Potty Training in Different Cultures


A Chinese baby in of a pair of kaidangku. Photo courtesy of http://www.strangepersons.com

In some of my reading for my last post it was mentioned in passing how Chinese babies were traditionally potty trained pretty much from birth. From birth! I have often wondered how babies in cultures that don’t use nappies are kept clean and here was an account that briefly mentioned that babies cues were read early on and they were taken to the bathroom whenever they needed to go. So no nappies needed and no later toddler potty training conflicts, accidents, negotiations, just dry bottomed babies that turn into dry bottomed toddlers.

It turns out that this is extremely common in cultures all across the world, nappies are barely used and toddlers are fully potty trained (ie can go to the toilet on their own) once they’re old enough to walk and can take their own clothes off. In Palestine this can be as early as 14 months of age, in Amman 12 months is very common. I’ve seen kids in parks and playgroups round here who were over 3 years old and still wearing nappies!

My daughter just turned two and I’ve decided it’s time to potty train, so is there anything I can learn from other cultures and how they do it before we begin? Well as far as the Chinese method goes it’s way too late by two years old but totally fascinating and I wish I’d read this sooner as I’d have loved to see if it worked for us. Chinese babies from as early as a few days old but more often a few months in, when they look distracted, squirmy or otherwise give parents a cue that they may need to pee or poo, are quickly held over a toilet or other receptacle and parents make a sound, often a shushing or whistling sound. After a while the baby learns only to go when the parent makes the sound. Babies as young as 4 months old can be peeing on command and only rarely wear nappies. When out and about parents just hold babies over drains, or under bushes etc. Babies wear special split trousers to make this as easy as possible. Importantly baby poo and pee is considered not very dirty so when accidents happen it’s no big deal

This method is pretty much the same for many societies across the world, including Vietnam, many African countries, communities in South and Central America and in India. I found an article on the Digo in East Africa which described the same thing and their babies were dry day and night by around 5 months old! Some parents in the West are now adopting these techniques and there are websites dedicated to nappy (diaper) free babies. Look at this video for example:


None of this is very helpful to me with my two year old but it does put British potty training advice in perspective. I’ve read that starting too early can cause behavioural problems but it turns out there’s no evidence for this. I’ve heard that boys are harder to potty train than girls and even though one study comparing US and Brazilian toddlers found that boys do potty train later, it was only by a few months so this is a bit of a myth too. Also, the idea that we should only train our children when they’re ready is incredibly vague. Training to eliminate at certain times of day or on command (by shushing etc) has not proven to be damaging to those children in communities that have more structured practises so if a ritual or routine is useful to you and your child then you can feel confident that you’re not doing any harm.

I’ve discovered a blog with similar aims to mine and she has loads more info on actual potty training methods if you’re in the market for such a thing. It’s called Parenting Science and here’s a useful link http://www.parentingscience.com/potty-training-age.html

Since starting this post my daughter has done one poo in the potty, two on the floor and quite a few pees in various locations. Slow progress then.


Further Reading

Cultural Relativity of Toilet Training Readiness: a perspective from East Africa by deVries and deVries

A World of Babies: Imagine Childcare Guides for Eight Societies by Alma Gottlieb and Judy De Loache

There’s not a lot of anthropological research on this topic and if you’re actually interested in potty training you might find the following links a bit more useful.




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