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Moms Talk: Humiliation as a Potty Training Technique

Critics lashed out at a father who made his 3-year-old wear a sign of shame after a potty training accident. Should children ever be punished for having accidents?

It’s a task no parent particularly looks forward to: Potty training! While the prospect of saving hundreds of dollars on Pampers annually can be exciting, making the transition from diapers to the toilet can sometimes be an exhausting and frustrating process for both parent and child. But should a child ever be disciplined for having an accident?

Potty training parents have been making news lately, some for their strange training techniques and some for their extreme potty training punishment. In Utah, a mother propped her two naked twin daughters on little plastic potties at the table of a crowded restaurant, sparking a firestorm for her severe lack of etiquette.

And a father of a 3-year-old-girl got more negative attention than he bargained for when he hung a sign of shame around his daughter’s neck after a potty accident. The sign read, “I pooped in the shower and Daddy had to clean it up. I hereby sign this as permission to use in my yearbook senior year.” His attempt at humor backfired on him when he posted it on Reddit and it went viral; many parents felt he took things too far.

But it was a Detroit man who really took things too far when he tragically beat his 2-year-old daughter to death after she had a potty training accident. The man admitted he felt children should be physically punished for having accidents; he now will face his own punishment behind bars.

While most experts agree that punishing for potty training accidents only leads to shame, confusion and more accidents, they don’t all agree on what age children should begin the actual potty training process.

According to an article in the Salisbury Post, 50 years ago 95 percent of all children were potty trained by 18 months. One reason could be the introduction of disposable diapers in 1961, which made far less work for Mom and Dad because of the convenience. The article cites influential pediatricians like Dr. Brazelton, who advises parents not to push their children to train until they are ready. But Dr. Linda Acredolo, professor of psychology at the University of California, disagrees. She believes the older children get, the harder it is to potty train them, and that while well-meaning doctors tell parents children under 2 are not ready to train, that’s just not true.

Today, most children potty train between 22 and 30 months. Experts say children should exhibit cognitive, verbal and motor skills, have emotional and social awareness about the issue and be physiologically ready (having bladder control, etc.) But many children are well over 3 years old before they grow interested in ditching their size 7 diapers (yes, there are size 7 diapers for kids up to 41 pounds!) So is there really a right age, or is each child different?

Among mommy circles, potty training can be a hot topic. Many mothers boast about their wonder child who learned to sit on the toilet before his first birthday, while other mothers cringe and wonder if they’ve become complete maternal flops because their near preschool-aged son is still wearing Pampers.

In my own home, potty training was starkly different with each child. My first son trained in less than a week, thanks to his daycare worker who swiftly escorted him to the bathroom several times a day during the transition. But when my second son came along, it was a different story. I feared he would end up in Depends if he did not start sitting on the toilet, but a month shy of his fourth birthday, a cool pair of Thomas the Tank Engine underwear finally did the trick, and we were home free.

My daughter trained herself in a day at age two, and my last son was out of diapers and accident-free by his third birthday. I cannot say I did anything particularly miraculous or extravagant; I simply acknowledged that each child would potty train in his or her own time, and they did. Not forcing the issue seemed to lead to less accidents and, in the end, less frustration.

Parents, when it comes to potty training, at what age do you think is too young? Too old? Do you think kids should ever be disciplined for having an accident? And what of the dad who hung the sign around his daughter’s neck? Do you think his humor was harmless, or do you think he went too far in shaming his child?

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