Potty Time! Toilet Training in China

Potty Time! Toilet Training in China
Sep 03, 2009 By Sarah Meik , eChinacities.com

I wish I knew what I know now, when she was younger!

Our daughter has essentially grown up in China. We’ve lived here since she was 4 months old. She can speak the language, eat the food, play the games and fit in just fine. If it weren’t for her blonde hair and round blue eyes, nobody would know that she wasn’t a genuine Nanjingren.

Potty training in China
Photo: Jencu

Oh, except for the diapers. Because she’s 2 years old and still wears diapers everyone knows she isn’t Chinese at all. Chinese children don’t typically wear diapers. Parents potty train their children from a very young age using a method called EC or elimination communication. With this method, a child can tell his or her parents they have to use the toilet sometimes as young as 3 months. Then, the parents will take the child to the bathroom, and make a "ssssshhhhhing"noise as the child relieves him/herself. To westerners, this method is a little scary sometimes. Parents just wouldn’t know how to handle the mess if there ever was a "miscommunication."But it’s no big deal here. During those times when accidents do happen, most Chinese parents laugh about it, clean up and move on. It’s the way they’ve been doing things for as long as they’ve had babies.

So when I first brought my daughter to preschool, her teacher was amazed that she wasn’t potty trained. She was the only child still in diapers. They even had to train her teachers how to change a diaper; some of them had never done it before. Wondering why our daughter wasn’t like the other 19 kids in her class, she asked me, "Why doesn’t Minjia go to the toilet?"

"Because she’s 18 months old. She’s still young,"I said. "She isn’t ready. In America, she is normal. But for now, she isn’t ready."

"No,"reassured my daughter’s teacher, "She can use it, all of our children use it by now,"she said. "Diapers are very harmful for her. We can try to train her here."

"Good Luck,"I said. We had already tried to potty train our child. We bought the potty and showed her pictures. It didn’t matter. She didn’t care that other babies found satisfaction in going wee-wee by themselves, she wouldn’t have it. We tried making her sit on the store bought potty, and the real one. But each time we would hover over her tush, she would just squeal and cling to our clothing. It was as if we were dangling her above the gates of the underworld. For this reason, we had chosen to put off training until she was "developmentally ready,"a common phrase used in the west.

So when her teacher said she was sure she could train our daughter, we hoped she would try, but we did not expect anything. But we should’ve known better. Teachers can teach anything in the classroom, especially if the other students are already doing, saying or thinking something. In this case, the other students in the classroom were already rushing off to the bathroom by themselves. All our daughter had to do was watch. Monkey see, monkey do.

When her little friends felt the need to use the bathroom, they told everyone by shouting, "qu xiao bian"and rushing off to the potty with a teacher. Sometimes she even followed the other children in to watch, and then she would mimic their actions. Then the teacher would remove her diaper and let her use the potty. In a week, our daughter was trained to use the squatters at her preschool all by herself. When her teacher showed us what Minjia was capable of, we couldn’t believe it.


"How is she not afraid?"we asked, marveling at the progress. "I’m so excited to try it at home,"I said. But when we did, we found that the same old fears plagued our daughter. Our western toilet was too different and frightening. And the home potty, well, that made a better pretend horse to play with and what kid wants to go the bathroom on their toys (intentionally anyway)? After a few days of more failure, I finally yelled the fateful words I never thought would come from my mouth, "I wish we had an Asian toilet instead!"I screamed. "Why won’t she use ours?!"

It wasn’t until after I talked to some Chinese mothers that I learned that Chinese children are trained from a very young age to use the toilet, and to be aware of what their bodies are telling them. I should have noticed this. I’ve seen plenty of parents hold their young children, "sssshhhhinnng"while the baby goes to the bathroom. This method helps the child affiliate a noise with their bodies, and helps them know when they must use the bathroom. It is one of the many helpful things parents in China do to train their children while they are young. Although all children have accidents, it is not uncommon to see a Chinese child at 16 months (or younger) potty trained. They can tell their caregiver they must go, and the child will hold it until it’s time to release and that’s it. No messy pants, no fits.

The only thing is, this method really needs to be started while the child is young. According to one website devoted to Asian potty methods, "The ideal time to start is between birth and around 6 months of age. During this time, there is a sensitive period where there is a window of learning open, and babies can easily focus on EC [elimination communication]."

We were very excited to learn this information for our next child, but for the oldest the door of opportunity had closed. We really wished we had known this when she was younger. Now, at her age, the quickest way to get her to focus on EC is by just going cold turkey, or rather, cold bum cheeks. That’s right, we’re just going without diapers or Pull-Ups. We just hope that each time she messes her pants it’s going to be enough of a shock to teach her to pay attention to her body.

So far, we’ve had little success. She’s still afraid of our western hardware, and has not established proper EC with us. Good thing accidents are no big deal.


Related Articles:

Is it Time for Adaption Reform in China?
How Chinese See Foreigners Coming to China
I Want to Raise my Family in China- Am I Crazy?

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