Despite a heated presidential election and a devastating natural disaster, one of the buzziest news stories on the web involves—of all things—potty training, courtesy the mom in Oklahoma who received a $2,500 fine when her potty training toddler was caught urinating in the family's front yard.
The mom shrugged off her 3-year-old son's toilet of choice as no big deal—and voiced outrage over being fined for "public urination" when the incident occurred on private property. And she wasn't alone. The story ignited a firestorm of comments across the parenting web until it was revealed that the fine was dropped and the police had issued the mom an apology.
But, now that the dust has settled, we're still left with a few questions about proper potty training etiquette. Is letting a child potty out in public effective? And if not, what should parents do when a child is outside and really, really has to go?
While it's true that, from time to time, a parenting fad comes along that advocates for potty training children to "pee where they please," Dr. Michele Borba, parenting expert and author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries, tells BabyZone otherwise. Dr. Borba says it could actually be viewed as a red flag that the child is not quite ready yet to make the transition. "If a child is physically ready to potty train, he will be able to wait," she finds. "It's pushing too fast too soon that backfires."
Family life teacher Anastasia Gavalas agrees. "There are always 'emergencies' and allowing a child to pee in a bush or on the side of the road may be necessary sometimes, but allowing a child to go potty wherever sends the wrong message and confuses the child," she says—even if the child's ready to potty train.
Dr. Deb Moberly, an early childhood development specialist in St. Louis and founder of Children 1st, weighs in with some more good old-fashioned common sense.
"Part of the toileting experience is the basic routine," she says. "Where to go to the bathroom is an important concept—as well as the routine of caring for oneself, pulling down and up clothing, flushing, and washing hands."
And part of dealing with the issue of public peeing is avoiding the situation entirely. Borba advises parents to simply "withhold liquid or have your child use the potty before playing outside or getting in the car." Another option, says psychotherapist and parent coach Tammy Gold, is to encourage the child to use the potty at regular intervals throughout the day. "In early training," says Gold, "we try to have children go every 30 minutes."