Early-Start Potty Training by Linda Sonna. This is one of the two most readily available books on earlier toilet learning. I’d initially selected Jill Lekovic’s Diaper Free Before Three when I decided it was time to read a real book on the subject. After all, now that she’s two, my daughter no longer qualifies as an early potty trainer. And, looking at the chapter headings in my library catalog, I thought that the author was taking an overly cutesy tone that I would find annoying. But my good friend Dr. M. loaned me her copy of this for additional information, so I forged ahead.
I was right about the annoying cutesy factor, unfortunately. Sonna announces at the beginning of the book that we are going to help our children board the potty train. All chapter titles, sub-headings, and even notes thereafter have transportation themes ranging from trains to planes. Not only did I not find the theme helpful, but headings like “Reducing Jet-Lag” left me confused. Having all the notes headed “Quick Trip” meant that I couldn’t skim the headings to see what it was about. My other organizational difficulty with the book is that she organizes it basically into four age ranges: 0-6 months, 6-18 months, 18-24 months and over two years. 6-18 months?? That period wherein babies go from learning to sit, to crawling, to walking and from no language at all to talking and signing? She does use studies (yay!), but the studies she refers to are all cited by chapter at the end of the book with no numbers in the text for reference. I’m glad she’s for cloth diapers, but her cloth diapering information is outdated.
After all of that, though, there was some very helpful information in the book. While I prefered Lekovic’s summary of toilet learning through time, Sonna looks at toilet training cross-culturally. I was very interested to see that around the world, children generally finish at around the time their culture expects them to, whether that’s six months in India and Africa, 18 months in Japan, or three and a half to four years currently in the U.S. I found one more reason to dislike Brazleton, whose attitude towards breastfeeding turned me off when I first tried to read Touchpoints, but who has always seemed like a pediatrician I ought to like. It turns out that not only was it Brazleton’s highly-publicized idea that later potty training would be easier for mothers and less mentally risky for children, but also that he came up with the idea while the paid head of the Pampers Institute. That inspires some outrage, but there is practical advice, too. Sonna covers the benefits and drawbacks of starting training at each of the aforementioned stages, saying that around six months is probably the best combination of ease for parent and child. She talks about the improved parent-child relationship that comes from working with a pre-verbal child to communicate the need to go. She has good ideas for overcoming resistance and how to tell when it’s time to keep pushing and when it’s time to take a break for a week or so. I really like the way she breaks toilet learning down into small steps like knowing what a potty is for, being able to sit still on the potty for several minutes at a time, being comfortable without a diaper, and being uncomfortable staying in one’s own mess. Looking at it that way, there’s a lot of benefit to starting young, even if you give it up after a month or so. If all you do is give your baby regular naked time or make sure you change them right away when they are wet or dirty, you are setting yourself up for easier learning later. Most parents don’t think about the months to years of effort that we put into teaching kids to go in their diapers only to then spend equal or greater effort trying to redirect them to the potty. One of the most important things that Sonna has to say is that staying wrapped in human waste is gross and unsanitary. Parents are not doing their children any favors mentally or physically by keeping them in diapers longer, and, while it’s important to be gentle and pay attention to your child, it’s fine for parents to be firm about the necessity to learn to use the toilet.
This method is much friendlier to cloth diapering and general crunchy parenting than Diaper-Free Before Three. It’s also much wordier and harder to skim. But, it does allow for more variations in the age of onset of learning. While I’d give the more succinct Diaper-Free Before Three to parents first interested in exploring the now-strange idea of early toilet learning, Early-Start Potty Training has more information on the actual training and a more realistic view of working with babies and toddlers.