To Train Or Not To Train

May 24, 2010
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“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”  It’s much the same way with babies and toddlers when it comes to sleeping through the night and going to the toilet. You just can’t force them.

Still, there is no shortage of expert advice on the how-tos and the whens of toileting and nighttime sleeping because exasperated parents will try anything that they think might work.

It can be confusing for parents, especially the first-timers, with so many different voices out there, giving advice that run the gamut from the “be gentle, wait till the child is ready” style of training to the “start them young and don’t let up” variety.

Sleeping through the night and going to the toilet are both developmental milestones that, if pushed through too early or in too rigid a manner can lead to all sorts of personality disorders that may hinder one’s journey through life.

From Sigmund Freud’s psychosexual stages of development we learn that conflicts related to toilet training during the anal stage of development (around ages two-three) can result in a person developing an anal personality.

Anal aggressive personality types are sloppy, defiant, disorganised, reckless and careless; while anal retentives are obsessively clean and orderly and tend to be intolerant of those who aren’t, and may also be stingy, withholding, obstinate, meticulous, conforming and passive-aggressive.

The key to successful toilet training is to delay the process until the child is ready. Penelope Leach, well-known developmental child psychologist and author of Your Baby and Child: From Birth to Age Five says: “An early start means that the learning process takes longer; if you start later he will learn faster and reach the same point at the same time.”

William Sears, author of over 30 books on childcare, renowned pediatrician and the father of eight children summarises it succinctly: “You have not failed parenting 101 if your baby is the last on the block to be dry.”

He explains that parents should watch their baby, not the calendar, looking out for signs—like being able to stay dry for about three hours, having the ability to pull his clothes off, or the ability to verbally communicate bodily sensations like hunger—that say their baby is ready for toilet training.

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When it comes to sleep, Dr Sears, who is a strong advocate of attachment parenting—a holistic style of parenting that emphasises parent-child bonding, suggests co-sleeping to help children develop healthy sleeping patterns.

Dr Sears stresses that at the start of life there is a good reason for babies to wake often. “I strongly feel that the infant’s sleep pattern is “infantile” so that the infant can more easily communicate his or her survival needs.”

Richard Ferber, director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Children’s Hospital in Boston and author of the book Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems teaches parents to use a progressive approach to sleep training.

His method, which has come to be known as “Ferberisation”, calls for putting the child to bed awake, after a bedtime ritual like reading or singing. Parents then leave the room. If the child cries, wait a certain amount of time before going in. Soothe the child with your voice but don’t pick her up, feed or rock her. Gradually increase the time interval between checks.

Babies should be ready for sleep training by the time they are about 6 months and should be sleeping through the night after about a week of training, according to Ferber.

Sleep training may be too hard for some parents because they are discouraged from physically comforting a crying child, but there are those who rave about the results.

On the extreme harsh end of the spectrum is Gary Ezzo, a pastor who advocates that sleep training start from birth and toilet training begin in the 18-24 month time frame.

Ezzo urges moms to put their emotions aside and promises that by eight weeks of age nighttime feeds can be cut out completely. He says parents should expect children to be toilet-trained and accident free by 2+, otherwise the child should be made to clean up the mess, soiled clothes included.

Ezzo has been lambasted from all sides, including the Christian community to which he belongs, peadiatricians, health-care providers and child development experts, all of who fear that ‘Ezzo babies’ will suffer psychological damage, dehydration, poor weight gain and failure to thrive.

Yet Ezzo’s book On Becoming Baby Wise has become a best seller and is reportedly used by parents in over 93 countries and in 17 languages.

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Increasingly, however, parents are beginning to listen with their hearts and not with their heads. They are learning to understand and be responsive to their baby’s cries.

They are learning that the best way is what’s best for their baby and not always what the experts have recommended.

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6 Responses to To Train Or Not To Train

  1. Toni Clifton on May 25, 2010 at 8:49 am

    You are totally making the Ezzo stuff up. I read it and never saw that legalistic/black vs. white approach.

    Try looking at

  2. Eileen Lian on May 31, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    Thanks for your comment, Toni. As readers, it’s natural to take what we want from a book and our perceptions are, thus, likely to differ from others.

    See On Becoming Wise to Ezzo’s Useless Information

    Also How Ezzo’s Child-Rearing Philosophy Impacts Psychosocial and Physical Development

    And A Tough Plan For Raising Children Draws Fire ‘Babywise’ Guides Worry Pediatricians and Others

    One more Getting wise to ‘Babywise’

    And lastly BabyWise? Be wary!

  3. MamaOne on June 3, 2010 at 5:05 am

    Ezzo and Ferber are advocates of child abuse. Parents that ‘sleep train’ are not doing what is best for their child. They are doing what is convenient for them. And it is child abuse to let your child scream when it wants to be comforted at night. To deny a child food at night because it is inconvenient is abuse. These children will be psychologically damaged because their ‘parents’ needed an infant or toddler to ‘fit’ into their lifestyle. These people should never have become parents to begin with. It disgusts me.

  4. MamaCurls on June 3, 2010 at 5:34 am

    I’m not sure that I agree with delaying the approaching to potty learning. There is little to no evidence to back up the idea of “readiness” but plenty of evidence that shows even teeny babies have the ability to relay their need to eliminate and an ability to hold it.

    What has happened is that we’ve train our children to eliminated in their diapers. And then we have to “retrain.”

    I our case, we offered the potty at an early age(early for the States!)and our child was learning quickly and done quickly. All because we didn’t ignore her desire to stay clean and dry and because we didn’t keep train her to go in her diaper.

  5. Sarah Dorrance-Minch on June 3, 2010 at 7:08 am

    “… Ezzo has been lambasted from all sides, including the Christian community to which he belongs, peadiatricians, health-care providers and child development experts, all of who fear that ‘Ezzo babies’ will suffer psychological damage, dehydration, poor weight gain and failure to thrive.

    Yet Ezzo’s book On Becoming Baby Wise has become a best seller and is reportedly used by parents in over 93 countries and in 17 languages.”

    I find that sad. Very, very sad. Make that pathetic.

    Oh, and Toni? You’re promoting a site created by Ezzo and his apologists to combat a site that actually told the world about how, among other things, his own children are now ESTRANGED from him, and his former church has EXCOMMUNICATED him for his dishonesty and vainglory (among other things!)

    If you want convenience, don’t become a parent. Buy some Barbie dolls or something instead. They’re cheaper, always obedient, never keep you up at night, never get hungry at odd hours, don’t need diapering, and require less maintenance.

    They aren’t very affectionate, but that’s probably minor.

  6. Nonabusive mom on June 5, 2010 at 1:55 am

    Ezzo and Ferber could not possibly conflict more with what the rest of the professional field knows about child development. Letting your baby cry it out, just means that the child is giving up on help coming when he is in distress. We do a bad enough job listening to our adult body cues about hunger. Why in the world would be want to follow Ezzo, and tell babies from birth to ignore their own. Horrible parenting!

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