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  • By Steve Hodges, M.D.

The Worst Potty Training Advice I've Read

the worst potty training advice ever

I continue to be astounded by the seriously bad potty-training advice spewing out of the Internet.

Let’s take this Q&A, published in the Gaston Gazette of North Carolina, my home state.

A mom has toilet trained her 16-month-old and is dismayed that, at 19 months, the toddler removes her nighttime diaper and then wakes up in a pool of pee crying for her parents.

The “guru” who answers the question — a psychologist — advises the mom to put her daughter to bed wearing nothing from the waist down. He insists “there is no better motivator” for staying dry overnight “than waking up on cold, wet sheets.”

Wow. This is wrong on so many levels that I don’t even know where to begin.

But let’s try this: Staying dry overnight has nothing whatsoever to do with “motivation.” The use of this term reeks of the blame that so many of my young patients are subjected to. Children do not wet the bed because they are not “motivated.” Dryness is not within their control.

Toddlers wet the bed because, well, they are toddlers! The vast, vast majority of them simply haven’t reached the point of brain/bladder development that allows them to stay dry overnight. Letting them soak in cold, wet sheets will not change that.

And when older children around 4 or older wet the bed, it is almost always because they are severely constipated. The poop clog in their colon presses against the bladder, squishing it to the point where staying dry is simply impossible — no matter how “motivated” or wet and cold these kids are.

I’m so tired of hearing children get blamed for potty problems that I’ve co-written, with Suzanne Schlosberg, a children’s book called Accidents and Bedwetting Aren’t Your Fault!

But I digress. Let’s return to the “guru.”

He congratulates her for “ignoring the babble coming from the professional community” that urges parents to wait for “readiness signs.” He claims that the reason toilet training has gone from “being no big deal” in the 1950s to “the single biggest parenting hurdle of the early years today” is that parents are waiting too long to begin the process.

People, this isn’t the 1950s! Moms are working, and kids are in daycare or preschool. Toilet training requires constant monitoring to make sure the child is not holding pee or poop and diligent follow-through well after the process is “completed.”

Toddlers simply don’t have the good judgment to pee or poop in a timely manner. Symptoms may not surface for two or three years, but the holding behavior so common among potty-trained 2-year-olds often catches up with these kids. That’s when they show up at my clinic, with the sudden onset of accidents, UTIs, and urinary frequency.

Research in my clinic, published in the journal Research and Reports in Urology, found that kids toilet trained before age 2 had triple the incidence of toileting problems as kids trained later. (Stay tuned for details.)

The guru’s puppy analogy is ludicrous. Period. (As he’d say.)

Look, I’m not a chef, so I don’t advise people on how to pan sear their scallops. I’m not an auto mechanic, so I’m not going to tell you when your rear wheel bearings need replacing.

I really wish psychologists and celebrities would stop advising people on when to toilet train their children.

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Must-read books for kids by Steve Hodges, M.D.

• Bedwetting and Accidents Aren't Your Fault

• Jane and the Giant Poop