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Can a non-verbal child be potty trained? Why bother ECing a kid who doesn’t yet talk?

Photo from Laura Durkee

This is a guest post from Laura Durkee, our certified coach in Lima, Ohio. Please enjoy and big thanks to Laura! xx Andrea

Why Bother to do elimination communication with a Non-Verbal Kid?

So your child doesn't signal, eh? His poo communication involves looking up from play (and if you're not there to catch his eye, oh well!), and he is more than content to pee through his trainers, through his pants, and through your sofa without blinking?

Ah, the one that crushes EC dreams.

Or is he?

Once upon a time, I knew I would be a perfect parent (*cough*), ace EC (after all, I read Go Diaper Free in its entirety before baby even arrived), astound my incredulous friends and cement my legacy of Supreme Crunchiness. I didn't know the truth about “readiness” with my first child, so I waited to potty train til he was 2.5. #poopyclothdiapersaretheworst #beststealthpooperever #neveragain. Now that I had EC under my belt, my sweet Second-born would never know a day after 12 months of age in diapers.

And then.

It didn't take much time to see that Number Two was nothing like his walking-and-talking-in-full-sentences-by-12-mos older brother. Mr. Two was healthy. He just didn't feel the need to tell me much. (There are benefits: his older brother still announces when he's going to the bathroom and for what purpose, #1 or #2.)

Now, I'm not a huge fan of being told something is impossible (#competitivethirdborn), so after I stopped whining about how hard I had it and swallowed my pride that I wasn't going to be able to show off my amazingness, I found a routine that worked for us. Exactly what I did is in my previous post, so I won't double-use your time by repeating. Here I want to share with you two of the “whys”.

WHY on earth would I take the time to do EC with a non-verbal, seems-to-care-less child, when I could just do what “everybody else” does and then go through the potty training process later?

Non-verbal kid showing he needs privacy
Non-verbal kid showing he needs privacy

WHY #1 He Knows He Is Understood

Mr. Second doesn't easily share what he's thinking. If compared to Bubbling Brook (dear Mr. First), Mr. Second is more of a Deep Well. I had to take the initiative in communication, and we worked through guesses and misunderstandings, both in EC and everything else. BUT. We worked through them. The impetus to understand his pottying needs and respond to his non-verbal signals became the foundation for our entire communication relationship. (And the Potty Time Master MiniCourse was a real stress-saver!) Because I always tried to understand (even if I didn't always get it right), he knew I would listen. To this day, he still looks for me when he's having a hard time talking about something, or when he's feeling misunderstood. Would I trade that?

non verbal kid confident

WHY #2 He is Confident

Mr. Second is not only more independent in completing tasks than his older brother, but also, approaches new things with a confident “let me figure this out” mentality that is fascinating to watch. I often wonder, if I had given up on EC in the aftermath of a missed signal, if I would have given up on potty training and teaching self-dressing, or at least delayed them til much, much later, struggling for two or three (or more!) years over every toilet trip and clothing change.

But. We didn't give up.

I see the confident, can-do spirit fostered during our early EC days frequently, even though potty training is well behind us. At 2.5, he wanted – insisted! - that he be entrusted to go into the basement pantry and retrieve the needed can of beans off the shelf. Not being able to read didn't deter him (and after a brief description from me of the picture of the can, he did select the right one.) At age 4, he lobbied for the job of vacuuming the living room. Being smaller than our vacuum cleaner didn't intimidate him. (And did a pretty darn good job.) He knows that with determination, he can tackle a new task and succeed (and that Mom is a good resource when things prove extra tricky :) ).

Take on several extra loads of pee laundry for the opportunity to boost my child's self-confidence, communication and empathetic listening skills, not to mention save my child diaper rash and myself a bucket of $$ spent on diapers (or a bucket of soaking cloth poo diapers)?? Sign me up. (Oh, wait, I did that when I got pregnant with Mr. Third. :) )

A big thanks to Laura for her humor and candor - and tips!
Please comment below:

How are you working with your nonverbal kiddo and elimination communication?


We can’t wait to hear from you in the comments!

PS - here’s the video version of this episode in case you prefer to YouTube it. ;)

Laura Durkee

About Laura Durkee

Laura is a Go Diaper Free Coach and blogs at www.WiseCrackedMama.com. She loves spreadsheets, dark chocolate, and watching her boys' personalities unfold (unless that involves mud pies launched at the garage again).

28 Comments

  1. Avatar Kelly on February 9, 2021 at 6:37 am

    My 20mo is very verbally expressive, but not with much resembling words yet (we live in France, so our understanding is that children who hear more than one language often speak slower – in addition to the fact that some kids just go at different paces!), but we’re several months into diapers ditched during awake time. He communicates with looks, with points, with taking himself (and about many things he communicates with signs, but hasn’t started signing the potty sign I do). And I am so encouraged by reading this post to think of all the ways he and I are learning how to understand one another and the independence that he loves dearly and that I am trying to foster in healthy ways :) And this post reminds me that I need to go back for posts about tips for teaching self-dressing skills!

    • Laura Laura on February 9, 2021 at 7:56 am

      Isn’t that unspoken bond just beautiful? :) Good for YOU, mama, for listening to your intuition! Self-dressing was “slower” for our non-verbal than our two chatty ones, but interestingly, he had a calmer, more confident approach to it than Mr. First (with whom I followed conventional “wait for readiness” advice…yeesh…you can read some of that in other posts). The “Isadora Teaches” videos (that come with your GDF book) were a huge help in the pants/undies mechanics area! I practiced with him frequently, but it wasn’t until he watched Isadora do it that it suddenly seemed to click and he took the initiative to try it himself. Keep up the great work! :)

      • Andrea Olson Andrea Olson on February 12, 2021 at 4:44 pm

        I love that unspoken bond! 😍

        I am so happy that your little one found the video of Isadora helpful! It is very common for things to click when watching other kids, but I am sure all that practice ahead of time helped as well! ❤️

    • Andrea Olson Andrea Olson on February 12, 2021 at 4:38 pm

      Seems like you are doing a wonderful job, and love that you found this post a helpful reminder 😊

  2. Avatar Melissa on February 9, 2021 at 10:01 am

    Thank you so much for sharing! I totally feel the non verbal/non communication babay. My first babay is four and a half months old and has some regular times that he poops (which has helped me catch some poops) but does not signal if he isn’t nursing. He will make the grunting noises when he’s over the sink, but typically if I’m not nursing and distracted making dinner, he will sneak a poopy.
    I first started EC two weeks ago and after obsessing about catching everything I’ve let go (and my son made it clear I was over offering LOL) of perfection and now just try to catch the pee diapers from the four easy catches and if it’s been a while since I’ve offered. His sneaky poops still baffle me. I want to be 100% catching them, but we are still working through some things. Any tips and tricks for the nonverbal/non signaling babies would be great!!!

    • Laura Laura on February 9, 2021 at 10:36 am

      Congrats, Melissa! :) Baby is still growing and adjusting pretty rapidly at four months, so you are ABSOLUTELY on the right track to “let go”, catch what you can, and just enjoy this sweet time with your little one! (Way to go catching his cue, there!) Personally, I’ve found the introduction of solids really helps regulating bowels, so I mostly waited to try for poos (unless it was MAJORLY OBVIOUS) until my boys were eating solids fairly regularly. Once we had a general routine for eating (solids) and they were sitting up comfortably (this saved my back and my diastasis recti), I’d plop them on the potty after (solid) meals with a fun toy/book, and after a few weeks of this routine, we were catching most poops (that peristalsis thing rocks!) You’re doing great! :)

      • Andrea Olson Andrea Olson on February 12, 2021 at 4:58 pm

        Thanks for leaving Melissa such a supportive post Laura!

        I agree that solids do help to consolidate and regulate the bowels a little, especially if they are eating at the same time each day.

        The consistency really helps little ones, and often times they love routines because it can help them feel secure knowing what they can expect next. I also really believe that your reassurance also really helped!

        Both you and Melissa are doing great!! Keep up the great work!! 👏👏👏

    • Andrea Olson Andrea Olson on February 12, 2021 at 4:54 pm

      So great to see that you are listening and communicating with your son. It is really common for us to over offer in hopes for that “perfection”, which I will mind you is just not possible. There is no perfection in EC.

      For nonverbal/non signaling babies I would suggest that you listen to this podcast, it has lots of tips and tricks in there that should be able to help you out!

  3. Avatar Dione Pompa on February 10, 2021 at 1:01 am

    So we started Late EC our daughter when she was 14 months. I then decided to jump into potty training at 17 months when I got the tiny potty training book. We’re going on week 3 now and catching most pees in the potty by just offering at her normal timing or transition times. She does not vocalize or signal that she needs to go in anyway. She is still learning to talk and only says a few words. She is also a stealth pooper and seems to vary on when she poops. At daycare she always seems to poop sometime in the morning, but never the same time. At home, she will hold it until she can’t anymore, so she usually goes in the afternoon or not at all. I do the potty signs with her and try to catch it if I see her squatting or making a face, but she rarely does that. How can we get her to start pooping in the potty and/or signaling for it?

    • Laura Durkee Laura Durkee on February 10, 2021 at 7:39 am

      Dione, you’re doing an awesome job!! 17 months and catching most pees – that is superb! Stealth pooping could totally be a request for privacy. Maybe the reason she’s doing it at different times at the daycare is because she’s taking whatever private opportunity (i.e. the caregiver/s being busy with another child, etc) presents itself? You can test this out at home. Have you tried something like putting her on the potty with a good distracting book/toy after meals and then walking away? You may need to experiment with potties (seat reducer vs. mini potty), distractions, and your presence (she may like you there but “not” paying attention, or she may really want to be alone for a few minutes to finish her business). When you find a home rhythm that works for her, there may be some creative ways the daycare can offer a similar pottytunity. Even if they can’t offer exactly what she likes at home, don’t feel discouraged! She will have a comfortable space at home to learn, and over time, she will find a way to make the daycare work, too (without using her diaper :) ). What a gift you’re giving her, diaper independence before 2. :) P.S. Mr. Second NEVER signaled for poo. I gave him the tools, used transition times like you’re doing, and one day, he took ownership and just took himself. ;)

      • Avatar Dione Pompa on February 10, 2021 at 1:03 pm

        Thank you for responding! Yes we’ve tried several different potties. We have the one from tiny undies, then we had a bigger one from target, and we have a seat reducer. Through trial and error we found she does best on the seat reducer. She seems to kind of freak out if I go too far away so I either turn my back in the bathroom, look at something else, or stand in the hall within eye sight. I’ve tried giving her toys but then she seems to just play rather than go potty or she gets bored with the toys and wants down. Sometimes I even give her some water while she’s on the potty and this prompts her to pee. We will just keep trying and sit her on the potty after meals to see if that works. I do think that she is probably pooping when she knows we’re not really paying attention, or she will poop while she’s in the highchair.

        • Andrea Olson Andrea Olson on February 12, 2021 at 5:27 pm

          Love how you are in tune with your little, and how you are staying consistent!

          Some parents have found success by putting the floor potty in the dry bath tub or shower so that they have privacy with the curtain shut, but space to go while their caregiver is still in the bathroom and with them.

      • Andrea Olson Andrea Olson on February 12, 2021 at 5:08 pm

        Such great advice!

        Being consistent and giving the tools necessary for success is often all that is needed for success. It is usually just a matter of time before it happens, and usually it is just like one day it clicks, without any change on your end.

  4. Avatar evelien devriese on February 10, 2021 at 2:25 am

    Hi this is Evelien, living in Belgium. We started ec when our son was 3 months old. It’s been an amazing experience, catching almost every pee and all poops. My son doesn’t sign at all when he has to go but we are working with his natural timing and the easy catches. His smile everytime he pees or poops on his mini potty tells me he loves it!
    He is now 6m+ and learning to stand up on his own.. I think he has better things to do then going potty, the past 2 weeks we didn’t catch anything. He refuses to sit down on his potty and go, when I want to put his daiper back on he pees immediately.. we did observation time but his timing hasn’t changed. Could this be a potty pause because he is learning to stand up? Does he need more privacy? Is it time to test the seat reducer? Thank you so much!

    • Laura Durkee Laura Durkee on February 10, 2021 at 8:18 am

      Wow, that’s great, Evelien. I love how your little guy communicates his joy at being able to use the potty and not soil himself! Sounds like you have an excellent communication relationship, which will go far, in EC and parenting, in general! Totally sounds like your busy guy is a bit distracted right now, but I wouldn’t call it a pause, just a bump in the journey (EC – and parenting! – has a lot of moments like this). You’re already rocking the intuition part! Absolutely, try things like privacy, a seat reducer, offering a bit less for a time while his priorities are elsewhere (i.e. mastering this walking thing that will enable him to move as fast as Mom! :) ) With a couple of my busy bodies, we temporarily reduced offerings to a few transition times (especially mealtime, as the peristalsis helped with poo catches!) It gave us breather room, gave the kids freedom to focus on whatever other skill they were mastering, and they were still out of diapers early. :) Enjoy this amazing time with your little guy!

      • Andrea Olson Andrea Olson on February 12, 2021 at 5:21 pm

        I love the idea of reducing the amount of times you offer, especially while a little one is going through a pause or having some resistance to using the potty, since life is so much more exciting than before.

        In a way you are listening to what your little one is telling you, which is that they want to learn something else and focus less on the potty. By offering less it is an acknowledgment of this request, but by staying consistent it keep it fresh in their minds, that it is still important to pee or poop in the potty and not the diaper. 😊

    • Andrea Olson Andrea Olson on February 12, 2021 at 5:04 pm

      Hi Evelien,

      Yes to all your questions! It does sound like he might be going through a potty pause or some resistance due to his development of being able to stand. How exciting for him!! We don’t often think about it, but when you go from being on the floor to standing your perspective and whole world changes because you are seeing things for the first time. With all that, who has time to go potty 😉.

      I think this is a great time to try privacy or the seat reducer. When there are pauses or resistances, you are basically just trying different things to see what will work. You might even want to try moving the potty to the area where you play, so he doesn’t have to leave what he is doing or looking at.

      Keep up the consistency, and before you know it the pause will be over. 💕

  5. Avatar Jade on February 10, 2021 at 9:43 pm

    Fun podcast and the right length for this busy mama. I have EC all three kiddos from birth. First one gave me some challenges but overall was a pro! The next two (twins) have been a challenge. I feel like we ebb and flow like the tides of the ocean. But right now one is exceptionally challenging. About to turn two (twins) and not really verbal (some words) one just started pooping in his pants again after not doing that for like 5 months. He won’t if I am on it and make sure to read him a book on the potty but if I get tied up in my other two kids, I’ll look over and be like shoot there he is pooping in his pants. It makes me mad, not at him but myself. And he has also been peeing his pants a ton so I’m having him rock no undies under pants (as you suggest) so he will hopefully not like the feeling but it doesn’t seem to bother him. Any tips would come appreciated. We were long done by my daughters 2nd birthday and I want badly to be wrapped up with EC with these two by there second birthday (in 9 days)!
    Cheers

    • Laura Durkee Laura Durkee on February 11, 2021 at 7:59 am

      I know you feel frustrated right now, but, honestly, Jade, you and your kiddos are doing AMAZING! It’s my experience with twins that one is usually more of a “go-getter” and the other is more of a “chill” type. One typically speaks first, walks first, tries stuff first, overall. Do you see this in your “almost potty trained” and “still non-verbal” little guys? If so, this could just be that he’s doing life at HIS pace, not his brother’s. This is good news, because it means you are not “doing something wrong” (nor is he), he’s just at a different pace than older sis and brother. Assuming all other things are the same (he hasn’t been ill, nothing major has changed in your family’s routine or his routine, etc.), perhaps look at this like a developmental leap time. Maybe a leap his “go-getter” twin already reached, but because of his personality, he multitasked it and kept learning EC/PT while mastering a new skill. Your non-verbal, “chill” twin might need to temporarily set aside one big mental project (processing all the pieces of the pottying process) while he takes on whatever new skill/growth spurt he’s mastering. If this is his style, he will pick pottying back up when he is comfortable with his new normal. :) Until then, give yourself a breather and put him in undies so you don’t need to worry about poo leaking onto your floor. Give him a breather, too, by trying transition-time-only pottying (especially after meals, as that can be golden poo-catching time!) for a week or two. Switch up the potty type he uses, too, if needed. Many parents find using a seat reducer helps their busy, pop-up-from-the-mini-potty kiddos sit and relax for a few minutes and finish their business. You are a dedicated mama and you guys really ARE rocking this! I promise, no beeper is going to go off and say you did something wrong if your little guy learns at HIS pace and isn’t out of diapers by exactly 24 months. :) You are providing him the tools he needs and investing TIME understanding and communicating with him in creative ways (remember the “C” is a big part of EC!) – what a gift! You WILL eventually be diaper free, I promise. These days will be memories very soon. Until then, enjoy your unique little guy for all he brings to your family and give yourself major kudos (and some chocolate :) )!!

    • Andrea Olson Andrea Olson on February 12, 2021 at 5:35 pm

      So glad you like the length. I try to keep them short for that reason 😊.

      Way to go for ECing from birth with all your little ones!

      Don’t be hard on yourself about missing a poop here and there. You are doing great!

      Sounds like you just need to wrap up with your little ones, which might just mean focusing on potty training for the next few days, and getting help if possible (I know harder with COVID), so you can focus on really hammering home the potty training.

      You are doing great! Keep up the great work and remember to be gentle on yourself. 💖

  6. Avatar Elizabeth B. on February 11, 2021 at 1:58 pm

    This was encouraging! We started the Hybrid Plan last month just before my daughter was diagnosed with a speech delay. Now at 14 months, she has learned the “potty” sign, and used it during gymnastics today to tell me she needed to go! I have been so worried about her speech, but it is encouraging to see how much she has learned and accomplished this month just by adding EC to our routine. We still have lots of big messes, but we are also getting lots of catches. While we wait for words, I am so glad that we have found a new way understand her needs.

    • Laura Laura on February 11, 2021 at 3:52 pm

      Elizabeth, that’s awesome! Good for you for thinking outside the box. Isn’t it amazing just how much our children are capable of when provided with tools in a creative, supportive environment? (And we learn, as parents, along the journey with them!) Thanks for sharing your journey! :)

    • Andrea Olson Andrea Olson on February 12, 2021 at 5:42 pm

      So happy to hear this! 💕

      It is nice when we understand out little ones needs and before you know it the catches will well succeed the misses.

  7. Avatar Ashliah B. on February 12, 2021 at 5:52 pm

    I have potty trained 5 (out of 6) children as soon as they started walking(around 12 months) . None of the children were talkers by that time. I decided to potty trian them at that age and have had success with each child being potty trained (day and night potty and taking botttoms off, all on their own)AND communicating more within 3-4 months. They children would even let me know when they had to go potty as they were on their way to the potty.
    I have learned that if YOU are the constant and YOU continuously talk and communicate (its great to be open and repetitive with children) that the child will desire to communicate more and more. Example: If child pees on the floor, you can say, “Asher, you went pee on your underwear, and now the pee is also the floor. You do not go pee on yourself or the floor (point at the pee and shake your head or say no), you go pee on the potty.” And take them to the potty and have them sit every. single. time. they pee anywhere else but the potty. If you openly communicate to the child in a similar fashion to what I shared in my example every time, the child will NATURALLY desire to communicate AND be an effective communicator without any extra effort.
    I started EC with my 6th child on day she was born and she is naturally a good communicator (she is now 14 months but has been communicating effectively at least for the last 4)because of all the repetitive words and constant communication. YOU CAN POTTY YOUR TODDLER WHO DOES NOT YET TALK AND BY THE END OF THE POTTY TRAINING THEY WILL BE SPEAKING MORE/BETTER IF YOU ARE THE CONSTANT, LOVING EXAMPLE 🌈

    • Andrea Olson Andrea Olson on February 18, 2021 at 7:21 am

      Thanks for the encouragement and wonderful story of you EC/Potty Training journey!!

      I agree loving consistency is always key! 💕

  8. Laura Durkee Laura Durkee on February 13, 2021 at 10:37 am

    Ashliah, that’s super encouraging news! I wish more people knew that the developmental leap of walking is a great time to wrap up/potty train – but thanks to mamas like you, sharing your experience, we may change the potty training narrative yet! :)

  9. Avatar Linda on March 1, 2021 at 10:58 pm

    Thanks for your post Laura! I started EC/potty training with my first daughter at 14 months and she was done in the day by 20 months, in time for the arrival of my second baby. We haven’t tackled nights yet as I was too afraid it would affect everyone’s sleep but I would like to get her out of diapers at night soon as she’s now 27 months old.
    I’ve been doing EC with my second from 3 months and it seemed to go well at first, she pee-ed most times I put her on the potty and I probably caught 1 poop most days but she’s nearly 6 months now and I’m getting frustrated that I keep missing poops. How important are the noises I make when she goes on the potty, and is she old enough to recognise a word or is a sound better? When
    might i expect her to respond to my cues and go when I put her on the potty? I just feel at the moment our catches are just luck rather than me reading her signals which generally only come too late. Thanks!

    • Laura Laura on March 2, 2021 at 11:35 am

      Hi Linda! EC-ing and wrapping up while pregnant – way to go! It’s a challenge in creativity but SO worth it not to have two in diapers simultaneously! (You can catch a piece of our wrap-up with Mr. Nonverbal here under “When You Just Can’t EC While Pregnant.”)

      Re: #1, sleep is important, and when you ditched daytime, you had a newborn, so yes! Sleep! I tried different methods with ditching at night for #1 and #2 (and #3 just did it, himself!), but one thing that remained consistent was each child did it when HE was ready. I really tried to “push” #2 because I kept comparing his journey to #1, and we had lots of wet beds he totally slept through. Lol. Try a few methods (one at a time so you don’t get overwhelmed!), but if she takes a few months to click, don’t get discouraged. She knows how the potty process works.

      Re: #2 You are totally normal. :) 6 months is usually a huge transition time for baby (solid foods, sitting up or some are even trying to crawl, sleep changes that might result from all this new exciting adventure). You sound like you’ve really got the idea of what to do – i.e, the current mode isn’t working, so try something new and see how it works! One of the best things to establish is a rhythm for her day, including a pottying one. Transition times are such gold, especially during busy growing periods when baby’s mental priorities are elsewhere. Pick a few (especially after meals – peristalsis) and be consistent (feeding her solid meals on consistent rhythm will help, too) for a few weeks and see how it goes. If she’s sitting up, this might be the time to change her pottying location/position to suit her new independence, if you haven’t already.

      Above all, know you’re doing great and you will sail through this! :)

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