate that they wanted to urinate. When a baby wants to urinate, the whole body participates in the process. The mother, holding her baby in her arms, learns to be sensitive to the minute details of this process, and to hold her baby away from herself at exactly the critical moment. The infant eventually learns to ask to be held out. The mother neither tries to control the baby, nor does she train the infant to control herself according to imposed standards. Instead, she sensitizes herself to the child's rhythm and helps him to adopt social discipline with spontaneity, starting from its unique pattern. It is interesting that as a result of the mother taking the time to learn her child's pattern that the baby becomes toilet trained at a young age. Because the child's mother has had the sensitivity and patience to "listen" to the child, this was an experience of spontaneity and the child's autonomy has remained inviolated.
It is important to keep in mind that there are four elements necessary in order to begin potty training. These include a healthy baby, a baby who is capable of sitting up by himself, a relaxed attitude and a sturdy potty. A sick baby will become upset easily. If a sick child becomes irritated about having to deal with a potty, the child may develop a negative mindset about potty training. It is also important to remember that even though your child may be trained, expect occasional accidents, especially after an illness or sudden change in the family.
In conclusion, toilet training is considered to be a frustrating aspect of parents, but it can also be an enjoyable part of parenting. Toileting needs to be approached in calm manner, where children are encouraged to learn. It is important to remember that there may be more than one method of toilet training a child and that no one particular method is the correct one. It is important to use the method that is most comfortable for both the parent and the child.