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The Bottom Line on Toilet Training


WebMD Health News

March 30, 2001 -- Toilet training can be a difficult and stressful time for parent and child alike. But if your child fits into a certain category, a new study finds he may have a leg up on early toilet training.

The study, published in the journal Ambulatory Pediatrics, finds that girls, nonwhites, and children from middle-class, single-parent households are the kids most likely to be toilet trained at an earlier age. The research, which included assistance from diaper manufacturer Kimberley-Clark, raises interesting questions about the role ethnicity plays in this often-frustrating parental task.

Of equal interest, though, and great news for working parents is that day care and the mother's work status had no influence on the completion of toilet training.

Ethnicity did have a clear influence, though. "The [ethnic] differences are real," says study author Timothy R. Schum, MD, of the Medical College of Wisconsin and the Downtown Medical Clinic, both in Milwaukee. "One of the questions we did ask to get at parent's beliefs about toilet training ... the African-American parents agreed more with the statement that toilet training was important by the age of 2. Caucasian parents did not agree with that statement at all."

In fact, Schum says he's actually having trouble finding black children to participate in a follow-up study that takes a longer view of toilet training, because many already have been trained. One possible reason -- aside from parental viewpoints on toilet training -- is that black children have been noted to develop motor skills more rapidly in infancy than whites, Schum writes.

Still, that parental influence factor may be a big one. Schum points out that the general age of toilet training in the U.S. has been rising during the last 40 years because the "child orientation" method of toilet training -- otherwise known as "they'll do it when they're ready" -- has been in vogue.

In this study involving almost 500 parents with children aged 15-42 months, average toilet-trained ages reached their highest levels yet: 35 months for girls and 39 months for boys -- this despite the fact children always have had the learning ability to toilet train at 21 months.

"Some children get so used to life in diapers they could get to be 3, 3½ and they are still in them," Schum says. "I usually tell parents this child is already too old. Get them out of diapers."

Specifically, from the one-time survey of the families with children of the varying ages, the researchers found black children had the highest rate of toilet-training completion at 39%. Other ethnicities followed with 14% trained completely, while white parents reported a 7% trained rate.

The study also provided data for the association between day care and mother's work status, and toilet training. Schum and colleagues write, "It should be reassuring to parents that the child's participation in day care does not seem to affect the acquisition of completing toilet training within the standard time frame." Whether the mother worked or not also was an unimportant variable.

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