Friday, August 27, 2004

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This post is dedicated to parents of toddlers...

Sarah Ellison has a must-read front-pager in today's Wall Street Journal. Well, actually it's only a must-read if you have small children -- if you don't, just skip to the next post.

OK, now that the appropriate demographic has been selected, here's Ellison's account of the most daunting challenge parents of two-year olds face -- toilet-training them before they start pre-school. The good parts:

For millions of toddlers, August is crunch time.

Preschool starts in September, and because of strict no-diaper rules at many schools, toilet training must end.

In Overland Park, Kan., Kerri Heller has until Sept. 2 to toilet-train her 3-year-old son, Jack. Ms. Heller started training in earnest earlier this month, and says she has barely left the house since.

On a Monday, she bought an egg timer and set it to ring every 30 minutes to remind Jack to use the toilet....

The no-diaper deadline for preschools is a big business issue for the $6.5 billion U.S. diaper industry, driving away good customers every year. It's "the biggest force at work in toilet training," says Thomas J. Falk, chief executive of Kimberly-Clark Corp. It makes Huggies, the No. 1 brand in the U.S.

Preschools often discourage diapers because of burdensome health regulations and legal concerns. Those schools that do change diapers often require two adults to be present during diaper changing, to prevent child abuse and forestall lawsuits.

The Weekday Nursery School in New Rochelle, N.Y., strongly encourages all 3-year-olds to be trained. It takes about 12 minutes for a teacher to change a child's diaper, says director Sara Arnon. That's if the teacher complies with state health regulations such as placing fresh disposable paper on the changing table (like at a doctor's office), using latex gloves and double-bagging dirty diapers. For a 2½-hour morning preschool, that means a lot of teachers' time would be spent changing diapers, she says.

Besides, the school found out years ago that changing older children when some of their classmates are already toilet-trained doesn't work. "It didn't last two months," says Ms. Arnon. "The other children called the untrained children 'babies.' "

Preschool enrollment is rising as more mothers head to work, and finding the right school is an ever more competitive enterprise. Ms. Heller lined up a year-and-a-half ago at 6 a.m. to get Jack into a "pre-preschool" program to help him get into the preschool he's about to attend.

The preschool deadline is one reason that Procter & Gamble Co., the No. 2 U.S. diaper maker, has developed a new product. It aims to smooth the way for potty training by essentially reversing years of diaper engineering. Instead of instantly absorbing liquid, the diaper holds a small amount of liquid next to a toddler's skin for two minutes or so before drying out.

The P&G product, called Pampers Feel 'n Learn Advanced Trainers, started arriving in U.S. stores in June. The goal is to establish enough discomfort that a toddler notices when he or she has an accident. P&G says feeling the wetness will help toddlers recognize that they should have gone to the bathroom. Of course, the same result could be achieved using regular underwear, but with the Feel 'n Learn diaper there's no mess for parents to clean up....

Babies used to graduate from diapers at a younger age in the U.S., and still do in some parts of Europe and Asia. People there tend not to make such a big deal of the process, says Kimberly-Clark's Mr. Falk. "Some European cultures don't have a word for toilet training," he says. In rural China, most babies wear underpants with a split in them and quickly learn how to use the toilet.

But American parents have grown more tolerant since the parenting philosophy of Boston pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton swept the country in the 1960s. Dr. Brazelton urged parents to adopt a "child-centered" approach to toilet training rather than imposing a schedule.

Since then, the age for completing toilet training has edged ever higher. Many parents and child-care workers say disposable diapers are so super-absorbent today that when a child has an accident, he or she barely notices. In the last few years, diaper makers have added larger sizes and created a new growth area with so-called training pants, which are pull-on diapers for older toddlers. Diaper companies say training pants help make the transition from diapers to regular underwear less stressful, but some parents worry they further delay the end of toilet training....

Catherine Haskins understands motivation. Ms. Haskins, who works for a marketing and public-relations firm in Kansas City, Kan., has pompoms in her bathroom to cheer on her daughter, Emma, who will be 3 in December. The tot, who is preparing for preschool that month, has also received stickers and Spiderman paraphernalia for good performance. Emma's training is almost complete, says Ms. Haskins, but it hasn't been easy. "I have had a step stool in front of my toilet for a year," she says.

Morgan Lilly Rodriguez, 3, of New York City, is signed up to go to preschool full-time in September. But she still has several accidents a week and doesn't like to flush the toilet. "She's afraid she's going to flush herself down," says her mother, Annette.

The rush to get children ready troubles Dr. Brazelton, now 86 years old. Preschool is an "artificial deadline," he says. "It isn't respectful of the time some children need."

As much as I occasionally rag on journalists, Ellison deserves dome props for this piece. It manages to offer slice-of-life vignettes while simultaneuously addressing larger issues -- day-care regulations, child-rearing philosophies, and product innovations.

UPDATE: Over at Galley Slaves, Victorino Matus has more information about the role that toilets can play in larger questions of public policy.

posted by Dan on 08.27.04 at 11:46 AM


What worked for our son was buying a two week supply of Matchbox cars when they were on sale 2 for $1. Then, we hung a car in the bathroom and each day he used the toilet he could collect a car, one per day. After two weeks, he was so used to going on the toilet that he didn't even think of going back. Plus he has a neat new collection of toy cars to show everyone for it!

I hear you can get some Barbie dolls for about $1 each, but my daughter was totally different. She took to the toilet early and right after we introduced the idea and didn't need the extra coaxing.

posted by: Ernie Oporto on 08.27.04 at 11:46 AM [permalink]

Toilet Training in Less Than A Day

posted by: MattJ on 08.27.04 at 11:46 AM [permalink]

Gummy life savers - one for #1, two for #2. After two failed attempts (we'd try for about a week and then give up), it worked in a day.

posted by: QD on 08.27.04 at 11:46 AM [permalink]

cloth diapers also speed up toilet training and are cheaper.

Are we really talking about toilet training on this blog today?

Props to you Dan for being confident enough to bring up the subject.

posted by: chris brandow on 08.27.04 at 11:46 AM [permalink]

It is my understanding that there is no point toilet training until the nerves down there finish developping, sometime between 2 and 3, earlier for girls than for boys.

Since our little man just turned 2 and won't be in preschool for a while, we are not rushing. But we have found that he likes to copy mommy and daddy, so the kids potty has been in use already even though we are not doing the drop and pop game yet.

As in much of life, the trick is first waiting until the iron is hot, then striking quickly.

posted by: Ted K on 08.27.04 at 11:46 AM [permalink]

It is discouraging to see modern parental hand wringing over a subject that was settled eons ago. Who the hell wants a kid to walk around with stinking crap in their pants. Besides, it is a waste of resources and time.

The little buggers are perfectly capable of getting off of the diaper habit starting before the age of 2. I taught my son to piss on bushes and automobile tires when he was 1. He loved it and quickly figured out it was better to stay dry. Once they learn to stop pissing themselves, it is a no-brainer for them to figure out #2.

The wife handled the daughter and she was off of diapers before 2 as well. No big deal, no trauma, no rewards, just the minimum standard required for a human being. Keep lowering expectations and dole out rewards for what should be considered normal everyday behavior and you will end up with an emotionally needy teenager and young adult.

Of course, we had a big advantage being in our early 20's, didn't read any child rearing books and figured that since we were the adults (at least we thought so) we set the tone and the pace of development, not the other way around.

Oh yeah, both kids are now in early 20's and they both have strong relationships with us and thank us for being the boss when they were little.

posted by: Horst Graben on 08.27.04 at 11:46 AM [permalink]

Ms. Haskins, who works for a marketing and public-relations firm in Kansas City, Kan., has pompoms in her bathroom to cheer on her daughter

hahahahahahahahaha! I think I have just gained an insight into a nation.

posted by: dsquared on 08.27.04 at 11:46 AM [permalink]

The "naked & $75" method--keep them naked from the waist down. The $75 is to clean your rugs after the first week.

posted by: cc on 08.27.04 at 11:46 AM [permalink]

Maybe someone could help.... I need to found out if a preschool located in NY can reject my child because she had some accidents ..Now at home she is fully toilet trained but she just started preschool and all the other kids go to the batroom by themselves ..I sent her with a diaper so if she will have accident the place won't get wet :) Now I am talking about #1 not #2 (she just happen to have #2 at home so far) But they don't allow kids to be with a diaper at all...The director of the school called me after the 2nd day she started and ask to keep her home for as long as it take until she is fully toilet train ..Isn't that against the law ? I don't know where to found help I mean at home she is ok but they must give her a chance like remending her at school to go to the bathroom she is not 3 years old yet ..
I'll appreciate any help...

posted by: sylvie on 08.27.04 at 11:46 AM [permalink]

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