I remember visiting my friend’s home when her daughter was slightly older than 1 year old and seeing that the little girl had her own plastic potty in the bathroom. It turns out that my friend, who grew up in the former Soviet Union in what is now the Ukraine, was following the Russian tradition of early potty training. For today’s hint, the first of a series of hints highlighting money-saving child rearing traditions from different cultures and countries, I asked her to share the approach in a guest post. My hope is that it will help other parents cut down on diaper costs sooner rather than later.
When my daughter turned 1, my mom and my tot’s Russian babysitter raised the question of starting potty training. In fact, they both felt my daughter was already running late.
My mom started potty training me when I was 8 months old and when I started day care at 1 year old, I was already potty trained. Meanwhile, my babysitter started training her two sons at 6 months old and had them fully trained by 1 (by potty trained, I mean, going to the bathroom only when put on the potty).
I wasn’t sure about starting potty training so early. Most of my American friends did it much later, when their children were 2 to 2.5 years old, and I read a number of articles strongly advising about the dangers of early potty training. But you can also find studies taking the other side of the debate, and I did notice that potty training was a nightmare for many of my American friends, possibly because their 2 year olds had become so comfortable peeing and pooping in their diapers. So I decided to try to potty train my daughter when she was slightly older than 1 year old, with the help of her Russian babysitter.
The general technique of Russian early potty training is to put kids, starting at around 6 to 8 months, on their own little potty every 20 to 30 minutes and ask them to pee or poop. Parents can also hold their little ones over the toilet if the kids can’t yet sit. Intervals can vary in length and can be shorter after large meals. If children do go to the bathroom, their success is met with applauses, hugs, and kisses to create a truly rewarding experience for the child.
Another really important component of the technique is to let the little one run diaper-free for a couple of hours or so a day and learn from the accidents. When an accident happens, you gently ask your little one to warn you the next time an accident is about to happen so you can get him or her to the potty in time to avoid it. It’s important to avoid negative reactions to accidents. Usually after six months to one year of this technique, a child is potty trained.
“You need to put children on the potty every 20 to 30 minutes,” says my friend Natalia Gracheva, who has many years of experience working with, and potty training, toddlers. She notes that the systematic approach is very important to early potty training and says, “potty training should be a positive everyday experience. There shouldn’t be any threats after accidents, only praise will bring a positive result.”
My babysitter was always extremely consistent at remembering to put my daughter on the potty at regular intervals, and she coined an easy phrase “ah-ah-ah” for going on a potty. So when we wanted to see whether my daughter needed to go to the bathroom, we all asked her “ah-ah-ah?”
Soon my daughter started warning us that she did want to “ah-ah-ah,” saying the phrase herself when she needed to make a number two. We’d bring her over to her potty* and if her “ah-ah-ah” signal turned to be a real one, we all jumped for joy, hugging her and applauding to make her feel like a hero. If the signal was a false one, and that happened a lot too, we were not discouraged. We continued to react to any other “ah-ah-ah” signals and patiently waited for the successes.
For the diaper-free time, I chose areas of the house, such as our kitchen and backyard, where I could easily take care of the consequences. My daughter and I laughed and cried through many accidents. When an accident happened, I gently asked her to warn me next time, and she would sometimes cry as she seemed to be really upset with herself. It did seem that she felt like a real hero when she actually made it into the bathroom on time. After the first month of training, my daughter frequently initiated clapping herself after she peed or pooped and encouraged everybody around to do the same. She seemed to enjoy the whole experience.
Once my daughter started a Russian daycare when she was 2, our efforts were supported by a systematic approach at the daycare. The teachers there reminded kids about potties every 20 to 30 minutes and allowed the kids to run diaper free in the afternoon if they did go to the bathroom earlier. If accidents happened, the diaper-free privileges were suspended for a day or two, but then resumed (the kids really seemed to like being diaper-free). “Group activities, for example potty training experiences at day care, really help as kids as they learn from each other,” my friend, the potty training expert, says.
This technique definitely wasn’t a painful experience for us. To be sure, different strategies work for different kids. If my daughter hadn’t reacted positively to the whole potty training experience, I don’t think I would have put pressure on her to continue for so long.
After a year of this process, my daughter was fully trained by shortly after her second birthday. She was able to walk to the potty herself and do her business, with very few accidents.
*An additional potty training hint: We bought our daughter a Summer Infant potty that resembled an adult toilet and wasn’t too fancy, as kids love imitating adults.
What are your tips for early potty training? What are your favorite money-saving childrearing tips from different cultures and countries?