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Potty training Chinese style: With a diaper-free child, look for potted plants

Potty training Chinese style fascinates Western expat moms who see the diaper-free baby style as a form of environmentalism – but they watch for potted plants, just in case. For Junior to "go" on command is a mother's dream.

By Guest Blogger / November 23, 2012

Potty training Chinese style is also known as "elimination training," or getting Junior to "go" on command, sans diapers. Here, a Chinese baby cools off in Beijing.

Courtesy of Casey Hynes



Lucy Hornby lives life on the edge. She recently took her 18-month-old son, Oliver, out to lunch. And he wasn’t wearing a diaper.

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[Editor's noteThe original version of this story misspelled the name of Lucy Hornby.]

“There was a bush nearby. I felt like we had an escape hatch,” says the Beijing-based Reuters reporter.

That’s because Ms. Hornsby and her husband have been using an ancient Chinese method of toilet training, with some success. Called “elimination training” or “elimination communication,” the practice encourages babies and toddlers to use the toilet on demand while a caregiver is making whistling or shushing noises. Eventually, the baby learns the cue to "go" on cue and becomes diaper-free.

Move over, Sigmund Freud.

Using slit-bottom pants called kaidangku, Chinese children have traditionally used very few diapers. Instead, they’re encouraged from as early as a few days old to release when they’re held over a toilet. And when they’re out in public, they often wear kaidangku, which allows them the freedom to do what they need to do in a tree box, on the sidewalk, or while they’re being held over a trash can.

Western parents and increasing numbers of Chinese parents have adopted a hybrid form of that practice, relying on toilets – as well as carpet-free homes in case of accidents – and putting a diaper on baby bottoms for excursions away from home.

Johanna Garton, an American living for a year in Kunming, China, adopted her two children from China in 2004 and 2009. While her son, Will, was in diapers as a one-year-old, her daughter Eden, who had spent time with a foster family, had been started on elimination training before her first birthday. “And since we were going into it blind, we asked if they could give us any indication of what the signal was,” Ms. Garton says. It turned out that they were supposed to make a “shushing sound” and were given a brief tutorial about how to hold her over the toilet.

Garton and her husband were part of a group of about nine families who had adopted children in China, and many of those parents were told their children had been potty trained. All of the others, however, decided to put their new babies in diapers. They thought that going through the adoption process and moving to a new country was enough stress.

“But we were adamant” about trying it, Garton says. For the first week, Garton and her husband were “constantly running to the bathroom” with their baby, while the other parents sat back and watched. “But we wanted to take it on, since potty training a toddler is kind of a nightmare,” she says. “We felt if we were going to take on the stress, we’d rather do it now.”


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