Infant Potty Training in Indigenous Asia: How people potty their babies in countries without diapers (Part 2)
This is part 2 of sharing stories from a few groups of indigenous peoples around the world who still potty their babies and do not use diapers.
Today we are going to cover some of the indigenous peoples of Asia.
I get asked this question all the time: do people do “elimination communication” in indigenous communities, or is it altogether something different?
I’ve answered this over in part 1 of this series here.
Okay so let’s get on with today’s stories! I’ve hand-picked my faves from Laurie Boucke’s encyclopedic book, Infant Potty Training: a gentle and primeval method adapted to modern living, and also an article by Continuum Concept author Jean Leidloff (OMG if you haven’t read either of these books, please do so immediately!).
Today we will share about infant potty training habits in Asia - we did Africa last time, and we’ll pick up with Antarctica and the Americas in the final story-sharing episode of this series in a few weeks.
Most of these, except the Balinese which was written by Jean, I will read directly from Laurie’s book, specifically Part 4, Cross-cultural Studies, pages 317-328 - definitely get a copy of her book if you want to read the longer stories and even more from this trailblazing EC expert. She also has a shorter ebook available on Kindle - Infant Potty Basics.
Here we go! Please enjoy listening as you get things done around the house or in the yard. :)
Infant Potty Training in French Polynesia - the Marquesans
The undiapered baby is held away from the caregiver when the caregiver thinks he will urinate. All routine caregiving activities are performed while the baby faces outward....The 12- to 18-month old...begins to understand to go outside to urinate and defecate.
Infant Potty Training in India - the Lepchas
The teaching of sphincter control is meant to start at the age of three months when the children are taken out on the balcony at regular intervals; they should learn to cry when they want to be taken out and by the time they can crawl should be able to crawl themselves.
Infant Potty Training in India - the Sikhs
Sikh mothers generally begin toilet training in infancy. They quickly learn to sense when their babies need to go through observation of, or advice from, more experienced women. They use timing, intuition and cues from baby. A mother will either squat and hold her baby in position in her arms or else sit on the floor or ground and use her feet to form a toilet seat for the baby.
In traditional Sikh society, babies do not wear diapers. From birth, they are taught modesty and wear special Sikh underwear.
The whole family sleeps in one room. Sturdy cots the size of a single bed are the norm. The baby usually sleeps on the mother's chest or right next to her, without diapers. A mother is so attuned to her baby that she automatically wakes up during the night when it is time for her baby to go.
Most claim their babies are toilet trained around the age of 6 to 9 months. This takes into account the fact that a child still needs some help getting to the bathroom, undressed and into position.
Infant toilet training is the standard method used throughout the country (by Hindus, Muslims, etc., as well as the Sikhs). In addition, this same method is used throughout heavily populated neighboring countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
Infant Potty Training in Japan
"When the infant is anywhere from 22 days to 10 months old, the mothers start trying to anticipate urination before the baby wets his diapers. Each mother trains herself to the child's particular cues, squirming, peculiar facial expressions, and so on, or keeps a kind of mental time check. Holding the infant in a semi-sitting position out over the edge of the porch, and supporting him under his knees with her hands and at his back with her chest, she coaxes gently, repeating 'shi-shi' until he urinates onto the ground outside. If the mother is successful in her efforts, she hugs, kisses, and praises the infant. On the other hand, if she does not reach him in time and he is already wet, she will hold the child over the wet diaper and say 'shi-shi'. This is to ensure he has fully eliminated, or if the interval between diaper checks has been long, to make certain he does not urinate again before putting on a fresh change."
Infant Potty Training in Bali (Jean Leidloff)
"Then he gave signs of wanting to pee. He wasn't wearing diapers. The parents told him to go to the edge of the floor (there was no wall on that side) to go — and the child went by himself, relieved himself over the edge and came back. There was no sharpness. It was just, "This is where you go." It wasn't angry or punishing and it wasn't permissive. It was the third way — to give the child the information about what to do, because that is what social beings want to know."
Infant Potty Training in Micronesia - Truk Islands
Mothers are very sensitive to their children's elimination schedule. "Time and again the mother will put the child off the mat just before it urinates. One mother stated that she knew her child would urinate right after it awakened, and after it ate. The mother, seated on the floor, stretches her legs out in front of her and places the child with its head on her knees and its body lying along her legs towards the ankles. The child urinates in this position. After it is placed in this manner, the mother makes a sound with lips moving which sounds like 'pspspsps.' There is a special Trukese word for this sound, and it is always used when the child urinates at the direction of its mother. Supposedly it represents the sound of flowing urine, and should give the child the idea that it is now time to urinate. This direction is not always obeyed by the child, and accidents do occur on the mat. In this case, the mother wipes up the urine with a towel or rag and does not express concern over it....
After he is one year old the child may begin to show some concern over pleasing his elders in this respect, and it is during this time that he is told what is desired of him although never in severe terms.
"Mothers will take small babies out of the house when they awake or at other times when they may be expected to urinate, and will carry them out also if they begin to defecate, if this is convenient; but if it's not, the feces are simply cleaned up off the mat or the mother's legs or wherever they may be with no apparent concern. The child's buttocks are usually cleaned with the mother's finger and rinsed with water. Later, when the child can walk, he will be gently directed outside when he eliminates, but a lapse is not punished."
Infant Potty Training in New Guinea - the Kwoma
The mother makes no attempt at toilet training while the child is still an infant; she simply learns to anticipate his bowel and bladder movements, quickly lifting him from her lap and holding him over the earth floor. The feces are then wiped up with a lead. Sometimes the mother does not lift the child quickly enough and he urinates on her leg. In such cases the lead is again used, and the child is not held accountable for the mistake.
"Cleanliness training begins at approximately the same age as weaning. The mother is comparatively gentle in teaching her child toilet habits. She tells him that adults can go outside near the garbage heap to urinate. and that he is big enough to do likewise. Similarly, she points out that adults do not defecate in the house but in the household latrine. She takes the child with her to the latrine and holds him while he relieves himself until he has learned to do this without assistance. When I asked an informant whether a mother punishes her child if he persistently defecates in the house, he answered: 'No, of course not. He is her own child, isn't he? Why should she punish him? It is her duty to clean up after him if he defecates in the house.' Although this may express the theoretical position of the Kwoma native, in actual practice the infant is more recalcitrant, and the mother less patient than the statement would indicate."
"Cleanliness habits are usually already established by the time a boy or girl reaches childhood. Informants stated that if a slip occurs it is the child's own business except that he is forced to clean up after himself."
Infant Potty Training in Oman
"Swaddling is common in the winter. The baby is wrapped in a large piece of cloth that covers all of his body, except for the head and buttocks. Training the infant to control his bowel movements begins as early as between four and six months of age (bladder control is considered of less importance) and thus the buttocks must be left uncovered."
Infant Potty Training in the Philippines - the Tarongans
Clothing consists of a short shirt or dress. No diapers or underwear are worn. "The infant is covered loosely, if at all, below the waist. We noticed that in almost all instances of the child's wetting the mother, her response was to merely shift the child to a dry part of the lap and shift the wet portion of the skirt so that it would dry. There was no verbal or facial recognition of the incident….Precautions are taken, however, against the mother's clothes being soiled by feces. A folded cloth is kept under the buttocks of infants, and after defecation, the cloth is replaced....At 6 months or so, training is begun by moving the child to a corner of the kitchen porch over the waste-puddle for both urination and defecation."
"Toilet training is intensified some time before weaning, usually at about 1 1/2 years when the child is able to understand simple verbal instruction and express his need to urinate or defecate...bowel, like bladder control, is attained with no apparent resistance."
Infant Potty Training in Taiwan
"Carrying her child on her back, the mother soon becomes sensitized to motions or cries indicating that the child is about to urinate or defecate and she removes it from her back and holds it over the ground or ditch to relieve itself. Toilet training thus begins at a very early age, for when a child urinates the mother makes a whistling sound. Soon, she begins holding the child and making the whistling sound to encourage it to urinate."
More serious toilet training begins around the end of the first year. Once children can walk, they have no problem, continuing on their own, in part because they wear open pants. All they have to do to stay clean and dry is squat.
By the time the child is six-or-seven-months-old, his diaper is replaced by training pants - pants split open at the crotch.
"Toilet training is not something that arouses much concern or interest among Taiwanese mothers. The intimate contact between mother and child during the first few months allows the mother to 'know' her baby very well. Mothers claim to be able to identify the restless movements the child makes before she urinates and to use this signal to spread the child's legs and hold her away from their own body. The mother accompanies this act with a whistling noise so that in time the child associates the sound with the activity and empties her bladder on command. Diapers are used only at night, and many mothers claim even these can be dispensed with after six weeks. Mothers say they can keep a dry bed by holding the baby over the edge several times each night (the advantage of earth or concrete floors) and whistling. Bowel control is equally undramatic. When a child can walk she is encouraged to go to a garbage heap or drainage ditch. Accidents are not punished, unless one counts the looks of disgust by an older sister who has to clean it up. Undoubtedly the great number of acceptable toilet areas takes the emotional pressure off both mother and child."
Infant Potty Training in Tibet
In their 1977 book The Tibetan Art of Parenting Ann Maiden and Edie Farwell include a general description of Tibetan toilet training. "Toilet training often begins with association by sound. The mother makes a specific sound and then the child slowly identifies that sound with the need to use the toilet pot. Soon the child learns to make these sounds, and in response the mother points to a place for the child to go, or bring the pot herself. By one-and-a-half or two years old, the child does this independently.
Infant Potty Training in Turkey
Diapers are not used, "the child being put to sleep in his cradle bundled up with a type of soil that soaks up the urine." The wet soil is dried in the sun and used again in the same way. "Occasionally a kind of wooden apparatus is fitted to the child's genital area, the urine passing through a pipe to a receiving cup on the floor." Children wear dresses without underwear so as to make it easy to eliminate. Defecation is a private function which is performed out of sight while urination is performed casually in public. As soon as they can walk, toddlers are taken by older children to specified defecation locations. "Appropriate toilet behavior is regulated by shaming, and the children seem to learn quickly and sensitively about what is required of them."
I hope you enjoyed listening to these stories as much as I enjoyed sharing them with you. A big thank you to Laurie Boucke - please get a copy of her book and enjoy reading and seeing all the photos of these lovely historic accounts of indigenous pottying habits, as well as a history of the evolution of Western potty training habits. Also a big thank you to Jean Liedloff - she passed away earlier this century yet her book The Continuum Concept leaves us a valuable glimpse into what life was like in Stone Age South America...something that has likely already disappeared from existence. With so much gratitude, Jean.
What is the #1 biggest thing you got from listening to or reading today’s stories? Please share it in the comments below!
PS - here’s the video version of this episode in case you prefer to YouTube it. ;)
All images (c) Laurie Boucke, Infant Potty Training
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I’m always so impressed how much all these slightly different infant potty training methods have in common. For example it’s so common to cue babies to pee with a sound – how had I not heard of this? How do we not talk about this in the west/US?
Hi Elisa! Right?! It is so commonplace everywhere else, so many people are missing out on this. xx Andrea
Here’s another similarity I’ve found – sound association – lots of parrot owners do this to.potty train their birds :)
When my parrot is hanging out on my shoulder outside the cage , I can sort of sense when he needs to go cause he gets restless so I quickly take him back, hold him over the cage (which has toilet paper in the bottom) and say “go poop!” Over and over in a high pitch, then reward him with verbal praise “good boy!”. Takes a while to get the timing right but they soon learn.
He’s really got the hang of it now and will fly back to the cage by himself to go poop :) then fly back to me. I can see how in these Asian cultures once babies are mobile they already have learnt this association, and don’t need too much more extra prompting.
There are sometimes misses but I never punish him for it. Of course human babies are different to birds but for what it’s worth, I thought it would be interesting to note the similarity :) I’m glad babies can’t fly!!
***newspaper , not toilet paper
Steph, Thanks for posting this. Loved reading about using sound association with your parrot to get him to go on cue!
That’s so neat Steph! I didn’t know people used cues for parrots, so awesome. Thanks so much for sharing! xx Andrea
The nerves that connect the brain to the bowels and bladder are not fully developed until age 18 months to 3 years. You can’t “train” sphincter muscles to work before the system is fully developed and whatever success you think you have was going to happen whether you “train” the baby or not. I never trained my children at all. They copied other kids and were diaper free at 2-1/4 years. Potty training can be very stressful and time consuming. One social worker I know said that often child abuse starts with a frustrated parent who thinks that the child having accidents is the child being disobedient and hauls off and whacks them. Why not spend the time having fun with the baby instead of hours spent constantly watching them for signs and rushing them here and there and then “failing”? All this and diaper days would have ended whether you did all that work or not. Children grow up super fast — they are off with their friends before you know it. Cherish the baby time all you can — don’t waste it pretending your kid is physically older than he is or that YOU are a failure because you can’t get your kid to perform over and above his or her physical development level or keep up with the kid next door who randomly developed faster in that area.
Thank you for input, while this method may not work for everyone who attempts it, the basis of elimination communication is communication. This process is not about training infants to hold their bowels and bladder, but instead is an education for caregivers on how to respond to an infants signals in regards to their elimination needs. Simply put it’s little different then learning to feed a baby when they express signs of hunger prior to the crying stage. We are equipping ourselves and our children to communicate in regards to their potty needs, that we may help them not soil themselves.