History of Potty Training

The need for a diaper and for potty training date back as far as the history of mankind. Mothers have used milkweed leaf wraps, packed grass in animal skins, linen and wool for diapers.

Late 1800- Early 1900's:

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, infants in Europe and North American were wearing cloth diapers - folded square made of linen or cotton flannel an held in place with a safety pin.

What you would do if you lived in this time period? Yes, you too would have been very motivated to get your child potty trained.

In the American West of pioneer days, mothers made all their children's diapers from available materials. Wet diapers were seldom washed, just hung by the fireplace to dry.

In those days, parents started training their children as early as possible. The goal was to be have the child go in potty or chamber pot,so that there wasn't a dirty diaper to clean. This was acheived in a number of ways.

The mothers tried to force the child to relieve him/herself at a particular time. They did this by using a variety of methods including using enemas and suppositories.

The approach was strictly "parent-centered". The notion that the child would learn at his/her own pace was not part of the picture.

Toilet Training in the 1950's in the US

In 1957, GE introduced a washing machine equipped with 5 push buttons to control wash temperature, rinse temperature, agitation speed and spin speed.

Then in the 1950s, washing machines improved significantly. Now there were spin-dry features on machines, so Moms did not have to wring out the clothes manually. This made washing diapers easier. Diaper services were readily available and expensive disposable diapers were available for occasional use.

However, moms were still using cloth diapers, so they were still highly motivated to potty train. Again, the goal was to have the child go in the potty and moms did this by learning their children's schedules and observing their signals.

Moms would place their children on the potty when she thought the child needed to go. If mom managed to get the child on the potty at the right time, the child would start to make the connection between the physical sensation that precedes elimination and learning where to relieve themselves. So, in fact this method did work and children were trained by the time they phsiologically ready at the average age of 18 months.

The convenient disposable is a relatively new invention -- created by a harried New York housewife named Marion Donovan in 1950. Mrs. Donovan, tired of washing, bleaching and air drying cloth diapers, cut up her shower curtain into plastic envelopes into which she slipped absorbent material. She used snap closures, rather than pins, to secure the new diaper on her children and dubbed her new product the ``Boater.''

When no manufacturer bought the idea, Mrs. Donovan called on New York department stores, which agreed to stock them. The disposables were an immediate success and Mrs. Donovan eventually sold her company for $1 million.

Toilet Training in the 1980's in the US

Then in the 1980s, disposable diapers were much more affordable. Parents not longer had to use cloth diapers and even if they chose to use cloth diapers, there were affordable diaper services available.

So, parents were no longer as highly motivated to potty train their children at an early age.

Also, at about the same time, the "child-centered approach" for potty training was emerging and the idea of respecting your child's wishes and needs; waiting until your child is ready to potty train were being recommended by pediatrians such as Dr. T. Berry Brazelton and by the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines on potty training.

Today, 25 years later, disposable diapers are the mainstream and very affordable. With more Moms working out side the home than ever, disposable diapers are a convinence. Parents are no longer motivated to potty train their children to reduce the work load. In fact, it is probably the reverse, it is finding time in the busy schedule to fit in potty training, along with all the work associated with potty training!!

As a result, the average age that children are potty trained keeps going up:

  • In the 1950, almost a 100% of children wore cloth diapers and 95% of these children were trained by the age of 18 months.
  • In the 1980s, about 50% of children wore cloth diapers, while the other 50% wore disposable diapers and only about 50% of the children were potty trained by the age of 18months.
  • Today, almost 90-95% of children wear disposable diapers and only about 10% of children are potty trained by the age of 18 months.
  • Today, the average age for potty training is about 30 months with the age ranging from 18-60 months.

Also, today the "child centered approach" to potty training is popular; respect your child's wishes and needs; wait until your child is ready; don't force the issue of potty training just relax and use pull-ups; your child will use the potty when s/he is ready to use!!

The choice and the decision is your as the parent. You decide what potty training method works best for you and you decide if you want the "parent centered approach" or "child centered approach" or a little bit of both.

This article was written based on my knowledge, research and understanding of the history of potty training and resprents my own personal opinion in the matter. This article should not be used as an official history of potty training for any other commercial or legal use.

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what does it mean to be trained? (12/4/2012) Reviewer: Anon

I think an important point that is often missed in these comparisons is that people have very different definitions of what it means to be potty trained. I find it hard to believe that an 18-month-old would recognize that they need to go to the potty, pull down their own undies, go to the potty, use it, pull up their own undies - without the assistance of the parent/s. If the child is requiring the assistance of the parents, that (imho) is not a potty trained child.

I am the mother of twins. We started when the twins were 13 months old. They were in disposables from birth until they were 8 months old then cloth. We did full-time naked bum time from 13 months and switched to part-time around 15 months. By 19 months we were looking into more conventional potty training methods and moving away from elimination communication, which was definitely not working for us in terms of being trained although it was working in terms of the twins certainly knew above and beyond about the potty compared to their peers.

Now the twins are 27 months old. Still requiring prompts but going in the potty. I would not consider them potty trained because I am still doing a lot of the work. Our daughter is only just now starting to recognize herself when she needs to go and do everything herself without needing Mama's assistance. There was no way they could do that at 18 months old even though they were certainly peeing and pooping in the potty at that age without any resistance - but their success rate back then was 100% dependent upon Mama. Now it's starting to be more them.

The average age for potty training I was reading is closer to 28-30 months, and I think maybe we might hit that. We'll see. Most of my friends are only starting with their children at 28-30 months.

cloth vs disposable (5/6/2012) Reviewer: shea (berea, ky) I placidly diapered my first-born in 'sposies with an occasional cloth dipe...completely potty-trained at 4 ! My second was diapered in cloth during the day, disposables at night...potty-trained at 3! My third was exclusively diapered in cloth and was 100% potty-trained at 20 months! My theory...cloth babies KNOW they are wet, while disposable-wearing babies still feel dry even though they aren't!
Child centered? (11/29/2011) Reviewer: Miranda (Amsterdam, NY) I think making so many things "child centered" throughout a child's life is the reason we have things like "Jersey Shore", Paris, Hilton, and The Kardashians. Over spoiled narcissists.... Perhaps if people followed a more Biblical approach to raising their children, we'd have more moral human beings to be role models to our children.
Let kids learn at their own pace (9/24/2011) Reviewer: Shelby Potty training is something that can't be rushed and I like the way that it's done these days. I like the child centered approach.
Irresponsilbe Moms (2/19/2011) Reviewer: Gloria McMillian (Oklahoma City, OK) I believe many parents today are not taking care of their responsibilities. I have seen some moms turn their children over to Grandmas for days at a time, so grandma could take care of potty training. Some parents are irresponsible about most things concerning their children and this is at the top of the list. Some moms should get their children trained in a timely manner.