As you perch on the toilet seat next to your toddler's potty chair for endless hours of seemingly unproductive time, you might wonder why mastering a natural bodily function is so difficult. It's aggravating to realize that your puppy was easier to train than your child. Potty training in America and other developed countries is a uniquely frustrating experience; in many parts of the world, kids are trained much earlier and with far less parental angst.
Training from Birth
In some countries, potty training isn't a singular event; it's just part of daily life from the time a child is born. In many Asian, South American and African countries, moms hold babies constantly -- without a diaper between them and the baby's bottom -- and learn to read the cues that their child is about to urinate or defecate. Rather than putting the baby on the toilet, they simply hold him out when he starts to go and let the results fall where they may. After a few months, the baby gets the idea that being held out and hearing a certain sound -- usually a soft whooshing-type sound -- means it's time to go. There's no punishment for getting it wrong. Most babies in these countries are trained before they can walk, according to Colleen Brunetti, writing for PottyTime.com.
Typical Training Ages
Around the world, over 50 percent of babies are trained to use the toilet before the age of 12 months, according to Barton D. Schmitt, MD, in "Contemporary Pediatrics." In Finland and many other Northern European countries, kids are routinely held over the potty after every meal from infancy onward. In the United States, the average age for achieving potty training is around 2 1/2 for girls and around 3 for boys, the National Network for Child Care reports.
American Toilet Training
The average age for starting potty training has gotten pushed back in the United States from 12 months in the 1920s to as late as 3 years starting in the 1990s, points out Schmitt. The backwards trend started in the 1960s and '70s, when doctors and psychologists suggested that it was better to wait for signs of readiness before starting potty training. Most African-American parents believe toilet training should start around 18 months, while most Caucasian-Americans don't attempt potty training before age 2, according to biological anthropologist Dr. Gwen Dewar of ParentingScience.com.
Choosing the Best Method
Some American parents have decided that early potty training -- called Elimination Communication -- is the way to go. This type of training requires close continuous contact with your baby and lots of patience and diligence. But going to the other extreme and waiting until your toddler asks to use the potty at age 3 or later isn't necessarily the best move either, suggests Dewar. Kids obviously can be trained earlier, since most of the world's offspring manage to achieve it. Despite Freud's beliefs, toilet training isn't psychologically damaging as long as it isn't done harshly or punitively, pediatrician Steven Parker emphasizes on WebMD.com.