By no means do I feel equipped to dole out "How to Mom" pamphlets. However, I can now boast that I am two for two on getting my tots in underwear before their second birthday.
While I strongly believe that children should not be rushed to reach milestones, I do think that they can be gently encouraged to use a potty well before the national U.S. average of 30 months.
Here are five easy tips to encourage an earlier diaper-free life, focusing on the use of elimination communication.
What is elimination communication?
Elimination communication, also called EC, is defined as "the practice in which a caregiver uses timing, signals, cues, and intuition to address an infant's need to eliminate waste. Caregivers try to recognize and respond to babies' bodily needs and enable them to urinate and defecate in an appropriate place (e.g. a toilet)."
Elimination communication doesn't mean you can't use diapers, though. Many times diapers are used as a backup to practicing elimination communication. Parents and caregivers will use the diapers for the child in case they have an accident, but they are still watching for signs and signals that a child needs to use the potty. Eventually, they hope that the child will start to recognized the signs and signals themself.
Many people who are not familiar with the practice of elimination communication think it is impossible. However, this practice is actually done traditionally in less industrialized countries and continues to be the main practice for babies in less developed nations.
Ingrid Bauer first coined the term elimination communication in her book "Diaper Free! The Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene." She had traveled in India and Africa where she noticed that most mothers carried their babies diaperless, yet there were no "accidents." When asking the mothers of their methods she found that, from birth, these mothers would not diaper their children and instead follow their cues for elimination. She raised her own children in this way and shared her findings and methods in her book, that soon became wildly popular.
Does elimination communication actually work?
It is hard for many of us to understand how elimination communication works, especially when we have been raised in a society in which diapers are used regularly. The ideal age to start elimination communication is from birth to the age of 4 months, although it can be done at any age.
Experts are not totally convinced elimination communication works. Even some parents who practice it admit that their child isn't fully potty trained until the normal age of 2 to 3 years old. But many parents still like to use this method to instill the cues and signals to use the potty at a young age. Some have found that it makes formal potty training easier and more intuitive for their young child.
Outside of the intuition, parents also explain that elimination communication saves them money as they don't find themselves using as many diapers.
1. Understand elimination communication.
It's a long name that draws negative attention to itself but the idea is quite compelling. It focuses on recognizing the ability in babies to communicate that they need to eliminate their waste just as they do for sleep and hunger. There is a quick read called The Diaper Free Baby that made me feel comfortable with working elimination communication into our routine without totally disrupting life. You don't have to be hardcore about it or even do it at all. Simply understanding the concept will change the way you approach and think about potty training and help you in small ways throughout your journey.
2. Keep the potty present.
I purchased the potty chair when my oldest daughter was 6 months old and it was a permanent fixture in our front room. She sat on it and put her baby dolls on it. It was never a foreign object to her.
3. Normalize pottying words and signs.
The ASL sign for "potty" is making the ASL letter "T" and shaking it back and forth. My not-super-verbal one-year-old signs "potty" to inform me of his need and continues to shake his fist while he is sitting there (it's really cute!). When you go potty yourself make the sign and tell your baby what you're doing. When your baby sits on the potty chair make the sign and say the words. When you see your baby pottying in his diaper tell him what he is doing. You can do this way before you start taking the diaper off. The result is that the signs and words will be an early part of their understanding and vocabulary.
4. Leave your baby naked.
The more you can leave the diaper off the easier the transition will be (and the better for your baby's bum!). I started by taking off the diaper just in the mornings around six months. I would put them on the potty right after they woke up, make the sign, and say "pee-pee." If they went I would dance and clap and make a fuss. If they didn't, no big deal. As time goes on add more and longer periods of nakedness, especially right after sleeping.
5. When you are ready, commit.
The hardest part of potty training is beginning. My tots were giving me signs of readiness well before I felt ready. This is why when I decided to take the plunge, I put the diapers completely away with no intention of going back (save when they slept). Stay home for a good three days with a naked-bottom one-year-old and energy to clean up the inevitable accidents! I kept the babes and the potty in the same room throughout the day. With both of my children three days at home was enough to get them to run to their potty on their own when the urge occurred.
Outside of the week of nakedness when you do the real heavy lifting part of toilet training, these small changes in the way you live with the potty can be done even by working, busy parents. The key is that everything about the potty and going potty be introduced early. It is a smoother, more natural transition for your one-year-old when the time comes to ditch the diapers.