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Potty Training Tip: Earlier Isn't Better

Early Start Doesn't End Toilet Training Sooner
WebMD Health News

April 7, 2003 -- Here's a potty training tip: Starting sooner doesn't mean ending sooner.

Potty training usually isn't easy. Parents in a hurry to get it over with may start potty training before the child is 2 years old. A new study shows this won't do any harm. But for most children, it will take longer than if training started at age 24-27 months.

The study comes from a research team led by Nathan J. Blum, MD, director of behavioral pediatrics at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. The researchers followed 406 children from age 17-19 months until they were potty trained. They focused on when parents began "intensive" toilet training -- meaning asking the child to use a potty more than three times a day.

"For most kids, intensive toilet training the child before about 24-27 months doesn't seem to have that much benefit," Blum tells WebMD. "Your child won't be any younger when he or she completes training, and it will take you longer. Waiting beyond three years doesn't seem to have much benefit, either. The kid is much older, but it doesn't go much quicker."

So what's Blum's tip on toilet training? The potty training tip that's right depends on what the parents want.

"Between 27 and 36 months, it seems parents have a choice," Blum says. "You can start on the younger side, in which case it will take a bit longer, but the kid will end at a younger age. Or you can wait. Your child will be older when toilet trained, but it won't take quite as long or as much effort."

These findings were true for about three out of four kids in the Blum study. But about one in four kids turns out to be a potty prodigy.

"There were 81 kids in our study who toilet trained without their parents ever reporting asking them to sit on the toilet more than three times a day. They just toilet trained earlier," Blum says. "There may be a group of kids out there that is just easier to toilet train. If a parent sees the child is almost there, but is not quite 27 months old, I wouldn't say to them, 'Hold off.'"

How do you know if you're one of the lucky parents? A gentle test can't hurt.

"I think sometime after 18 months, it probably makes sense to make a potty chair available to your child," he says. "Maybe ask them sit on it around bath time, just to get them exposed to it. If you have one of the kids who are really interested and want to do it, and you just make a suggestion and your kid wants to do it and makes progress -- go for it. But for about three quarters of kids, the parents really need to work at it."

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