Q: My 18-month-old kicks me and hits me when I try to change his diaper. He doesn't do this for his father or grandparents. Should I hold his legs down until he gives up, or will this worsen things?
A: Holding his legs definitely will make matters worse. The solution, of course, is to toilet train him. I know, the current pediatric party line is that he’s too young, he hasn’t shown certain “readiness signs,” and if you just leave him to his own devices, he’ll toilet train himself.
The fact is, just as it’s much, much easier to housetrain a 4-month-old puppy than a 1-year-old dog, it is much, much easier to toilet train an 18-month-old human than one who’s 30 months old or older. The older the dog/child, the more difficult it will be to teach the new “trick.”
The further fact is that the standard list of toileting readiness signs is bogus. As I point out in my book on toilet training, these “signs” were snatched out of thin air by certain professionals — the “pioneers” were pediatricians Ben Spock and T. Berry Brazelton — who were trying to lend an air of science to what is a relatively simple, straightforward process. The only readiness sign to which a pre-1960s mom — before the toilet-babblers began babbling — paid any attention was her own readiness to stop changing and washing diapers.
Here is my one-paragraph, less-than-150-words toilet training program: Purchase a toddler potty. Put it in the bathroom. Show your son how to sit on it. If you haven’t already, let him see you using the “big potty.” Toss the diapers and dress him in thin cotton underwear only — no pants when at home — so that his “stuff” goes down his legs and otherwise causes discomfort. Purchase a kitchen timer. Tell your son it’s the “potty bell.” Set it to ring every hour, on the hour. Load your son up with liquids, and drink lots of water yourself. When the timer rings, tell your son it’s time for the two of you to sit on your potties. Take him into the bathroom and help him sit. Then, sit yourself. (When Dad’s in charge and whenever your son’s around to watch, he should also sit). Make using the toilet a family affair! In no time, your little kick-boxer should be using the potty with minimal help from you.
If, for whatever reason, you’re not ready to toilet train, then the backup plan is to let his dad and grandparents change him as often as possible. When there’s no alternate diaper changer available, then just change him, kicking and all. Don’t say anything while doing so. Just work around his kicking as well as you can. To maintain your cool, try singing a song. May I suggest “19th Nervous Breakdown” by The Rolling Stones?
I remember going through the same thing with our son, who was also our first. We used cloth diapers with him. They required pins. His struggling was cured rather quickly after a few pins accidentally pricked his skin. The old technology did have its merits.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his website at www.rosemond.com.