Should I potty train my 9-month-old?

Smart Love - February 2006


The Piepers


Should I potty train my 9-month-old?

Q: I read recently about a trend toward potty training babies. My baby is 9 months old and I would love to do away with the diapers. But I also know that in the past, some children’s problems have been attributed to being potty trained too early. The argument for training babies is that it is better for the planet. Before I try this with my son, I want to be sure I will not be hurting him. What is your view?

T.N., Oak Park

A: There is no question that in many parts of the world there are no diapers (or diapers are too expensive), meaning many babies eliminate directly in a designated indoor or outdoor setting. However, this arrangement works not because the babies become toilet trained but because parents or other caretakers remain physically close to them and consistently watch for signs that the children need to eliminate. It is the parents who are trained—not the babies.

If you are willing to maintain this level of vigilance, you could probably dispense with diapers, but the demands on you would be severe. This is usually not possible in our culture, where children go to daycare and parents put babies in cribs or playpens. Babies cannot reliably and voluntarily indicate they need to use the potty.

The timetable for toilet-choosing, the term we prefer, is sometime between 18 months and 4 years. Every child has a different rhythm for making that choice, and it is true that prematurely pressuring children to use the toilet will negatively affect their emotional health.

Is it manipulation when baby throws toys?

Q: My 10-month-old is going through a period of throwing every toy out of his crib, then bursting into tears and becoming hysterical because he doesn’t have them any more. But when we give the toys back to him, he immediately cheers up and throws them out again.

When we tire of this game, he gets so hysterical that he has even thrown up. My friends tell me I shouldn’t give in because he is manipulating us. What do you think?

P.D., Aurora

A: Many babies go through this phase. The bad news is that it can be quite demanding on parents. The good news is that your child will outgrow it.

You have to remember your baby’s mind is different from yours. He enjoys his new ability to throw the toys, and doesn’t realize that once he throws them, they are gone. So when the toys just lie there, he understandably feels frustrated. If you don’t help, he feels angry with you. He is not manipulating you—rather, he is expressing frustration. By retrieving the toys, you show him that you want to respond to his needs for help.

Soon your son will realize that when he throws toys out of his crib, he can’t reach them. Then he will no longer throw the toys he wants, only the ones he is tired of, and will become less insistent you retrieve them.

How do I keep my teen from instant messaging?

Q: Whenever I walk into my 16-year-old daughter’s room, she is at her computer and she hides the screen. Once in a while she isn’t fast enough, and I see the instant message screen. She is doing OK in school, but I think this is causing her to stay up later than if she just did her homework, and I am not sure she is getting enough sleep.

I have made rules about no messaging until after her homework is done, but I have no way to enforce it because she does her homework at her computer and I can’t watch her screen every minute. We can’t keep her off the Internet because we have a wireless system. Suggestions?

F.S., Evanston

A: The rule of thumb with teenagers is to avoid unnecessary conflicts and to save your authority for when you really need it. Many teens prefer messaging on computers and cell phones to phone conversations with friends. And as long as your daughter is doing well in school, count your blessings and don’t confront her over the instant messaging. Perhaps it is robbing her of a little sleep, but if she is sufficiently tired she will want to rest. She will be more likely to get a good night’s sleep if her bedtime has not become an issue between you. Otherwise, there seems little harm in what she is doing.

Make clear to your daughter that as long as her grades remain good, she can make her own choices about her evenings. Save your interventions for important health and safety issues such as getting in by curfew, letting you know where she will be when she goes out with friends and so on.

Martha Heineman Pieper, Ph.D., and William J. Pieper, M.D., are the authors most recently of Addicted to Unhappiness: Free Yourself from Moods and Behaviors That Undermine Relationships, Work and the Life You Want (McGraw-Hill), which helps parents and other adults improve their own lives. They also wrote the best-selling parenting book, Smart Love: The Compassionate Approach to Discipline That Makes You a Better Parent and Your Child a Better Person (Harvard Common Press). The Piepers have spent more than three decades practicing psychotherapy with infants, children, adolescents and adults; counseling parents; and supervising other mental health professionals. The parents of five children, the Piepers live in Chicago.

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