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Child's Temperament Affects Potty Training

Temperamental Differences, Not Parenting Style, May Explain Toilet Training Difficulties

WebMD Health News

June 7, 2004 -- Understanding your child's temperament may be the key to potty training success, according to a new study.

Researchers found children who have a hard time with toilet training are more likely to have difficult temperamental traits, such as negative moods and less persistence.

That doesn't mean that children who experience difficulty during toilet training are necessarily difficult children overall, says researcher Researcher Allison Schonwald, MD, an instructor at Harvard Medical School in Boston. But she says they did not have what most parents would consider an easy-going attitude.

The study also showed that differences in parenting styles were not associated with toilet training difficulties. Instead, the biggest factor affecting potty training difficulties appeared to be the child's temperament.

"Understanding that it has to do with your child's temperament helps you understand where the pitfalls are," Schonwald tells WebMD. "You may have to change your parenting style around toileting to fit better with this child's temperament."

The results of the study appear in the June issue of Pediatrics.

Temperament Linked to Toilet Training Difficulty

Researchers say children are typically toilet trained by age 3, and the process usually takes about a year to successfully complete. But some children may experience persistent difficulties that require additional attention.

To better understand children who have difficulty toilet training, researchers compared 46 children who were referred to a specialty clinic because they had difficult toilet training with 62 same-aged toilet-trained children. The children and their parents were evaluated using standard temperament and parenting scales and from questions about their toilet-training history.

"Our comparison children had a normal distribution of temperaments: a proportion that was easy, intermediate, and difficult," says Schonwald. "Yet among our difficult toilet trainers, none of them were easy."

Although the overall temperament of the difficult toilet trainers did not meet the definition of "difficult" based on a behavioral style questionnaire used in pediatrics and psychology, the study showed that they displayed significantly more difficult temperament traits than the other children.

Specifically, children who had potty training difficulties were more likely to be:

  • Less adaptable and had more difficulty adjusting to new situations even with exposures
  • Have more bad/negative moods
  • Less persistent and more easily frustrated and more likely to give up
  • Wary of trying new things
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