Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Split seamed pants and trash cans: Potty training a newborn in China

Warning: In case the title didn't clue you in, this post is full of toilet talk!

As I've written in previous posts, there are many differences in how Chinese and American people care for infants. One huge difference is in toilet training. In the U.S., most parents start potty training around age two or even three. These days, most American doctors tell parents not too push their children too hard and to wait for the child to show signs of being ready to toilet train. In China, many families start training the baby to use the toilet nearly from day one. I think William was four days old when Ming's mom first started teaching him to pee in the garbage can (in Chinese, “baba” 把把).

When I try to explain this to my family back home, it's hard for them to suspend their disbelief. How can you potty train a newborn? Can you actually potty train a newborn? Well, the answer is somewhat complicated. William is nowhere near being ready to use a toilet, obviously, as he can't even sit up on his own. But I guess we are laying the foundation for him to be able to do it much earlier than most American children. Ming's mom claims that he should be able to around age one, though he may need a diaper during the night until age two.
Who needs these when you have
a garbage can?

Photo via Taobao.com

How does one teach a baby to go potty in a garbage can? It's pretty simple. You just hold him over the garbage, especially when he first wakes (when he is most likely to need to go). You can whistle while you do it, which helps the baby associate the sound with using the toilet. Eventually, he develops the habit and will try to go potty when you hold him in position over the trash—in fact, William already does this at four months old.

I'm sure you still have a lot of questions. Is it really worth doing? Does he still wet his diaper? Is it healthy? Isn't it tiring? What about when he is out of the house?

As for me, I'm a bit lazy and this is a practice that I still find a bit strange. I basically go along with it to appease my mother-in-law. When I'm alone with the baby, I normally don't hold him over the trash. I do see the value in this practice as it will eventually get him out of diapers and much sooner than many children. But it's a lot of work and also a bit unhygienic because not only do we (okay, mostly m-i-l) “baba” the baby, but he is often in cloth diapers or no diapers at all. It's a lot of mess. Moreover, I'm not sure if this practice is good for the baby. I read an article in Chinese stating that holding young babies in such a position (over the trash) is not good for their developing spines. Though interestingly enough, this early toilet training trend isn't popular just among Chinese, it is also practice in other countries. Even in the U.S., it is a movement which in parenting circles is known as “elimination communication.” There is even a few books about how to do it!

As for diapers, William is definitely still using them and will wet them if he isn't held over the garbage at regular intervals. When we take him out of the house, we always put him in a diaper. Many Chinese will allow their children to run around diaperless, sporting split seamed pants in which they can pop a squat and use the world as their toilet. A lot of foreigners are shocked and even disgusted by this practice. I generally don't mind it, as I don't see how it's that much worse than people who allow their dogs to do their business wherever. What I don't like, however, is when people allow their kids to pee and poop freely indoors (like on the chairs in McDonald's, as I've witnessed) or on people (I got soaked by a toddler on Beijing subway without so much as an apology). There have been countless reports on Chinese social media about Chinese abroad causing an uproar for allowing their kids to no. 1 and no. 2 in public places such as on airplanes, subways, and while waiting in long lines for the bathroom.

As for me, the verdict is still out. I'm not sure if I'll ever be a firm believer in baba-ing or not. I guess I'll have a stronger opinion if and when I start reaping it's benefits—when William is off the diap.

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