Potty Training: When, Where and How

I set out today to write that cloth diapering post I promised. But before I knew what was happening I was writing about potty training. Wow, is that ever a subject.

It all started because someone mentioned  Infant Potty Training, also known as Elimination Communication, in a comment and I thought it deserved a plug in the diapering post. The idea behind EC is that by putting babies into diapers we train them to pee and poop in diapers. Can’t really argue with that. Then we try to re-train them to pee in the potty typically around the age of two, a notoriously stubborn and rebellious time. Also, no arguments, it’s a ridiculous method when you stop to think. Furthermore traditional peoples all over the world without access to Fuzzi Bunz or Huggies have managed not to live in a squalor of baby feces– how do they do it?

The answer is really more mama training than infant training. Supposedly when you pay very, very close attention to your baby you start to learn her cues for ‘about to pee.’ The best way to pay such close attention is to up the stakes and leave your baby diaperless, though they say it does not have to be an either/or. You also initiate by holding your babe over the toilet in a squat often (like every 30 minutes) while making a ‘pssss’ sound. If you put the time in for a few months, supposedly they can be mostly potty trained by 8-12 months.

I loved the idea, it makes perfect sense to me, and I really wanted to try it out. Or, more accurately, I wanted to want to. But I found mothering so crazy hard that I couldn’t fathom adding one more thing. On the site I linked to above I noticed a quote at the top on the page, apparently one of 101 Reasons to Practice EC, “”A diaperless baby turns the dullest shopping trip into an adventure in new territory.” I don’t know if they meant that the way it sounds to me, but what else could that mean? I personally don’t need any more adventure at the grocery store, particularly of the ‘wet clean up on aisle 3’ variety. I’m quite certain it would have been less work in the end, and I have talked to a few people who did it and loved it, so I know it works. But I just couldn’t get my head around the initial outlay of energy.

When my first born was 8 months old I did put a kiddie potty in the bathroom, thinking I would set her on that whenever I peed and that way she could learn without any particular extra work, just the way kids learn everything– by modelling. The first day she peed several times and I hastily patted myself on the back thinking I was so brilliant and had got my timing just right and was about ready to pack up the diapers. The next day, and forever afterwards until she was three years old, she could not or did not put anything else into that potty. Literally. As she got older I tried just leaving her diaper off whenever we were home, and she would ask for a diaper when she was ready to pee. I’m afraid that, even though I knew better given her incredibly defiant personality, I turned it into an issue by trying to coerce her to sit on the potty instead.  I never used force or punishment (though my MIL did, unsuccessfully, try bribery) but my girl is one smart cookie and I’m sure she gathered that I was very actively trying to get her to do something.

Here’s some advice– you cannot win a war with a defiant two year old about peeing. What you can and will do instead is drive home to her the point that yes, in fact, no matter what you do, she is in control.

As she grew past that 2yo defiance for the sake of defiance, she apparently lost track of that control though. She would sit on the potty diligently and say with dismay, “It’s not working.” When it finally did work she was jubilant, but I have to warn you new mamas who might think as I did that kids ‘potty train at 2’ (like it’s a 6 week event) that this process can be unbelievably long. My girl, at 4.5, still has accidents. Now her thing is that she doesn’t want to stop playing to go use the potty. She will sit there jiggling and dancing for literally an hour and then streak to the bathroom, pee dribbling out everywhere as she goes.

Our interactions go like this, daily:

Me: Hey, sweetie, it looks to me like you’re doing your I-need-to-pee dance. Why don’t you just go sit on the potty and see if anything comes out?

Her: No, mama. That’s not my I-need-to-pee dance, this is my I-need-to-pee dance. See? Back and forth instead of side to side.

At any rate, I guess my point is– try that infant pottying gig if you think you can! Maybe you can avoid all this nonsense. But for the rest of us, I am off to work up the cloth diapering post right now. I swear! No more tangents!

11 thoughts on “Potty Training: When, Where and How

  1. Potty training is the end of a long road when you cloth diaper. I *thought* we were done at 2, but like you said–not a quick process. Had to whip out the prefolds again last month because it just wasn’t working. Sigh. But agreed– EC sounds awesome, just not for me.

  2. Too funny. My older son countered any pottytaining with resistance. We tried everything, diaper free time, treats, modelling, training pants. After he turned 3 and I was about to rip my hair out in frustration he just decided to use the potty one day and pretty much just did it (well there were a few days of candy bribes in there) he liked his new little briefs and just wanted to use the toilet. Someone was talking about EC and I said nice idea but it wouldn’t have worked for us (and I wanted to smash the smug “well obviously you did not try hard enough” response). Fast forward to my second son… He tells me when he need to pee. He takes his diaper off and goes to the bathroom door. He has been doing it since he was 15 months. It has nothing to do with me. EC has to do with the kid and their personality. They have to be on board.

  3. I’m not so sold on the idea that it is really not that much more work. I cloth diaper which is pretty dang easy in my opinion. Plus just watching the Babies documentary the mother was African mother was cleaning feces off her baby with what appeared to be an old corn cobb. Not that, that is bad, just that there appeared to be clean up on aisle 3 without diapers too.

    Plus most (not all) “traditional” non-diapering cultures live more outdoors, dirt flooring, with livestock, and a general difference in what is culturally considered clean. Again not saying one is better than the other, just stating that non-diapering would likely be easier depending on cultural norms. Whereas every accident in a public US situation is going to require lots of cleanser and hyper-vigilance.

    I say go for what works for you, but I’m not buying that it is easier, just a different method.

  4. [quote]”A diaperless baby turns the dullest shopping trip into an adventure in new territory.” I don’t know if they meant that the way it sounds to me, but what else could that mean? I personally don’t need any more adventure at the grocery store, particularly of the ‘wet clean up on aisle 3′ variety. [/quote]

    LOL and Amen.

  5. So, I did EC with my two kids. It was very easy with one, and not too hard with the other, and for me it was much easier than cloth diapering would’ve been. For me. It’s not less work. I’m the only mom I know who EC’d, and I’d do it again if we decide to have a third, but it’s not less work, it’s different work. For me, being always on the lookout for a baby needing to pee, cleaning up messes when it doesn’t work, figuring out how to clothe a child without a big diaper bulge to hold the pants up, and spending hours in the bathroom talking about peeing and pooping, is easier than doing the laundry and figuring out how to convince a 2 or 3 year old to get on board the potty-wagon. That’s because I hate laundry, and find infants easier than toddlers. Well, in some respects. Every time anyone has ever asked me about EC though, I’ve told them about it, and then told them that if it sounded cool, they should try it. And if it didn’t sound cool, it Was Not Worth It. Especially with the way it’s not supported by our culture.
    EC is possible with any child, but that’s because EC is expressly about the journey, not the destination. ‘Possible’ includes the possibility that you’ll communicate about elimination for 5 years before it works at all.
    So yeah. Getting the information out that it’s another choice is a good thing. I don’t think evangelism is going to help anyone.

  6. I read this and now I want to cry. My son was almost totally potty trained at 18 mo. but he had that ONE accident everyday. I realized that like your 4.5 year old he just didn’t want to stop playing. So I made the huge mistake of reminding him if it had been awhile because he hated wet diapers. Well that was the end of that. He won’t even tell me when he’s gone anymore. If I don’t check him for an hour he will just sit in it. 2 years later and he might use the potty once in awhile, but I don’t think he’ll be ready anytime soon. He just doesn’t want to use the potty and I know it’s not a problem of him not knowing when he needs to go, he knows because he suddenly hides from me when he’s going. That is how afraid he is of using the potty. At my wits end……

  7. Seriously, seriously?? I was laughing so hard reading this b/c I too have a 4.5 year old daughter and I have the SAME conversation with her multiple times a day. Honestly, she responds with the same line! She will hold her urine for HOURS trying to find just the right sitting position to help her hold it in. The kid just can’t be bothered with the potty when she is playing. Too funny.

  8. Every kid is different. My oldest potty trained in one day at 22 months old, no diapers at nap and within a few months was diaper free at night too. I was SUCH a good parent. Totally patting myself on the back. He’s five and rock solid.
    But my second – put me in my place. He’s 2.5 now and *fairly* reliable, but goes through stretches where he’s changing pants every hour practically. He totally does the potty dance. And he always says he doesn’t have to go, until we sit down to eat, and then it’s an emergency. I think he doesn’t notice until he actually stops for a second that he needs to go.

  9. One thing I don’t like about the EC books is that they give the wrong impression at times because they just can’t convey the reality quite well. Everyone reads and interprets very differently :(

    EC is one of those things you need to try and do. It’s very much like trying to change a disposable diaper user’s mind set that cloth diapers are NOT gross or unsanitary, are not hard to use at all and that they will not be covered in pee or poops every second, and that their baby is not going to smell like a sewer. To really change their minds you must tell them to try it and see for themselves, “I thought it was going to be hard too but it was nothing like I thought an was so much easier than I imagined.”

    That quote about the store seems negative. But really, what parent *doesn’t* deal with a pee accident in the middle of the store or other inconvenient public venue at some point? The difference is that it is funny when an EC’d 6 month old piddles a little because you forgot to pee them or use a backup while distracted and dampens your top, not so funny when a 3 year old with the bladder the size of a elephant lets loose on the floor.

    I EC’d from birth. It was awkward at first, but so was everything else. It really wasn’t like “one more thing onto the load” , it was just one more thing to learn at the same time — no time wasted, nothing to lose. And it gave something back unexpected … Seeing a newborn pee on the potty and not having to scrape poop off of a teeny tiny tush with baby creases is a thing to celebrate, and laugh over, and strut proudly about. It’s a stress reliever. In the midst of nipple pain, wondering if you’ll ever get the hang of babywearing, worry over if they are going to stop breathing on you the moment you shut your eyes, and fretting that you might drop or break them…pee in a pot, bowl, or sink… That’s the icing on the cake :)

    I am an advocate of all in simply because I think it makes a big difference with the adult learning curve and later a two year old when they have no conscious memory of wearing a diaper and have not ever developed the habit of toileting on themselves. But there are also concientious ways to do so gradually while using diapers too.

  10. Sorry to say, but my 6 1/2 year old daughter does the same thing yours does: stall until the last minute and then race to the bathroom. If you find the cure for that behavior, please share!

    A friend of mine did EC with her kids and swears by it. My sister in law is working on it with her 5 month old. But when I had a newborn, EC was so very far beyond what I was able to even think about doing! Kudos to all who make it work, but the necessary level of focused attention on another body’s elimination needs was something I wasn’t able to deliver.

  11. In all honesty, I think EC is over-rated. I know stacks of EC kids, and they all have so many ‘misses’. None have been reliable during the day by three. My kids ran around naked a lot, once they began walking, and apart from the one with SN, the other four were out of day nappies between 15 months-22 months of age. Reliably. They’d wet once in a blue moon, if they were sick, or feral from sugar or something, but that’s it.

    I do think you need to start them on toilet awareness much, much earlier than two though-I think once they get more aware of it, and comfortable with using nappies it’s a lot harder.

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