The thought of potty training has terrified me even before I had kids. I don’t know if I owe my thanks to all the horror stories from friends/the media, or if it's the mere thought at having to deal with cleaning up poop and pee (especially when it isn’t mine). Either way, it should come as no surprise that when I found out I was expecting twins, I instantly became FEARFUL of "potty training" (and teething) time the most. Lucky for me, I ended up naturally following a path of gentle parenting and I was able to find a MUCH easier solution to my toilet training fears.
ELIMINATION COMMUNICATION (EC) is something that I have talked about since the girls were 7 months, and what we still practice today. (Technically after the age of 2 it is not considered EC, but we have been practicing this since infancy, so I still consider what we do to be EC.) The end goal for us IS to put our pee and poop in the toilet, but it is not expected to happen all at once. What we have been doing in our home is POTTY LEARNING. We are LEARNING how to control the muscles that hold and release our “waste.” We are LEARNING how to keep our pants and undies dry so that we don’t have to keep changing our outfits. We are LEARNING how to not depend on a diaper and we are LEARNING how to do something that the rest of the world does: use the restroom. Instead of negatively reinforcing an "accident" (teaching them to use the potty to avoid undesirable reactions/consequences), we acknowledge the situation and converse about what we can do differently next time.
Here is what a typical conversation looks like:
“I see that you went pee pee and didn’t make it to the potty and now your panties/pants/socks are wet. I know that it can be hard to stop playing and remember to make it to the toilet in time, but we have to remember that we need to try and keep our panties dry. Next time let’s try to squeeze and hold it and tell mommy "potty" and go sit and put pee pee in the toilet. OR try to go when mommy asks you to sit so you don't have to worry about it later.” (Because I constantly prompt/ask them to take a break from their activities and sit on the potty. But of course they never do.)
Here we are at 2 years old (26 months) and are (FINALLY) celebrating our official graduation from diapers to “big girl panties!” Now I am not about to sit here and tell you that it’s been easy. Because it wasn’t. BUT as with everything else with this thing we call parenting, it’s all about patience and the message that you send your children. And honestly, I HATE the phrase “POTTY TRAINING.” I am not “training” my children to do anything. Peeing and pooping is a natural part of life and using the toilet is not a “trick” I am trying to teach them.
"There's a nice logic to the elimination communication method. (Elimination communication) takes place in cultures where there is a greater degree of intimacy between parents and infants." -Leslie Rubin, MD, a pediatrician at the Morehouse School of Medicine and Emory University School of Medicine (Source: Web MD)
If you think about it, asking a child to start controlling when they use the restroom is a HUGE thing. It requires attention/awareness of controlling both an urge and the muscles that hold and release. By the time littles are toddlers, all they have known is doing their own thing and going whenever, and getting a diaper change later. (This is huge factor in regards to why we chose EC.) Adding the pressure/demand that toddlers also restricted to going in one place can really stress a kid out because now there are so many new skills to be learned and expectations to be fulfilled. There have been times where we are playing outside and the girls have had permission, and even been encouraged to pee in the yard. Because, for us, it's more about the acknowledging that they need to go, not going in a particular place. (Obviously we emphasize that going in the toilet is our goal, but I'm still not trying to put too much extra pressure on them.) If we are in the house and they start to go, I rush over and ask them to hold it (I have a toilet near by 99% of the time we are diaper free), but I let them it's ok if they can't. Honestly, it can be SO hard to stay calm. I think it's a gut reaction to panic and become upset/angry. But thanks to our playmats (and hardwood floors), I know it's just a small mess and that it won't take long for me to suck it up and just clean it. (And the longer I wait to pursue toileting, the bigger the puddles will be. Huge factor #2 as to why we chose EC!)
I feel like this is a much better way of getting them to WANT to use the potty instead of making a big deal about them not getting to it in time because we all know that “accidents happen.” It's all about baby steps. "Concentrate on controlling your bladder, work on giving me cues, I'll work on being more observant about your natural cues, and let's try to make it to the potty." (I'll take what I can get, when I can get it.) And I try to dialogue about it as often/much as I can in between.
"While the practice [of EC] may sound like relative heresy in the U.S., it's embraced in at least 75 countries including India, Kenya, and Greenland." -Web M.D. on "Potty Training Before the Age of 2"
Last, but not least, I feel like it is important to note that we do NOT associate "incentives" with hits in the potty. I know it sounds "mean" at first if you don't understand why, but hear me out.... Using the restroom is a natural part of life and does not require tangible rewards. (You didn't give your baby a "prize" for starting to roll over, crawl, walk, etc. did you?) I DO personally agree with praise-to a certain extent, but obviously I'm not going to throw a party every time someone goes to the bathroom where they are supposed to. I will tell them that they did an amazing job keeping their panties dry. Or I may ask them how great it feels to know that they went "big girl potty" and now don't have to worry about sitting in a wet/dirty diaper. And when they go unprompted, I tell them how proud I am of them stopping what they were doing to use the toilet. Nothing above and beyond any other milestone they have reached so far. I want them to know their efforts are appreciated and that I am truly proud of them, but I also want to make sure they build their self confidence and the desire to continue doing what they are doing ON THEIR OWN. Most importantly though, I don't want them to feel self-defeated if they have an accident because they know they won't get a "prize." (Which is one more reason that I spend so much time dialoguing with them during their misses.)
To put this whole incentives thing into perspective let's pretend you want to learn to play the guitar. And every time you play a chord correctly after you finish learning it, I give you $100. (Obviously the longer you learn to play, the harder your chords/songs will get.) And since you are going to make $100 every time you get it right, I think it's safe to say that you are going to be extra motivated to get it right quickly. And now here you are, really trying to get it right but your lack of experience just does not allow you to do so. ("Practice makes perfect" right?) Would you be more upset at your novice skills or at missing out on $100? It's the same concept.
Overall, EC/potty learning has been one of the most difficult concepts to stick by, ESPECIALLY because I have two, but it's not impossible or irrational. There are "levels" of EC (part-time, full-time) so there is no need to feel committed to the concept 24/7/365. True, it's all about going at your baby's pace, BUT a stressed out big does not make the situation any less stressful to our littles. If you have access to it, seek help. It can sometimes be easier to either take turns going diaper free with a partner/friend OR do it with someone else around to keep you company- and calm lol. (It's ok to have help!) If you get frustrated, try to think about all the money and time you will save by not having to change diapers. Soon, all you will have to do is wipe and flush! No more scraping mushed up poop off babies butts. No more stinky diaper pails. No more "whoops I ran out of diapers and need to go to the store" dilemmas. And if you get caught up in the moment just remember "They are learning something new. They are still so young. And THIS TO SHALL PASS." (Trust me, when it does, you will be over the moon about your freedom from diapers!)