Pressure to Potty Train 'Earlier and Earlier'

Moms are being pressured by preschools to potty train their toddlers.

February 22, 2011, 1:33 PM

Feb. 23, 2011 — -- Preschool is typically synonymous with 3-year-olds learning to take on letters, numbers, and colors -- not school administrators.

That's why an Arlington, Va. mother – Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso – says she was shocked when the principal of her daughter, Zoe's, preschool said the 3-year-old had violated the school's potty training policy and needed to stay home from school for a month, owing to one too many accidents.

The incident set off an internet firestorm.

"It is (wrong) to emotionally abuse a child for wetting their pants!" wrote one mother.

"I agree with the school. I should think by 3 a child should be fully potty trained," wrote another.

New York Mom Leslie Venokur, co-founder of Big City Moms, one of the biggest mom support groups in the nation, says the Virgina incident is symptomatic of a mounting potty war – the growing pressure moms are feeling to potty train their children younger and faster.

"Parents are potty training their kids earlier and earlier," Venokur said.

The trend is all part of the roller coaster ride potty training has gone through since the dawn of disposable diapers. In 1962, an estimated 90 percent of children were out of diapers by age two and a half. By 1998, that number had plummeted to just 22 percent.

Venokur, joined by five other moms of toddlers, told me modern day mothers are again feeling the heat to ditch the diapers.

"I mean, whether it's my friends or my family, you are seeing a lot of kids fully potty trained at two years old, two and a half, and not really the-- the three to four's age. And I think we all do have a little pressure because of it," said Keren Springer, the mother of twin one-year-old daughters.

"Well, it's a very -- pressure-filled society for raising children in general. So that's just one more thing that we're expected to have our children do earlier and earlier," said Keren Springer, the mother of toddler sons.

The evidence of potty pressure is everywhere: on bookstore shelves, on mommy blogs. There are potty chairs and cushions of every conceivable shape and size. There are even potty training iPhone apps.

Potty pressure may help, in part, to explain the growing interest of moms in teaching babies under the age of one to use the toilet.

Called Elimination Communication, the method in which infants as young as just two months are helped to use toilets now has thousands of mommy followers, including supermodel Giselle Budnchen. The Brazilian reportedly used the system on the son she has with football quarterback Tom Brady. Jessica Reagan, of Yonkers, New York, is also a follower. Reagan's 4-month-old son, Jaxon cannot yet sit up on his own, but he's a pro when it comes to using the toilet.

"I personally don't think it's too young at all. It's natural for a baby not to want to go to the bathroom on themselves," said Reagan.

Melinda Rothstein, founder of Diaper Free Baby, which helps pair interested mothers with Elimination Communication instructors, says the growing interest in teaching babies to go diaper-free at young ages can be attributed to a number of factors. Going without diapers saves time and cuts down on environmental waste. The average American family with babies in the household spends an average of $75 a month on disposable diapers, or almost $1,000 a year.

Elimination Communication is also, Rothstein says, a gentler approach to introducing little ones to the toilet.

"I think that it can be very confusing for a child in infancy and toddlerhood to be in diapers, and then at some magical age that is picked by the parent, the child has to change all of his or her habits and is now expected to use the toilet, " Rothstein said. "It's very difficult for that child I think emotionally as well as physically to all of a sudden be able to perform this way."

Also growing in popularity: potty training seminars, led by potty training coaches like Tammy Gold.

Gold says she embraces a relaxed approach to potty training, but has seen a steady rise in the number of moms desperate to potty train their children in just 24 hours. "I think that-- parents absolutely make potty training about them. The concerns are definitely the timepiece. They're in a great deal of rush to get this done," said Gold.

One rapid potty training method, called Fast Track, involves moms encouraging their children to drink often-excessive amounts of fluid in a bid to get them to urinate with greater and greater frequency, hopefully on the toilet.

But child psychiatrists, including Ned Hallowell, say the so-called extreme and boot camp methods can do much more harm than good.

"I think a boot camp for potty training is tantamount to child abuse. By pressuring a child, you're setting that child up to be at risk for becoming oppositional, for becoming stubborn, for digging in and it's completely avoidable by allowing a child to train at his or her own pace," said Hallowell.

For better or worse, Leslie Venokur says she caved in to the potty training pressures she was feeling. She trained her 2-year-old Samantha last month, sooner than she'd planned and in part to please preschool directors.

It's meant more stickers for Samantha, and one less source of stress, she says, for her as a mom.

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