In the year leading up to potty training, I spent so much time obsessing about what books I should read, what pull-ups or training pants I should buy, what training toilets/seats I should install. I was “should”ing all over myself. With all the potty paraphernalia, potty training felt really competitive.
Potty training is another big milestone, like sleeping through the night, walking, or talking, and moms frequently compare notes. I met moms who gasped when I told them my son was still in diapers, then it was my turn to gasp (well, I did it inwardly) when these same moms said their nanny or daycare taught their children to potty train.
But all my worries seemed silly when I thought about how the majority of the world toilet trains. There are 195 countries and many ways to potty train. No way is better than the other, just different. Still there seem to be commonalities across the globe: paying attention to your child’s needs, communicating openly with him or her, and using positive reinforcement when necessary.
In America, parents are encouraged to wait until their child is emotionally ready. In fact, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, potty training should not begin before the child is two years of age. But, in other countries this is not possible.
Scarcity and necessity change the way parents potty train. So do climate conditions. The age of potty training and the techniques parents use vary depending on where you live. In rural China, for instance, parents can’t afford years of disposable diapers. In some African nations, there may not be a toilet for miles. In general, the farther you live from the equator, the later you potty train your children.
Potty training is similar to that of the U.S. with one noticeable difference. If your child has to go in public, and there’s no available restroom, it’s considered acceptable for him to go out in the open. (Gosh, I wish we lived in Argentina!)
Parents in rural areas can’t afford disposable diapers, so they use blankets and clothes during the potty training process. Babies are put in split-crotch pants as soon as they are old enough to walk (sometimes even sooner) and held over a receptacle as parents make a hissing sound – signaling it’s time to go. (My youngest is still in diapers. I’m tempted to search Amazon now for some split crotch pants. Diapers be damned!)
Potty training occurs by age three as that’s a requirement for beginning school. In a country that emphasizes cleanliness and orderliness, boys are taught to pee sitting down so as not to make a mess. (I’m teaching my son to pee sitting down – perhaps more on that later. I also happen to be German.)
Little ones can eliminate anywhere until they learn to go potty in the appropriate place, e.g. rice field, “squatty” potty (hole in the ground), or ditch. In the meantime, grandmothers and mothers do a quick clean-up when necessary. In fact, “potty training” isn’t really a concept or word in Indonesia.
5-6. Inuits: Canada, Greenland, Russia, U.S.
Inuits, living in the Arctic from Alaska to Canada and Russia to Greenland, have adapted their baby carriers (called amauti) to have a grassy area for elimination purposes. This grassy section acts as a homemade diaper in the baby carrier. Inuit parents urge their little ones to go potty upon waking up, before and after meals, and before bedtime.
There are several methods used, including intensive and child-oriented. For the former, parents bring the baby to the bathroom in regular intervals when the parents feel the baby is ready to potty train. The average age for starting intensive toilet training is twelve months. For the latter, the child starts potty training after he has reached certain milestones (e.g. walking, showing interest in the potty) and he’s ready to potty train.
8. Ivory Coast
Beng mothers start training their infants’ bowels a few days after birth. How? They administer enemas twice daily. That way mothers don’t have to worry about their babies pooping during the day.
9-10. Kenya and Tanzania
Mothers of the rural Digo people keep their babies close at all times and are very attuned to their bladder and bowel movements (similar to elimination communication). When the baby is ready to eliminate, Mom holds him over the ground. The seated mother straightens her legs out in front of her. She places her baby between her legs, near the knees. She faces him away from her to pee and towards her to poop. The child is given a reward for going to the bathroom. The baby is expected to urinate on command (a hissing, shuus sound) by four to five months old.
Mothers carry their babies on their backs. When the baby has to go, the mom lets him go as needed. She wipes the baby’s bottom on her leg, then wipes off the waste with a corn husk. Keep in mind there may not be a potty for miles!
Children learn in groups to use the potty between the ages of two and three. Parents and daycare workers work together to teach the children. There are little toilets and pots that all the children use together, as well as sticker charts. Little ones aren’t forced to use the potty, only when they’re ready. Although, children are expected to be fully potty trained by four years old when they start school full-time.
Similar to Indonesia, Pakistani children are permitted to go to the bathroom whenever, wherever while they’re learning. The floors in Southern Pakistani homes are Sindh, made of concrete, so children can run around and pee freely. Moms bathe their children in the morning and evening and take off their kids’ diapers at the start of the day. The philosophy is that if you’re naked, then you have more body (and bowel!) awareness.
Parents start potty training their children at about six months or as soon as they can sit up. After every meal, the parents hold the child over a pot.
Potty training is easy when the house floors are bare cement. Furthermore, the great outdoors act as makeshift potties in rural areas. Little boys and girls may “water” trees and rocks in the yard. Families have “American” toilets and “squatty” toilets. The American ones have toilet seats and flush mechanisms, while the squatty ones have a hole in the ground.
Many parents can’t afford diapers, so potty training is done early (before the age of two). Mothers carry their children on their backs, so either potty train or get peed and pooped on! For more affluent parents who can afford diapers, potty training takes much longer.
The age of potty training is tied to a mother’s education and income. The richer and more educated the mother, the later the age of potty training. In Turkey, toilet training occurs between sixteen to twenty-eight months.
Children are encouraged to pee every time their parents make a whistling or whooshing sound. (I’d have to whoosh, because I don’t know how to whistle!) A conditioned trigger is used by moms throughout rural and semi-rural areas of Asia. Children from Vietnam are toilet trained by twenty-four months old.
The age of potty training seems to vary by generation and income. Grandmothers are more eager to potty train their grandchildren, while mothers are more likely to have the attitude “wait until they’re ready”. Parents reported initiating potty training as early as before six months old and as late as after twenty-four months old. The National Health Service (NHS) encourages parents to use pull-up training pants, bring their children to the bathroom after meals, not make a fuss if they have accidents, praise them for going to the bathroom, and dress them in easy-to-change clothes.
Compared to the rest of the world, Americans tend to potty train their children later, between the ages of two and four years old. U.S. parents wait until their children are physically, mentally, and emotionally ready to begin the toilet training. They use positive reinforcement and aids, including training toilets, seats, and pull-ups pants.
Note: Not everyone in my country roundup potty trains as presented. My summaries are based on anecdotes and reports/findings gathered from online sources.
A Final Thought – From the Pillow
How many un-toilet-trained adults (without medical problems of course) have you come across?
So don’t worry. Potty training will happen! Everyone poops. All 7.6 billion of us. And everyone (ahem…eventually) poops in the potty.
How do you toilet train in your country?