Child's Temperament Affects Potty Training
Temperamental Differences, Not Parenting Style, May Explain Toilet Training Difficulties
WebMD News Archive
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
"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
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
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
"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
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
- Have more bad/negative moods
- Less persistent and more easily frustrated and more likely to give up
- Wary of trying new things
Timothy Schum, MD, associate professor of pediatrics at the
Medical College of Wisconsin, has conducted several studies on toilet training
and says the results of this study aren't surprising.
"I think people have suspected that children who have
difficult toilet training may also have difficult temperaments, and this study
lends some support to that theory," says Schum. "Parents need to be
aware that children who have these temperamental traits may take longer to
"Temperament traits can't be changed very much, but if you
are aware of them, as a parent, you can become more tolerant," says