My observation of particular learning process (toddler’s potty training) was supported by a diverse theoretical knowledge about classical conditioning procedures. I was able to observe ‘potty training’ activities initiated both by parents and child care professionals. The majority of professionals believe that children’s toilet training should be initiated after 24 months of age, while the majority of parents believe training should begin before 24 months. This parental practice is of concern in light of conviction that most children do not fall within the readiness parameters until 24 months of age.
The best example of how classical conditioning can be applied to potty training toddlers is bedwetting alarm – a device that senses wetness and starts to ring if the child urinates in the bed. The child wakes up, and thus perceives that alarm is bad, attributing this meaning to going to toilet in bed. In order to strengthen the effects of the classical conditioning, a child should be explained that the alarm is used to help them wake up when they need to go to toilet.
Some parents and professionals may not be waiting for children to achieve a sufficient level of maturity before training. Initially, the large discrepancy between parent and professional beliefs seemed alarming. Yet, some evidence suggests that the gap between actual parent and professional practices may not be as great. When parents were asked how they trained their children, their responses were more similar to the professionals’.
A majority reported providing encouragement, a potty chair, taking their child to the bathroom periodically, and preparing the children for the process. Parents may not feel as confident as child care professionals in approaching toilet training authoritatively. However, when asked for personal experiences, their responses better reflect their beliefs.
This realization, however, accounts for only a fraction of the differences between parents’ and professionals’ toilet training responses. One possible explanation for parents’ lack of consensus about child-oriented approaches is that many may be using a behaviorally based approach to training, as indicated by the fact that 37% of parents reported using classical conditioning principles when training.
A second possibility is that parents’ toilet training beliefs and practices may reflect their diverse cultural backgrounds. The child-oriented approach is dominant in Western cultures, but may not reflect best practice in other cultures. Another possibility is that parents are not finding access to current information about toilet training strategies.
Communication between parents and professionals deserves further exploration since only 15% of parents seek a professional’s advice. This prompts questions about whether supportive parent-provider relationships exist, whether professionals are offering toileting information to parents, and whether professionals are practicing what they preach.
For parents, some evidence suggests that age of the parent, ethnicity, and, particularly, marital status, may influence toileting beliefs. Certainly, a follow-up investigation with a larger and demographically more diverse sample may help clarify parental attitudes and practices regarding toilet training. An investigation that queried parents and professionals about joint home/school toilet training would offer tremendous insight about the flow of toileting information, agreement about practices, and overall levels of cooperation and satisfaction.
The dramatic between-group findings contribute to our understanding of how parents and professionals view the toilet training process. In light of this understanding, the researchers have outlined a series of recommendations that advocate for greater information sharing between professionals and parents so that children can best be supported developmentally and socio-culturally in their toilet learning. These recommendations may help bridge the gap between parent and professional beliefs and practices.
The first step in facilitating successful toilet training is for parents and professionals to form a partnership. At the time of enrollment, sit down together to discuss child-rearing practices and beliefs, including toilet training philosophies. The professional’s role in this meeting should be as "the learner"–someone who listens, understands, and appreciates the parent’s culturally based perspective.
Putting the parent in a parallel power position facilitates partnership building. Parents who trust their child care providers are more likely to work cooperatively with them, which increases the likelihood that children will feel supported in their toilet training both at home and at school. Parents are also more likely to ask professionals for assistance if they believe that their input is valued.
Second, directors of child care centers should ensure that staff is educated about developmentally appropriate and culturally sensitive approaches to toilet training by providing readings, staff meetings, and ongoing discussions about situation-specific topics. Third, it is crucial to maintain an ongoing dialogue between staff and parents, since successful toilet training requires collaboration between parents and professionals. These exchanges of information can occur in both formal and informal settings such as parent-teacher conferences, parent nights, or daily updates in the classroom. Professionals also should post information on bulletin boards, distribute information in parents’ cubbies, and be available to parents.
Child care professionals and parents should have a unified plan about toilet training so that children will benefit from a consistent approach at school and at home. Such a plan should be both developmentally appropriate and tailored to the individual child. It should not be age-driven; children who are not trained by a certain age should not be prevented from moving on with their peers.