A while ago I polled a variety of mothers to ask them what they found to be the best thing about being a mom, and what was the most difficult part of raising a child. A recurring theme in the answers to the “hardest part” was potty training. As the mama of one fantastic little human being who has recently entered her “terrific twos” (positive thinking, positive results), I can fully understand why teaching a tot to use the toilet can be an exhausting endeavor.
One thing that has been praised over and over again by parents in recent years is a gentle method of potty training called Elimination Communication (EC). While I haven't used this method in a strict capacity with my daughter, I found later on in our diapering journey that what I had naturally been doing to encourage her using the toilet was essentially in line with the basics of EC. You see, I'm a firm believer that parenting doesn't need to be as much of a study in rocket-science as some sources would have us believe. We're all very capable, and having children is a natural part of life. Instincts have guided all forms of life for… well.. ever, and while we seem to have moved away from nature as a society, we all still possess the ability to draw from those natural feelings. Being that EC so closely resembles what I instinctively came to see as a natural solution for toilet training, I truly feel this is a positive and realistic way to guide children into the bathroom and out of diapers (yippee!).
What is Elimination Communication?
The basics of Elimination Communication are very simple: Observe your child in order to recognize their signs of needing to relieve themselves, then respond to their signals and take them to the toilet (or another appropriate place) so they can take care of business without soiling their diaper, their caregiver, or their eating/playing/sleeping space. Basically, as the name clearly shows, you are learning to communicate with your child about their elimination needs.
Why this Might be the Method for your Munchkins
As I mentioned before, I can stand behind this “method” of Elimination Communication because of the sheer natural simplicity – it just feels like the “right” thing to do (for me – when it comes to parenting, there is no clear-cut “right” way to do anything for every person in every family).
Robin, the proud mama of a 5-year-old boy, chose to use EC with her son, and this is what she had to say about why she did: “It just made so much sense. It felt natural. It felt like earth wisdom, pure instinct. The thought of waiting for my son to poop into a disposable diaper then have to clean him over and over, well, that just seems like a lot of work!” – Robin, Mama of a 5 yr boy
It's respectful and builds bonds
When it comes to toilet training the EC way, there is a recognition that moving to being diaper independent is about gentle communication and building bonds. It's not about placing blame, or forcing an unwilling child to sit on the potty or punishment for accidents. It's about learning to read and listen to your child's signals, and responding to their needs. This can help to teach your child about respectful relationships, the art of communication, and forge an even stronger bond between the two (or three or more – it takes a village, after all) of you.
Parenting team, Robyn and Red, also opted for EC with their little boy as the respect and bonding benefit was especially motivating. “When we were pregnant with our son, we were lucky enough to be surrounded by families that were diaper free. After speaking with our community and researching through the library, we saw merit in the many benefits of EC. The most appealing aspect for us was seeing another avenue to bond and communicate with our son before he is verbal.”
EC promotes self-care and self-confidence
There is no coercion in EC. There are no chocolates, no stickers, no promises that Santa will bring big presents if only you would poop in the potty. There is only the understanding that going pee and poop is a natural part of life and that it's something your child can take control of for themselves. When a child learns to be a positive character in their own story of growth, they tend to feel more worthwhile, more mature, and can be proud of their accomplishments. Instead of learning to take care of their toileting needs because of what reward they'll get out of it if they make it to the toilet, they are learning to do this for their own natural benefits: clean, dry clothes, a clean, dry environment, and a sense of self-worth that will aid in every other part of their learning and growth.
EC saves waste
Less soiled diapers? Less chemicals and non-biodegradable materials sitting around in our landfills.
It saves money
Those diapers you saved from hitting the landfills also saved you from buying more diapers. Win-win.
It saves time
I am no stranger to wrangling a tiny whirlwind with a full, smelly diaper, for a much-needed change. It's incredibly frustrating to try to keep your cool while a writhing poo-bum just wants to wriggle away to play, threatening (and sometimes succeeding) to stamp her seal of ap-poo-val all over you and everything in her vicinity. Let me assure you that the time invested in noticing your child needs to visit the lou and quickly popping in to cleanly drop a deuce (or even a simple tinkle) in the bowl, will leave you with a lot more time (and sanity) than it takes to change a diaper.
It's gentler on bottoms
Less time (or no time) spent in a soiled diaper means a happier, healthier baby butt. “Watching my child through our experience really confirmed that it was such a healthy choice for him. He never sat around in poop or pee.” – Robin
What does Elimination Communication Look Like?
Using the Elimination Communication method is not the same for every family. The basics stay the same (learning to tune in and respond to your child's signals that they need to take care of business), but the realities may look different. As Robyn and Red noted (and should be common practice for every parenting choice), “Make sure not to compare your practice with other families experiences!”
This is what EC looked like for Robin's family: “I had a fair sized plastic bowl that came with me everywhere. I would offer the bowl for him to pee or poop regularly. I got to know his rhythms. And he learned/or trusted maybe? that he could go in the bowl. If there were times when I thought I wouldn't be able to offer frequently or pay as much attention, I would put him in a cloth diaper. And often at night he would be cloth diapered. It was amazing, though he rarely went in his diaper.”
In Robyn and Red's family, EC was practiced in its own unique way. “We mostly focused on potty opportunities and consistency with our queuing. We set up a change table beside our laundry sink and placed our son's potty in the sink. Between EC and rinsing with water instead of using wipes, our son never experienced diaper rashes! We decided to not practice diaper free at night. We have practiced EC since birth. Our son is now 16 months old. [While] there are still diapers in our life, our son now uses sign language to indicate he needs to go pee or poop and we make sure to always give him opportunities to go, encouraging him with our family verbal queues which he now responds to very well!”
Potty Training Tips: Making EC Work
It's not as hard as it seems
Yes, there will be accidents (as there will be in every form of potty training), but they don't have to be a big deal. Often, a positive mindset can help everything seem easier.
For Robin, using EC with her son was a piece of cake. “Raising a child has difficulties and challenges all over the place! EC was definitely one of the more easeful and graceful parts of having a baby. Sure, your floor might get pooped on sometimes, big deal. I'd rather clean it off the floor then out of thigh/butt creases! People tend to think it is so much more work or that it's hard, I like to show them otherwise!”
Don't get discouraged
Successes and hardships are bound to ebb and flow in toilet training, just as in every other facet of parenting a little human being. Some days it will be easy, and others it will be hard. The key is commitment and consistency.
Robin's advice? “Don't give up! There's bound to be times when you miss, even times when you child seems to be rebelling, but you will be rewarded! Find what works best for your lifestyle.”
“It is a little more work when your child is a newborn because they go so often! But having patience and determination really pays off! Soon you will have a one-year-old (or somewhere around there) that can communicate their basic needs with you and that is a very enriching aspect of parenthood!” – Robyn & Red
Tune in to your tot
The biggest part of EC is simply attending to your child in a way that builds a trusting bond and the confidence that he can communicate with you. The signs may be subtle at first, but you will learn how to listen to your child's own cues. “We learned the rhythm and he knew the bowl would be presented when he needed. By 12 months he was in charge of his elimination needs. He was confident that he could do it on his on, or if he needed help, that I would provide it.” – Robin
Ditch the diaper
It's easier to learn to read your child's signals when you can both actually see when your child needed to relieve herself. As your child lets go when and wherever they are, you can see it and start to recognize those signs of need much more clearly. You don't have to guess, “Is she going pee right now?” Beyond that, your child will also be able to connect better with her body functions by being able to notice what happened when she felt the feeling of urgency. When your babe is wrapped up in a diaper that quickly wicks moisture away, it becomes much harder to make that connection.
That being said, some situations (like long car rides, or cold wintery days out of the home when you don't want to risk accidents leaving baby cold and wet through their layers) may call for a diaper. Use those mama instincts and find your own rhythm of what works for your family.
Dress for success
By preparing for quick toilet trips, you will be setting yourself up for a much easier experience of EC. Making sure your child is clothed in easy to remove bottoms, free of finicky snaps, buttons, belts and zippers, will allow for a much higher success rate of getting them on the pot in time. While some parents opt for letting their littles roam free of pants or bottoms of any sort, others prefer to provide clothing with easy-off toileting access – especially in public places, and when chilly weather calls for covering up.
Robin shared with us her experience of using pants specifically designed for Elimination Communication use. “I did have a few diaper-free designed pants that have a slit…I liked them. It was quicker, I just held him in his squat and the pants would ‘split', allowing him to go without having to the pull the pants down. [It] skips a step. As he got older, he would sometimes just squat…and make them split open on his own.”
If you're looking to find some of these toilet-ready pants, you'll want to check out the RoamFree Pants made by M.W. Poplin– a company that specializes in creating high quality, functional products for infants and toddlers, with a founder who shares her experiences of benefitting from Elimination Communication. These pants are made in Pennsylvania from soft organic cotton and employ a discreet, yet functional split. Another fantastic bonus is that the pants grow with your child by featuring foldable cuffs. They pair well with the RoamFree Vests, which keep little ones warm and cozy, and both are sewn with non-chafing seams.
Whatever method you choose, and however you choose to make it uniquely your own, I wish you all the best of luck. It's amazing to see our youngsters change and grow in such leaps and bounds, and a pleasure to be part of their journey.
Disclosure: This post was sponsored by M.W. Poplin. We love the way Elimination Communication helps parents and babies be mindful of their bodies.