Potty training fads appear and disappear every few decades. While many of today's leading pediatric experts advise waiting until your child initiates potty training, some parents have reverted to the early 1900s, when potty training began -- and was often completed -- before age 2. One school of thought, called elimination communication, espouses the belief that you can successfully potty train babies under 1 year old. It takes diligence -- some might say the parents, rather than the baby, have actually achieved potty training -- but training before age 2 is possible, with some children.
The fact is that around 50 percent of the world's baby achieve potty training by age 1, pediatrician Dr. Barton Schmitt explains in a 2004 article published in "Contemporary Pediatrics." Between 1920 and 1940, children started training at 12 months. Before 1960, most American parents started toilet training around age 18 months; only since 1990 has the typical age for introducing children to the potty slipped to age 3 in the United States, according to Dr. Schmitt.
According to a WebMD article, pediatrician Dr. Andrea McCoy of Temple University in Philadelphia, reports that children under the age of 12 months don't have the muscle or nerve control to hold and let go of urine and stool. Most children, Dr. McCoy explains, achieve this between the ages of 2 and 3; girls normally achieve control around 32 months and boys around 35 months. Getting into a potty struggle is a battle no parent can win, so it's better to wait until your child is developmentally ready, Dr. McCoy believes.
Not all parents believe you can't potty train before age 2; some believe you can start practically the day your baby comes home from the hospital, or certainly within the first few months. Elimination communication is the title of a new type of potty training; parents learn to watch their baby's signals and hold them over a potty at appropriate times. The parent makes a "shush" ing sound to cue the baby what to do. Gradually, the baby connects the sound and the act and goes on command, often well before 12 months. Elimination communication takes a parent willing to spend much of the day attached to their child -- often sans pants -- so they can pick up potty cues.
Whether you decide to start potty training under 12 months or start slightly later, it's important not to make potty training a stressful thing. Take your child to the toilet after meals, in the morning, before bed and whenever else you see that contemplative look on his face. Don't scold for accidents; treat potty training like a part of normal life, not something goal-oriented. Dr T. Berry Brazelton, a pediatrician and proponent of child-led potty training, doesn't have anything negative to say about early potty training. But he does note that probably 80 percent of today's moms probably don't have time to devote to the technique.