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  • No Child Left With a Dirty Behind!

    Filed at 1:46 pm under by dcobranchi

    The Wall Street Journal’s page one feature today discusses the pressure on three-year olds to toilet train before entering daycare, er, “preschool.” But on the plus side, baseball Commissioner Bud Selig may have discovered a new marketing opportunity:

    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. Tuesday, her husband got a neighbor to call and impersonate Mike Sweeney, first baseman for the Kansas City Royals, and encourage Jack to keep potty training and be a “good little slugger.” Jamie Walker, relief pitcher for the Detroit Tigers (aka Lance Harshbarger, her husband’s office colleague), gave similar encouragement. Sammy Sosa (Ms. Heller’s father) called Thursday.

    Jack, a big baseball fan, has bobblehead dolls of two of the players sitting on the sink in the bathroom facing the toilet. “You lose all your inhibitions with this process,” says Ms. Heller, who rewards Jack for good performance with M&M’s and an occasional trip to Chuck E. Cheese’s. “The clock is ticking and it’s really stressful.”

    Before I go any further, I have to question Ms. Heller’s decision to repeatedly lie to her son by having people impersonate his favorite baseball players. It’s one thing to engage the child in fantasy—i.e., the tooth fairy or Santa Claus—but it’s quite another to mislead him such a manipulative manner.

    Then there’s the toilet training instructor who ignored her own instructions:

    Jane Hanrahan, a mother of four who teaches a toilet-training workshop at a community center in Connecticut, discourages the use of disposable training pants. Her two-hour workshop, which she offers four times a year, draws about 20 parents each session . . .

    She’s currently training her youngest son, Michael, who will be 3 in November. Despite her best efforts, he’s resisting. She recently bribed him in the grocery store with M&M’s, a tactic she strongly discourages in her workshops. “I looked around to see if any of my students were in the next aisle,” says Ms. Hanrahan.

    Preschools have a valid reason for wanting toilet-trained children: Regulations. State health and child welfare authorities often extensively regulate the manner in which diapers must be changed, making it time- and cost-prohibitive for the preschools. The Journal adds that there are legal concerns as well, and that changing diapers “often require two adults to be present . . . to prevent child abuse and forestall lawsuits.”

    And then there’s that nasty “socialization” problem, as Sara Anron, director of a nursery school in New York, told the Journal:

    [T]he 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. Anron. “The other children called the untrained children ‘babies.’ ”

    The needs of an individual child are, of course, irrelevant when you’re talking about any form of institutionalized care, be it a nursery school or an elementary school. This does not, however, stop parents like the above-mentioned Kerri Heller from pushing for institutionalization at the earliest possible moment: “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.”

    Toilet training strikes me as the parenting equivalent of running up too much credit card debt. For the first two-plus years of life, an infant is physiologically conditioned, via diapers, to completely ignore his elimination function. This is a fairly contemporary practice of western society. Many tribal and eastern cultures condition their infants to eliminate on cue (a practice sometimes called “infant potty training” in the U.S. and Europe), much as a mother breastfeeds a baby on cue. Diapering is encouraged by the medical establishment, which developed the rationale that infants have no sphincter control whatsoever until about 18 months of age. This isn’t exactly true: Infants lack voluntary sphincter control, but they can be conditioned to eliminate in tandem with a parent’s direction.

    I compare diapering to running up credit card debt because, in essence, each diaper change puts off the physiological process of elimination training until one day the entire payment comes due—with interest and late fees. Now the toddler has to be trained physiologically and psychologically to do something and, in the cases described by the Journal, to do it by an arbitrary date that bears no relation to the child’s actual needs. Add to that the pressure of social conformity, and you’re possibly ringing up a whole new set of debt that will be paid off later on in childhood.

    On a final note, I would consider the Journal story a cautionary tale on the dangers of expanding “universal” preschool mandates. Here in Washington, D.C., a city councilman once proposed lowering the mandatory schooling age to three. If such policies became widespread, it would be necessary for school boards to adopt mandatory toilet training policies—No Child Left With An Dirty Behind!—thus putting the government in charge of a child at potentially his most vulnerable period. I don’t think American society is ready for the potential horror that would unleash.

    5 Responses to “No Child Left With a Dirty Behind!”

    Comment by
    August 27th, 2004
    at 3:47 pm

    Well, you can still teach the kids to recognize what’s going on, even if they’re wearing diapers. In teaching my baby sign language, one sign I did use a lot was the “change” and “toilet” signs, and many times she tells us when she needs to be changed before we even check. I didn’t mean this to be a pretoilet training, but it seems to work for us. She’s been giving us this sign since about 13 months. Always signals a dirty diaper, and usually a wet one (she also gives us this sign when she’s only gone a little bit, and I’m not about to change a diaper for that…)

    Of course, you’re right in that she doesn’t eliminate on cue yet, and I doubt diapers would help with that. But at least she’s aware of what’s going on, and can tell us about it. It does get distressing in that I show other people the sign who care for her (she’s almost always in Daddy’s care, so this has happened only a couple times), and they ignore her when she’s telling them to change her.

    Perhaps it would be easier to see if she wants to use the toilet now, so she doesn’t have to depend on other people to take care of getting her clean.

    (ARGH! Why are hyphens not allowed? Who the heck set up this comment filter?!)

    Comment by
    Skip Oliva
    August 27th, 2004
    at 4:06 pm

    I hadn’t thought of baby sign language, that’s an excellent method.

    One thing the Journal article discussed was how the trend in diaper manufacturing is turning away from the super absorbant products to diapers that allow the baby to feel some wetness so that he’ll understand he’s going/needs to go.

    Comment by
    August 27th, 2004
    at 4:21 pm

    Never mind hyphens! The comment filter wouldn’t even let me POST, apparently because of “inappropriate content”. I posted my response over on my blog (and expanded it a little, because after all there’s no reason to try to be concise if it’s on my own page, right?).
    If anyone’s interested, they can read it here:

    Comment by
    Roy W. Wright
    August 28th, 2004
    at 12:53 am

    It’s one thing to engage the child in fantasy—i.e., the tooth fairy or Santa Claus—but it’s quite another to mislead him such a manipulative manner.

    Lies are lies.

    Comment by
    J Aron
    August 28th, 2004
    at 1:17 pm

    On… NOW I know why there is such a push on mandatory mental illness screening for kids in school..
    kids will end up so screwed up from forced early potty training we will need legions of therapists and psychologists to help them deal with their related issues!!