Make Potty-Training a Breeze (The How & Why of Elimination Communication)

In our culture, we train babies and toddlers to eliminate in diapers.

They rarely romp around diaper free (who wants a puddle on the floor or a poop-stain on the wall?!), it’s not the norm to offer them the potty, and so we tend to keep our wee ones in diapers 24/7 until the momentous day of potty training arrives. (Yes, ahem, pun intended.)

And then the world turns upside down as toddler’s diaper, the one thing they’ve always been able to count on 100%, is ripped from their terrified grasp, and their tear-stained face stares up at you with an accusation of betrayal.

Well, hopefully it’s not quite that dramatic. 😉

But really – a diaper is often the only thing that a child can count on. It’s there on their body, hugging their skin, waking or sleeping, from birth until age 2 or 3, or even 4. It’s been there for the child’s whole life.

Everything else changes. Routines, naptimes, food, work schedules, caregivers, toys – but a toddler can always be assured that they will find a diaper on their bottom.

And so, how can we blame a child who is terrified to poo in a potty? Their world has just been turned upside down, they’re balancing precariously on a huge toilet that they can fall into if they lean too far in the wrong direction, AND you’re asking them to do something foreign, all without their reliable diaper. Yikes!

Did you know there is a way to make it all easier?

Of course you did. (That’s why you’re still reading, right?)

The shining, golden answer to make the whole process easier is something called (cue angelic choir)… Elimination Communication, or EC.

EC Photo FB


Elimination Communication will make your life (and your baby’s) a Heckuva Lot Easier!

Here are the basics of EC:

  • When you catch baby going pee or poo – whether on the changing table, in their diaper, or on the potty – you make your chosen cue noise (more on that below)
  • Baby associates that cue noise with the action of eliminating (think Pavlov’s dogs drooling when the dinner bell was rung)
  • Put baby on the potty and make the cue noise – baby will eliminate in the potty!
  • Practice in a way that works for you

It really is as simple as that.

If a baby is not able to sit on their own, that’s no problem. You can use the infant hold: cradle the baby against your stomach facing away from you, place your hands under the baby’s thighs, and hold their bottom over the potty. (This may be awkward at first, but trust me, it gets easy!) To make it even easier, you can use a baby potty. (See my recommendations below.) We started doing EC with my son this way when he was only 2 months old.

The cue noise is something simple. “Psst” – like the whisper to get someone’s attention – is frequently used to cue pee. You can choose to make a different sound to cue a poo, but I find it simplifies things to use only 1 sound. Whatever sound you choose, make sure it’s a “comfortable” sound – I found myself doing for 20-30 seconds at a time, so don’t choose something taxing on your vocal chords.

There are a lot of different ways to practice EC, so it’s important to find the way that works best for your family. Some practice full-time EC, meaning their babies roam diaperless. This helps the parent catch on to baby’s cues right before they go, so mama or dada can get baby to the potty. Personally, I would stress out about my carpet and my couch – which is why I didn’t practice this approach to EC.

What works best for my family is confining the mess to a diaper or the potty. So, every time we change our son’s diaper (and sometimes just because, if I happen to have extra time), we take the extra minute to offer him the potty. We take off the diaper, clean him up, sit him on his potty, make his cue noise, and voila! About 80% of the time, he’ll put a pee in the potty!

We clap, cheer, high-five, sometimes do a potty dance, and then put on a clean diaper and go on our merry way.

What does this practice do for us? I’m glad you asked.


The Benefits of EC

Babies are born with an awareness of their body, and they know when they’re eliminating. For example, a nursing baby will often pop off the breast and fuss and wiggle for a moment, then pop back on – with a newly wet diaper. Even in infancy, they know.

If a baby gets used to pottying early, it becomes a normal thing. A part of their routine. Not a big deal. Which means you save time and money (buying fewer disposables or washing your cloth less frequently). When you eventually make the transition to potty training, it won’t be a big surprise, and baby won’t fight you as much as they might have otherwise. The potty is already their friend.

Also, there’s something to be said for keeping that awareness of one’s body. Kids wearing diapers lose that awareness, especially if they wear disposable diapers, which are designed to feel dry even after making a puddle inside. (That’s why EC works best when you start with children under 18 months: they haven’t lost that awareness yet.)

Knowing what’s going on inside one’s body can be a source of confidence and empowerment, particularly in the midst of emotional turmoil as toddlers deal with big feelings.


Who’s really being trained?

This is one of the biggest questions that critics of EC like to ask. My favorite response is “He’s already trained me to feed him when he’s hungry!”

Yes, it is you doing the work. Babies can’t do anything for themselves except suck milk from the breast or the bottle; we do all the rest! I find that bringing EC into this context silences the critics.


What you need to get started

My instructions above can get you started, but I highly recommend checking out this authoritative source: The Diaper-Free Baby. I learned from this book, and found it to be incredibly helpful in answering all of my questions.

I also recommend a little potty, like this one. This is my favorite because it has an insert that stands on its own. When my son was tiny, I would put this potty (the insert only) in my lap, and sit him on it. Much friendlier and less intimidating than the huge “big potty,” as my son now calls it.

Note: These are affiliate links, meaning if you do buy these products, I get a few pennies back. Not enough to live on, but it helps pay the costs of the blog. 🙂


What to do with a child older than 18 months

If your child is older than 18 months and has exclusively used diapers, he or she has likely lost that body awareness relied upon in EC. But instead of waiting for them to be “ready” to potty train, you don’t have to wait to introduce them to the potty. Take them in to the bathroom with you, tell them about what you’re doing, ask if they’d like to try sitting on their own potty (even with a diaper on), and praise every step they take forward.

And even if your own child is past the ideal window for EC, it’s not too late for some other babies you might know! Please share this with Mamas and Dadas who would find it helpful.


How did it go?

Give it a try! And then share with us – what was your reaction the first time your baby used the potty? Comment below.

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