Late starter Elimination communication is an adventure. Anadventure that is awkward and sometimes difficult but can also be reallyrewarding. My decision to adopt Elimination Communication (EC) techniques withmy son when he was 10 months of age was not an easy one. I had a few majormisconceptions to deal with before I could accept the practice. (You can readabout how I overcame those first impressions here) When I finally decided onEC, like when I put my mind to anything, I dove right in head first.
Looking back, I think I may have been a little ambitiousabout the whole thing. My intention was never to ‘potty train’ my infant, Iknew that EC is a slow and gradual process for families, and especiallyfamilies who decide to get started after their babies are 4-6 months of age. Iknew that toilet learning wouldn’t be an overnight success. What I didn’tappreciate is WHY it is a slow and gradual process. It’s not because using thetoilet is a learned skill that evolves as children develop (although it is andit does). It’s because teaching a childhow to use the toilet is a learned skill that evolves as parents develop.
At first glance, teaching a child how to use a toilet soundseasy. After all, actually using the toilet is easy for me so what could the bigdeal be? According to my research all I had to do was show Oliver how to usethe toilet by welcoming him into the bathroom and letting him see what it isfor, ‘offer the potty’ after naps and meals when it is likely that he willeliminate, then learn his elimination cues, and build his association with thetoilet over time by ‘catching’ more and more eliminations. Sounds simple no? Asit turns out, none of those steps are without their obstacles.
Showing Oliver how to use the toilet:
When I first read that it was sometimes helpful to “welcome”your child into the bathroom with you to watch you use it, I had the oppositereaction that I think the writer of the advice expected. I wasn’t embarrassedor grossed out by the thought of my child watching me pee. I was more reallyshocked and jealous that there were parents out there who were allowed to usethe bathroom on their own. If you are one of those people, I suggest you thankyour lucky stars ever time you close that bathroom door between you and your child,because I don’t think I’ve used the bathroom by myself in over a year.
It was the ‘welcoming’ part I struggled with. I had spentthe last 10 months trying to find new and creative ways to keep Oliver out of the bathroom while I was usingit. Now I was reading that ‘welcoming’ him in could help him develop anelimination association with the toilet.
Letting go of my privacy expectations was a little hard forme. We all dream of the day where we can be alone with our own thoughts forjust a few minutes, where we can pick our nose or fuss over our hair or popzits without anybody watching. For me it came down to accepting that I can have those moments, they just maybecan’t be exactly when and where I want them. I let go of my frustration andwelcomed Oliver into the bathroom with me.
Now if I need to be alone with my thoughts or pick my noseor fuss with my hair I wait until Oliver’s asleep and remember that there WILLcome a day where he grows out of wanting to be near me 24/7, and when that daycomes I’ll miss these days a lot.
‘Offer the potty’:
It sounds really simple to just hold your baby over thetoilet or small potty for them to eliminate, but in actuality it is reallyquite awkward. Each and every time I did so in the first few weeks my mindscreamed at me that maybe EC wasn’t really for us after all.
It’s the physical holding. I imagine that having a boy makesthis part quite a bit more interesting than if I were trying with a girl, butfinding a comfortable position that your baby isn’t going to wiggle out of andwhich aims their eliminations directly (you hope) into the bowl of the toilettakes some practice. There are a few suggestions for positions to try on theDiaperFreeBaby.org website.
“Keep trying!” I was told “It will eventually become morecomfortable.” That may very well betrue, but Oliver and I found much more success with a baby seat that easilyattaches to the seat of our toilet. This seat, complete with little handles oneither side, allows Oliver to sit on the toilet like “big boy” without fallingin, The first time we used it he seemed really pleased with himself and thesecond time we used it was our first catch! I think that being able to sit onthe toilet the way he’d seen me sit on it was what clued him into what it waswe were doing.
Learning Elimination Cues:
Believe it or not, this was the part of EC that sounded theeasiest to me. I mean, if anyonecould pick up the subtle signs that Oliver needed to eliminate it would be meright? I can tell just by the flicker of a tiny eyebrow and subtle jutting ofhis bottom lip when Oliver is feeling nervous with a friend or family member, Ican tell by the shrillness of his cry exactly how tired he is, I can tell by atilt of his head and a hand on my breast when he is hungry, and by the tensingof tiny muscles when he is about to make a break for something he shouldn’t beplaying with.
While I had been warned not to expect any real progress inone day, or even one week or more, especially when getting started later inbabyhood, I found myself disappointed in my own inability to accurately readOliver’s elimination cues right away. After 10 months of traditional diaperingI had learned to ignore these signs and it was going to take some time to startnoticing again. Even today, just over 2 months later, I am still not very goodat predicting when Oliver needs to urinate, but I haven’t changed a soileddiaper in a number of weeks, so I am going to go ahead and call that progress!
Creating an Elimination Association:
Within 2 weeks of starting EC we had gotten quite good atcatching routine eliminations first thing in the morning and after meals andnaps, but we had yet to make any spontaneous catches. What was weird about thiswas that the number of ‘misses’ we had during our diaper free time weredecreasing. Could it be that Oliver’s elimination association with the toiletwas already getting stronger and he was waiting for me to take him to the pottyat one of our routine times?
What was actually happening took a little while for me tocatch on to. See, after 10 months of eliminating in a diaper, Oliver already had an elimination association, notwith the toilet but with his diapers. Oliver could stay dry for more than twohours without a diaper on, but the moment I replaced his diaper he would soakit within seconds, even if we had just been to the potty.
This phenomenon, I was to find out, is often referred to as‘diaper training’ and is a common obstacle for potty learning toddlers. Itconfirms to me that, contrary to conventional western wisdom, infants do have bladder and sphincter control alot earlier than we would believe.
This is why it is soimportant for families who decide to start EC later in infancy, or evenintroducing toilet learning to a toddler, need to take it really slowly and notset expectations too high. For human beings, learning is easy, but relearning is a little bit tougher.Elimination communication is meant to be a peaceful parenting practice thatincreases your communication and bonding with your child, expecting too muchtoo soon can have negative effects on that communication.
So it may take some time, and a little bit of mentaladjustment on the part of the parent. But Elimination Communication is verymuch a worth while practice. Once you fall into a rhythm and start to sync upwith your little one you will instantly notice a positive change in therelationship between you. Just be prepared for some awkward fumbling around tobegin with!