About two weeks ago, I read an article in the New York Times about upscale mothers’ toilet training their babies by about six months of age. The concept seemed a bit odd to me, but they explained that this is done in other countries and that this is very enlightened. Well, I thought, I am by nature rather conservative, so I probably should just owe my negative reaction to my personality rather than the merit of the case.
Last week, I read in the New York Times about upscale mothers teaching their children about sex at age three, reasoning that it is a natural and normal thing and there’s no reason their children shouldn’t be savvy. This one was a bit harder to swallow.
Because toilet training is largely physical, one could argue that it might not change the child’s cognitions or concepts of the world. However, when a child is educated about sexual reproduction at an early age, it is possible that his cognitive universe may be different from one who is not.
Suddenly I had a picture pop into my mind. In college, when I studied the history of music and art, one of the most amusing parts was when our professor showed us slides of paintings that included children. Many of those slides portrayed children as small adults. Their entire bodies were painted in adult proportions, small heads, long arms and legs—they looked like little adults. My professor explained that the art of the time reflected the assumption at the time that children were exactly that: small adults. Children worked long hours just like adults. They were not protected and sheltered from the world; they were part of the world from the time they could stand up and walk.
And then I thought of my own children and their childhoods. Diaper-changing time wasn’t only a physical thing. It was a time for me to interact with the child—to get him or her all clean and fresh and feeling comfortable. I was giving my children the message, “Your needs are important and I am here to provide you with support and love.” My children didn’t learn about human sexuality at three. They learned their bodies were pleasurable by taking baths and being hugged and cuddled. They had their questions answered in an honest and respectful manner. They had a childhood.
Little children are not just small adults. They have fewer cognitive structures and do not assimilate information in the same way as adults. They do not have the ability to think abstractly just as a one month old, no matter how intelligent, cannot walk or talk.
One of the best things about raising children is to watch their natural development—to watch them discover the world, each in their own unique way. Just as they are patient, waving that hand over their face time and again before they finally comprehend that the hand is under their control, we need to have patience to allow them to develop at their own pace.
There are no awards for the first parent on the block who gets their child toilet trained and no awards for having the most-informed-about-sex three year old. Children grow and develop when given love and support and encouragement. There will be plenty of time for achievement and stress when they grow older. For now, let’s let them be children.