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The man behind the high anxiety of toilet training

October 1, 2018

Talking today’s mother through her first experience with toilet training is akin to talking someone off a ledge. Both situations involve massive anxiety, high drama, and lots of yelling and screaming.

Now, I am obliged to point out that whereas talking someone off a ledge has always involved drama, that did not describe toilet training until a pediatrician named T. Berry Brazelton convinced himself that this relatively simple process was fraught with the potential for psychological apocalypse. During his medical school days, Brazelton had come to believe that Sigmund Freud, the so-called father of modern psychology, was a genius when, in fact, he was mostly just deluded.

Freud had made a big deal of toilet training, so Brazelton followed suit.

Brazelton came up with a list of “readiness signs” that he claimed had to be present before a parent commenced toilet training. Mind you, the only indicator of readiness in the pre-Brazelton era was a mother’s readiness to be done with diapers. In those benighted days, almost all children were fully trained (and, according to a 1955 Harvard study, accident free) prior to their second birthdays. The process, start to finish, usually took three days to a week.

Without a shred of evidence, Brazelton also claimed that training children prior to their second birthdays — which, keep in mind, was the norm before the media began helping him disburse his toilet-babble — required “force” and that said pressure could cause dire damage to a toddler’s psyche, even permanent dire damage.

(My wife claims that where I am concerned, this explains a lot.)

Thinking that people who are published must know what they are talking about, pediatricians began parroting Brazelton. Telling moms to wait until their kids were nearly 3 became the industry standard. That activated the “Old Dog” principle: to wit, the older the dog, the more difficult house-training is going to be. The same is true concerning children, unfortunately.

Brazelton is why toilet training is now fraught with anxiety, drama and lots of yelling. More than a few mothers have told me that it nearly brought on full-on emotional collapse, and not in their children, mind you.

In 2012, I wrote a book on toilet training in which I simply described how it was done before T. Berry convinced himself and others that he had a better idea. The gist of the book can be summed up thus: Teaching a toddler to use the toilet is not rocket science; it is, in fact, no different than teaching a child to feed himself; there are no readiness signs; Freud was a fraud; and you can do this.

On Sept. 7, a North Carolina mom wrote me through my website. After reading my book, she had started toilet training her 17-month-old daughter and needed some advice. Said toddler was very cooperative. At her mother’s direction, she would sit on the potty for a few seconds and then get up and promptly pee on the floor. That last part was most definitely not at her mother’s direction, by the way. Mom and I exchanged a few emails during which, unbeknownst to her, I was simply going into a trance and channeling my great-grandmother.

On Sept. 13, mom reported “100 percent success.” That’s right, folks, six days later with a child one month shy of being a year and a half old. No force, high anxiety, drama, yelling or and no psychological apocalypse. By Sept. 20, said mom reported that her daughter was going all but completely on her own.

This 17-month-old child’s success proves that toilet training is not rocket science, and you, whoever you are, can do this.

Visit family psychologist John Rosemond’s website at www.johnrosemond.com; readers may send him email at questions@rosemond.com; due to the volume of mail, not every question will be answered.

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