The mother of a 28-month-old recently asked my advice concerning toilet training. She ended her question by saying, “We want to avoid doing anything that might result in her developing a negative attitude toward her bodily functions.”

Can you imagine a mom in 1955 saying something like that? No, you can’t because until recently, parents didn’t think every single child-rearing issue was fraught with apocalyptic psychological implications. Pre-modern parents were straightforward with children (i.e., they communicated effectively), and when children became upset at decisions they made, they shrugged their shoulders and stayed the course (i.e., they acted with self-confidence).

The pre-modern mom didn’t view herself as Keeper of the Most Fragile Vessel of Holy Self-Esteem. As a consequence, she didn’t dance around issues. When she felt it was time for her child to learn to use the toilet, for example, she simply said, “You’re not going to wear diapers anymore. Today, you’re going to begin learning how to use the potty. Come with me.” And that was that.

The contemporary brouhaha over toilet training is a prime example of modern, psychological thinking when it comes to children. The modern parent, as exemplified by the above-mentioned mom, thinks that teaching a child to use the toilet is a delicate psychological enterprise, that if she makes one misstep, her child is going to be warped for life.

Teaching a toddler to use the toilet is no more “psychological” an enterprise than is teaching a toddler to eat with a spoon. In both cases, during the learning process, the child makes messes.

In both cases, a patient approach is going to produce the best results.

Is there reason to believe that if one does not approach the teaching of self-feeding with great caution that the child is going to be warped for life, that she is going to grow up with “negative feelings about swallowing” or something equally ridiculous? Of course not! And neither is there reason to agonize over toilet training.

Today’s child isn’t likely to have as happy a childhood as did a child who grew up in the 1950s. That’s right! By reliable account, the rate of child and teen depression has tripled since 1965. It is sobering to think about, and certainly ironic to note, that ever since American parents began worrying about psychological issues, American children began having more psychological problems.

Do you think there might be a connection here?

John Rosemond is a family psychologist. Questions of general interest may be sent to him at Affirmative Parenting, 1020 East 86th Street, Suite 26B, Indianapolis, IN 46240 and at his Web site:

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