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Don’t compare siblings — Good Parenting

Welcome to Good Parenting, our weekly online series on parenting advice with Annapolis, Maryland, expert Dr. Deborah Wood.

Headshot2011Don’t compare siblings — Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

My older daughter was fully potty trained by 18 months sparing me the “two in diapers” situation that plagues some of my friends. Even though life is a little more hectic with two underfoot, I thought we’d be further ahead than we are with her little sister by now. She’s already 16 months old and only sometimes starts grunting so I know to put her on the toilet for a bowel movement. She is seemingly oblivious to wetting herself.
Any advice?

So Tired of Diapers

Don’t miss last week’s column A battle to bundle up — Good Parenting

Dear SToD,

The timetable for mastering the toilet is quite varied, even in the same family, as you have seen. You may be blessed with daughters leaning toward either end of the scale. Worldwide there are cultural differences which suggest that children can be reinforced for being aware of what’s happening in their bodies and effectively communicating to get help in toileting — even from the very day they are born. This happens when parents catch on to grunts, squirming, and fussing that seems to come at regular intervals related to eating, sleeping, and other activity. It requires a high level of intimacy between parent and baby in order for it to work effectively. Interestingly, in parts of the world where disposable diapers don’t exist, and especially where clothing is unnecessary for babies due to the climate, babies are trained quite early. In industrialized parts of the world this is catching on as Elimination Communication or Natural Toileting. Many factors make this successful, including the parent’s ability to pay close attention and be ready to assist when nature calls which was probably more the case for you with your first child.

On the other extreme, disposable diapers have become so effective at absorbing urine that a child is not likely to notice dampness after urinating. The superabsorbent polymers in the wadding boast holding up to 800 times their weight – leaving a toddler to go on about her business for quite a while – and making toilet mastery easy to postpone for a couple of years.

Rather than comparing your second daughter to your first, which is always tempting to do, consider that she is a unique individual with her own personality and timetable for growing up. For one, she is a sibling rather than an only child, which often means Mom has more to pay attention to than one baby’s toileting rhythms and signals.

To encourage toilet mastery with your toddler, take advantage of your family’s built-in model by having both sisters in the bathroom at the same time. Second borns usually want to imitate their older siblings, so if Big Sis doesn’t mind, she can provide the example. There is a wealth of guidance on how to start toilet training a child between 18 months and 3 years  which is the common age range for this task in these parts.

Whether you just relax for a while until your second shows interest, or decide to forge ahead with full focus, remember to keep a positive attitude about assisting your child with keeping herself clean.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy@jecoannapolis.com

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