2008-03-26 / Opinion

Flushed With Fear

by Alex McRae

President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

Every American knew exactly what he was talking about.

When Roosevelt made his observation during his first inaugural address on March 3, 1933, the nation was firmly in the grip of the Great Depression. Unemployment stood at 25 percent. Banks had failed by the hundreds. Wall Street was in tatters.

Millions of people didn't wonder so much about their next paycheck as their next meal. It was truly a time of crisis. Roosevelt's words didn't fixa single problem, but they set the tone for a historic recovery that over the course of two decades and one World War made America the world's major superpower. It's a good thing Roosevelt isn't still around. He'd probably die laughing at what modern Americans are afraid of.

Today, we worry ourselves sick about the food we eat, the air we breathe and the water we drink. We fear that global destruction won't be caused by nuclear war but warm weather. In that regard, things have gotten so ridiculous that "therapists" are making money by treating people for something called "eco-anxiety," a formerly nonexistent condition characterized by worrying about the coming global apocalypse caused by air-conditioning and SUVs.

If that wasn't enough to worry about, news has now arrived that American kids are scared of flush toilets.

I wonder what Roosevelt would think of this "worry." When he took office, most American didn't even have flush toilets. They used the outhouse in the backyard. The installation of an indoor flush toilet was cause for rejoicing and generally resulted in family members lining up to luxuriate in the wonder of the thunder jar.

But apparently, the throaty roar of the john is more than already over-stressed kids can take. As a result, they are having difficultybeing potty trained. According to a recent CNN report, more and more parents are seeing their attempts at toilet training go down the drain.

One mom said she had tried everything from bribery to threats with no success. Finally, she turned to the experts. And, yes, there are experts in this field. One of them is pediatrician Dr. Alison Schonwald, who operates ... get ready for this ... the Toilet Training School at Children's Hospital in Boston.

Customers call it the "poop school" or "Potty U."

One of the professors at poop school is Kimberly Dunn. She says most of the 450 patients she's seen over the years admit they're afraid of the toilet. But, she adds, no one can explain the reason for the fear of large porcelain pots.

Dunn tries to help kids overcome their toilet terror by using books, music and art to make the experience more pleasant. Seems like a few trips to the outhouse would be more effective, but that's just me.

Experts also admit that refusal to be potty-trained is sometimes a "power struggle" between kids and parents. That's not surprising. So many kids are indulged in every other demand; they are probably astonished to hear mom or dad demand that they squat on the pot, like it or not. Years ago, I wrote about a group of child psychologists who believed most potty-training problems were caused by the use of the word "training." For better results, they suggested parents use the kinder, gentler term "toilet teaching."

Apparently that one didn't work, either.

I'm sure this is a frustrating experience for some parents, but as long as they're looking for problems, they might ask themselves how a child who grew up in a fully-plumbed house came to fear the sound of flushing. I can't help but believe it's because those kids live with parents who already fear just about everything else in the world. (Send your e-mail comments to: alex@newnan.com)

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