I never potty trained my kids in the United States, even though we’re American. By the time my twins were ready to hit the potty chair, we lived in Somalia. We had one toilet with a toilet seat and a flush, just like an American toilet, and one hole in the ground (AKA a squatty potty).
If you ask me, squatty potties get a bad rap for being difficult to use among people who haven’t developed our squatting muscles. However, here is a huge shout out in praise of the squatty when it comes to potty training boys: My son loved aiming at the hole and there were no issues of not being able to reach.
Also, the floors of our entire house in Somalia were bare cement. Accidents were no problem at all. That was one more (surprising) bonus of raising kids in rural Somalia — anywhere could be a toilet. I even caught our son several times ‘watering’ trees and rocks in the yard.
It’s for reasons like this that I’ve often wondered what potty training is like in other countries. (I mean, what about in cold climates or houses with carpeting? Surely, parents in those regions have a much different experience.)
And so, I put the question to many friends, writers, and fellow travelers, who have either lived or currently live in various countries throughout the world. Here’s just some of what they had to say …
Believe it or not, I learned that kids in China wear a onesie-style outfit with a split crotch. If a kid indicates that they need to go to the bathroom, the parent simply opens up the slit and holds the child away from themselves, and the kid goes on the ground. It doesn’t seem to matter where they are or what they were doing. (Yes, really.)
Kevin P., an American businessman in charge of market research, also shared this eye-opening story of his time in China with me:
“I was waiting for them to fill out the survey,” he shared. “I looked down and the kid was peeing on the ground about two inches away from my feet and the mom was holding him away from her lap. When I jumped back because I was startled, the mom looked at me and laughed.”
Writer Tara Thomas of EthnoTraveler told me that in Germany, kids are potty trained by age 3 because it’s a requirement for starting school. Germans emphasize cleanliness, and since peeing while standing up tends to make a mess, little boys are taught to sit down on the potty.
Interestingly, potty training isn’t really a word in rural Indonesia. Diapers are expensive, so babies are free to urinate wherever they are standing or placed. (Yes, really!) According to Denise James, editor of Taking Route, mothers and grandmothers just do a swift clean-up after. Kids learn to use the bathroom quickly and in the appropriate places, whether that means the squatty potty, a ditch, or beside a rice field.
Olga Mecking, blogger at European Mama, told me that kids are potty trained between 2-3 years old in groups at daycare. There are little toilets and pots that all the kids use together, and then they fill out sticker charts. Parents and daycare providers work together when the kids are ready and the process goes smoothly. Daycare staff do not encourage parents to push kids too early. But, kids must be trained by age four before they start school full time.
The floors in the south of Pakistan, Sindh, are concrete, which means that kids are free to run around and pee wherever they want. Marilyn Gardner, blogger and author of Between Worlds, says that moms in this region give children a bath at night and in the morning, and take off their diapers before starting the day. Eventually, they learn to recognize the urge and use the toilet.
Mom Lucy J. told me that in Sudan, potty training is done early. It helps that these mothers carry their babies on their backs often, so they either must figure out how to read their baby’s signals or they will get peed on! By age 2, most kids are potty trained, except those who can afford diapers. They take much longer.
When it comes to how the Brits do it, I spoke to Clara Wiggins, author of the Expat Survival Guide, as well as blogger Hannah Deane, who told me that grandmothers are eager for their grandchildren to potty train, but mothers lean more toward the “wait ’til they’re ready” attitude.
They also told me there’s a current trend toward more child-centered parenting these days, and so there seems to be less pressure on the topic than in the past. But older mothers say potty training used to be highly competitive in the UK, with many parents using the Gina Ford method to accomplish training in a single week.
United States of America
In the U.S., studies show that the age a child is fully potty trained by is climbing. CNN reports that according to a literature review on the subject, 60% of children were toilet trained at 18 months in 1947. By 1974, the age was already noticeably delayed — about 60% were trained by 33 months — and according to the latest stats, it increased to 36.8 months in 2003.
While elimination communication is definitely more common these days, parents in the U.S. are also never in short supply of potty training products to help ease the process. There are potty chairs (one even comes compatible for the iPad!), and potty books, and portable potty seats. Blogger Molly Grim Roets says there can be a lot of pressure and a sense of competition, or shame, if your child is the last one potty trained, which is probably what has created such a market for all the potty training paraphernalia.
The bottom line? No matter where you’re raising your child, paying attention to their individual needs, communicating openly, and enlisting positive reinforcement whenever possible is key to successful potty training — and the good news is, they all seem to play a huge role in how most parents approach potty training across the world.