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Why do some children potty train later than others?

Like most areas of child development, some children reach certain milestones earlier or later than the average. This is no different for potty training…

What is the average age for potty training?

This varies greatly and depends on where and when you where born. For example, in the 1950’s in the UK the average age to potty train was 28.5 months with 97% of children being potty trained by 36 months. However post 2000, it was estimated that only 40-60% of children were fully potty trained by the same age. 

Location and cultural differences also appear to impact the average age. One study found that 98% of Vietnamese children were potty trained by 24 months, whilst only 5% of Swedish children had completed potty training by the same age. 

As much of the research on potty training is based on parental feedback, this too may also cause confusion, with different families having a different concept of what is meant by ‘fully potty trained’. For example, some may describe how their child is potty trained, with the exception of a few ‘accidents’ per week. Another may describe how their child is not potty trained due to a few ‘accidents’ per week. But in reality, both children may be experiencing the same amount of ‘accidents’, despite one being labelled as ‘potty trained’ and the other not. 

Physical Reasons:

Physical reasons may explain why some children potty train later than others. Illness and some medical conditions may impact potty training ability. More commonly there is a direct link between stool holding and constipation, and age of potty training.

Studies suggest that between the 1950’s and the 1980’s, the amount of GP support requests for childhood constipation doubled during this time, which may explain increasing age of potty training. There is also a link with stool holding and later training age. But as much of the research concentrates on the age children were trained, as opposed to the emotional implications of such, we are unable to determine if it was in all children’s emotional interests to potty train at the age they did. 

As a child oriented approach, which takes children’s emotional needs into consideration, it did not emerge until the 1960’s and is increasingly popular and focuses more on the individual signs of readiness of individual children.  

Emotional Reasons:

We all find it easier to learn, if we are not feeling overwhelmed. Therefore, it is no surprise that major transitions such as house moves, arrival of new siblings, bereavements, and nursery transitions could impact the timing of potty training in some children.

Children also have to embrace potty training – feelings of shame or fear could impact possible stool holding or constipation, which is earlier discussed as a factor which may delay training age.

Environmental Reasons:

There is a theory that disposable nappies may have resulted in later potty training, with some claiming that they do not allow children to feel the are wet, and that their convenience reduces the motivation of parents. But research is not clear on this link.

Some suggest that increasing numbers of children who attend day nursery may impact potty training, but other studies suggest that children may be motivated by others in the setting. 

 

Social Reasons:

In order to potty train, it is advantageous if children are able to communicate acquisition and age of training. However, communication is not linked to verbal, and some children may find flash cards, baby sign or Makaton helps with the process.

Children also need to have the motor skills and coordination to pull trousers up and down, which is a further milestone which needs to be acquired. 

Individual Child Reasons:

Potty training is therefore not a single development milestone, but requires the acquisition of a number of milestones (physical, emotional and social) to line up. Location and time can also impact a child’s expected age to potty train. With a more child orientated approach becoming more popular, which takes into account individual needs and development, maybe our focus should not be on the expected age of a group of children. 

Instead, we should support children to train at the time best suited to their individual needs and development.

We put so much pressure on ourselves as parents to potty train by certain dates or stages (such as starting nursery) or comparing our child to other children. But the only thing which really matters is supporting your child with their own time frame. 

References:

The research about the ages of training in Vietnam and Sweden come from: Urinary bladder control during the 1st 3 years of like in healthy children in Vietnam – a comparison study with Sweden’ Journal of Pediatric Urology Vol 9, Issue 6, Part A, 2013 p700 – 706

Info also derived from ‘Why is Toilet Training Occuring at Older Ages? A study of factors associated with later training.’ J Pediatr 2004: 145. Blum et al.

 

Written by Susan from Settled Petals.

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