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Is There Really "No Science Behind Potty Training Experts' Advice"?

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Earlier this month, an article in the Huffington Post by Women & Parents Senior Reporter Catherine Pearson claimed that there was no science to potty training experts' advice.  Was this click bait or was there some truth to the title.  We asked the potty training experts that we know and trust.  

The first person I talked to was Dr. Rika Alper, a developmental psychologist and mother of adult children,  with more than 4 decades of experience.  She is affectionately known as the "potty whisperer, "and sees children with severe potty training issues.  Rika states that she is not aware of conclusive scientific consensus on when is the right time to start potty training. She notes that in the absence of a consensus on data, parents often must contend with lots of contradictory information, which can lead to anxiety.  Rika says "Based on my experience with kids who have great difficulties, my biggest takeaway (regarding when to start potty training) is to observe cues in your child."  Rika adds that we parents should work to reduce our anxiety by treating milestones not as moments to fear, but as normal stages of development.  Our kids so often pick up on how to feel about a situation from us parents.

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The second expert I contacted was Dr. Jen Trachtenberg. Dr. Jen is the mother of three children, including a son with autism. She has been a pediatrician for over 20 years and potty training is naturally a topic she deals with constantly.  Dr. Jen said "I do think by 18 months, physiologically, a child can hold urine for a few hours consistently and may be able to hold a bowel movement long enough to reach a toilet. But they are often not emotionally/or physically  ready for toilet training." She adds "there is no hard scientific evidence to hang our hats on regarding the best time to potty train." As a result, Dr. Jen approaches potty training by looking at each child individually, assessing their motor readiness (can they dress\undress, climb onto the toilet unassisted, sit for a few minutes etc.), and their emotional\cognitive readiness, which can vary greatly (i.e. are they scared of the potty? the flushing noise? the disappearance of poop? can they stop a preferred task to use the potty?)

Finally, Dr.Jen looks at  the interplay between parent and child.  How parents react to the process, from pressure to potty train on a deadline to negative  reactions to accidents, can really shape how a toddler responds to learning this life skill. "We need to educate parents that the child needs to want to be ready," she says.  "It's just not worth forcing it."


So according to our experts, the question of when to start potty training and how to potty train is not absolute.  Culture and past experiences play a large role, but it is important to note that the best method is the one that suits your lifestyle and your child's individual learning style. Take a look at where your child is developmentally and never feel compelled to potty train simply because a baby is on the way or pre-school is around the corner.  In fact moments of major life change are the exact times NOT to potty train.  Instead be sure that all other aspects of your child's life are stable.  And be sure you, the caregiver, is ready too.  You must have the patience to brush off accidents and the commitment to hang in there through the ups and downs, because this life skill can take up to 12 weeks for  a child to master.  And as we always say


For some fun reading on potty training practices around the world, check out this article from the Washington Post, and this one from 

Did you potty train according to customs from a country other than the U.S.? Tell us in the comments below.




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