According to BabySigns.com, the average age of completing potty training for American toddlers is at a historic high as of 2004. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents wait until a toddler shows signs of readiness to begin training, like being able to say words like "potty" and "finished" and asking to use the toilet or wear underwear. However, many experts, such as child psychologist Linda Sonna, believe that starting potty training at an earlier age is actually easier for both parents and child. Pre-verbal children younger than age 2 can communicate their toilet needs through body language and signs. Using baby sign language to help with potty training is a gentle method that enables a young toddler or even a baby to begin potty training.
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According to Linda Sonna, the majority of children in the world complete potty training between 18 and 24 months. According to Laurie Boucke, author of "Infant Potty Training," many cultures traditionally begin potty training with preverbal babies, using communication signs like pointing, positioning and nonverbal sounds. In the United States, using sign language to communicate with hearing babies became popular in 1996 when Drs. Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn published "Baby Signs." More than 10 years later, in 2007, Acredolo and Goodwyn published a potty training program that uses sign language as a tool for potty training preverbal children younger than age 2.
Many of the signs of readiness for toilet training as described by the American Academy of Pediatrics depend on verbal communication ability. The AAP recommends that parents wait to begin training until a child can follow simple verbal instructions, ask to use the toilet and say words related to the process of elimination. However, using sign language enables a baby to communicate clearly with caregivers from a younger age, which can facilitate potty training with younger, preverbal children. Potty training younger has many benefits, including fewer environmental impacts of diaper use, less expense to parents and better hygiene for the child.
Babies can begin learning sign language at any age, and according to Linda Sonna, they can begin potty training as early as birth. The "Baby Signs Potty Training" program, for example, is designed for use with children between the ages of 12 and 24 months, but it can be used with children who are younger or older as well. According to a study in "Pediatrics" by Dr. Nathan J. Blum and colleagues, children who begin potty training at a younger age may take longer before they are completely potty trained, while children who begin older may finish quicker.
Parents can purchase kits that can be used to help potty train children with sign language. The "Baby Signs Potty Training" program, for example, includes a parents' guide, a DVD, a toddler book, a "potty time" whistle and stickers. However, any parent can incorporate the method of using signs to teach potty training by teaching their child the American Sign Language sign for "potty" and using it while changing a diaper or while encouraging a child to use the toilet.
The ASL sign for "potty" is made by making a fist with the thumb between the first and second finger and then shaking the fist back and forth. Another sign useful for potty training is the word "more," which is made by bringing all the fingers of each hand together in a flattened "o" shape and then touching the fingers of the two hands together. Babies can use "more" to indicate that they need more time to sit on the potty. The third sign used in potty training is "finished," which is made by holding the hands with fingers spread out and palms facing you and then turning the hands so the palms face out and down. A baby can use this sign to indicate he is ready to get up from the potty.
According to "Parenting Science," potty training at a younger age can result in benefits such as reduced rates of urinary tract infections, reducing or eliminating potty training resistance and improving communication between parent and child. According to research by the founders of Baby Signs, using sign language with babies helps reduce baby and toddler frustration and aggression, improves trust between parents and children and improves babies' self-confidence. Using signs to teach potty training enables a baby to potty train when she reaches "communication readiness," which usually comes earlier than verbal readiness, according to the Baby Signs website.
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- "Early-Start Potty Training"; Linda Sonna; 2005
- Parenting Science: The Science of Infant Toilet Training
- "Infant Potty Training"; Laurie Boucke; 2002
- American Academy of Pediatrics: When Is the Right Time to Start Toilet Training?
- Paediatrics: "Relationship Between Age at Initiation of Toilet Training and Duration of Training: A Prospective Study"