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Elimination Communication Signaling 101

This is a re-post of an article originally published by Andrea Olson on December 14, 2018

baby-making-a-gesture-Elimination-Communication-Signaling-101

Q: My question is: I don’t think my baby (6 months old) gives cues when she needs to pee (although she does for poo). Is that common? Or am I just not paying enough attention? Or did we inadvertently diaper train her during the weeks we were traveling when she was a newborn? We just use timing to catch pees. ~Rebecca @PoemDiem

A: Hey there Rebecca! Thanks for the awesome question.

In a nutshell: Yes, this is very common, you are indeed paying “enough” attention (um, if you weren’t, you’d never have tried EC in the first place), and yes, you can do something about it (over time, of course).

She might not mind being wet (vs. soiled)

First off, let’s wrap our heads around why a baby might not mind wetness, but might indeed mind soiled (poopy) pants.

Okay…is your head wrapped?

Yep, it’s all about “If I were naked, this would evaporate. It’s not really that bad.” And with poop? “Eeh, gads, get that stuff OFF of me! Let me poop over THERE and then crawl back over HERE. Thank you.”

That said, many babies hate being wet with pee, too, even for a moment. Every baby is different. You and I, however, were blessed with children who don’t mind all that much.

We might not even notice that she is signaling

The second part is this: we are completely media- and tech-saturated these days.

There’s really not a moment’s quiet notice in our lives, and even then, our monkey minds are going at a rate of 100 miles per hour…thinking about a whole onslaught of god-knows-what useless crap. Worrying, planning, fretting, regretting, criticizing, and brainstorming.

Between that monkey mind AND Facebook…it makes sense that we can’t sense the more subtle signals our babies might be giving off.

In an indigenous tribal culture, yes, the signals might be faint, but the folks are super-tuned in.

Reminds me of being at the Burning Man festival years ago. No cell phones or computers or even directional signs for all the bicycling paths (I think that’s what they were?). You pretty much had to go off of intuition and telepathy, two things I wasn’t that great at until I went thru that week there…without distraction. Pure synchronicity.

Yep, had we been living in a commerce-free, gift-oriented, tech-free society all this time, we’d never miss a single peepee signal.

I don’t think you diaper-trained here (ie: don’t blame yourself)

During your travels, I seriously doubt that you diaper-trained your baby.

As a newborn, she’s pretty much rollin with your flow, and as a still-young infant, she continues to do so. You set the stage, and if you chose to do something different, at this point she’ll still follow suit.

A few weeks won’t break an EC practice. No matter the age.

But more importantly: don’t blame yourself.

That is seriously the last thing we need to put upon our trying little hearts and heads.

You are doing the best with what you’ve got, and I’m assuming you are blessed with more resources than lots of folks around the world.

Point is: I believe in you and I seriously do not think you are to blame for your child not signaling/not minding peeing her diaper (see above for description of “not minding being wet”).

You can do EC based on any combination of the following 4 tools, even if the 4th one isn’t there!

I call these the 4 Roads to Potty Time.

  • Baby’s Natural Timing – this is your baby’s built-in timing (which, naturally, changes over time). You can find this out by doing some exclusive (short term) naked observation after waking, after feeding, or a combo of both, noting the time intervals those events (waking + feeding) and the pee or poo. Babies can have extended periods of dryness at ages as early as 3-4 months…or pee every 15 minutes. All babies are different. But you can always learn their natural timing.
  • Generic Timing – these are common times that you might offer a “pottytunity” to your child, such as: right upon waking, before or after putting into or taking out of a carseat or high chair, during a diaper change, when you enter a grocery store, when you go, etc. You’d basically be ECing based on times that both worked for you and made sense to you. This is NOT the same as CLOCK TIMING (which I do NOT recommend – ie: pottytunities every 1/2 hour on the 1/2 hour).
  • Intuition – if you’re human, you’ve got it. Yep, might be buried. But it’s in there somewhere. If you sit for 5 minutes and breathe in and out, alone, then ask yourself for some guidance, you’ll get it. But you have to listen. Only then will your intuition speak to you. This can also equate to an urging voice inside you saying “Time to pee the baby!” Note that this is DIFFERENT from pee-noia (as some of my readers in Hawaii like to call it)…where you’re just plain paranoid about pottying. That, my friends, will backfire. Guaranteed.
  • Baby’s Signals – this is the one that you’re presently missing. While observing during some limited, responsible naked time (learn how to do that in my book), you can see if your baby makes any prior indication that she’s gonna pee or poo. That’s (one of) her signal(s). Some babies don’t signal while naked. Therefore, also pay attention while WEARING your baby in a carrier, on your body. When he starts to squirm, fuss, or cry, there’s your signal!

My point is this:

IF your baby doesn’t clearly signal…it’s not your fault. But you can STILL do EC effectively with the OTHER 4 Roads to Potty Time: natural timing, generic timing, and intuition.

Yay! This is great news.

How to get your baby to begin signaling (again or for the first time)

Here’s an excerpt from my newly updated book which explains how to get your baby to begin signaling for the potty (again, or for the first time):

My Baby Wonʼt Signal (Or Suddenly Stopped Signaling)

Donʼt give up. It doesnʼt mean she doesnʼt get it or that EC wonʼt work for you (or that you are a failure). It just means that one of the 4 Roads to Pottying is not-so-dependable, and you, my dear parent, must utilize the other 3 Roads while providing repetition and consistency (without overdoing it). Itʼs all good.

Until your little darling starts signaling to you consistently, you’ll still need to prompt her by reminding her it’s time. If you stop prompting altogether, she wonʼt ever pick signaling back up. How to prompt?

Instead of asking if she needs to go, or expecting for her to Signal out of the blue (when you know she doesnʼt), youʼll just take her.

You will take over her (lack-of-)Signaling by Prompting her while you gently guide her back to health and self-sufficiency.

Also, youʼll want to teach her her future signal to her by prompting her with what you eventually want her to say to you.

So, hereʼs what this looks like:

Youʼre enjoying your day, keeping an ear out for her nonverbal signals (that “peepee dance”). Youʼre also loosely aware of her natural timing. And, youʼre incorporating the generic timing as a natural rhythm to the day. You know when itʼs time.

Then…you prompt by just taking her whilst saying what you want her to eventually start saying to you, such as “I need to peepee Mama/Papa” or simply “potty” (or signing…whatever communication ability your child has, match that as a goal of how you want her to start telling you she needs to go).

She’ll eventually pick it up and realize that this is what we say when we need to go pee…and she will begin signaling eventually!

Remember that this is age- and capability- specific…newborn babies pretty much all signal (because their primary signal is crying), and yet eventually this may dissipate as baby comes into being in the world.

At older ages, some babies are able to verbally signal from 9 months with words, others are better with signing, and still others are just late bloomers on the direct communication circuit and you’ll have to count on other factors to get you through the vast majority of toddlerhood.

Honor your baby’s different pace, and model the desired end result (the Signal) with consistency and patience. AND about the prompt: Be brief (one word is fine), don’t over-explain (or explain at all), don’t get stressed, and don’t expect her to EVER say it.

What!?!

Yes. Don’t expect her to EVER say it.

If she does, great. If she doesn’t, whatever.

Point is that she KNOWS in her tiny developing brain that this word means “it’s time to go.” This is her future signal. She gets that.

She will adapt it as she wishes and will begin to communicate it when her brain is capable of doing so (14-18 months is when the brain can do long-term repetitive memorized tasks *consistently*).

Usually, lack of signaling can cause an utter feeling of failure to arise, coupled by extreme potty-centeredness.

These are reflexes but they wonʼt help!

What will? Patience, consistency, and repetitive prompting without overdoing it or becoming potty-centered.

Itʼs all a balance.

I love this part of my book. We learned all this by working, world-wide, in my private support forum for the last several years. This stuff works!

How to get your baby to communicate…at all.

Alright…so here’s a little non-EC advice on encouraging your child to communicate…at all…some way other than crying. Okay, so I also integrate some EC stuff into it as well.

1. Leave space for her to think…and to talk.

2. Talk less (ie: don’t over-explain). Act and listen more. Notice when you are the Unstoppable Motor Mouth, and, well, stop. (This complements #1.)

3. If you over-sign or over-talk, you are doing everything for her. If you do it all, why should she/would she even bother?

4. Notice where your child IS actually communicating…through a look, body language, or some other subtle energy shift. Trust in this. It’s all you’ve got, and you DO get through your day somehow, right? Now, it’s just about trusting your own senses.

5. Regarding EC, have a diffuse awareness of ALL of your baby’s needs, where pottying is just *one* of them. If you are loosely paying attention (what baby really lets you LOSE attention, though?), you’ll realize when each need appears. All else fails, do not hyperfocus. This clams babies up, and makes then revolt (in time) when they become more able to.

6. Talk to your baby by reading books, speaking to him with adult words, and letting him be near you while you have conversations with other adults. This is a great way to imbue language at an early age.

Okay…that’s all I’ve got on this one for now. Thanks for your question, Rebecca!

Please leave a comment sharing what your experience with signaling and EC have been…or where in the communication realm you might also be stuck.

Thanks! xx Andrea

Watch the Video Version (new!)

If you want to watch the recording of today’s podcast episode, you can do that on my youtube version right here:

Disclosure Note: As an Amazon Associate, I earn a small commission from purchases made through the links on this page.

Resource Recommendation

Potty Time Master:  a MiniCourse that helps you get extremely good at detecting the 4 ways to know the baby has to pee.

Go Diaper Free: my popular EC book that simplifies EC, beginning to end.

Andrea Olson

About Andrea Olson

I'm Andrea and I spend most of my time with my 6 children (all under 12 yo) and the rest of my time teaching other new parents how to do Elimination Communication with their 0-18 month babies. I love what I do and try to make a difference in one baby or parent's life every single day. (And I love, love, love, mango gelato.)

4 Comments

  1. Avatar Regina on November 28, 2023 at 7:35 am

    This has always been my problem since reading about EC since my baby was born. I catched some as newborn but then she got shy. I tried to promt her but she wouldnt.
    Since its not possible to EC a baby in privacy because I need to hold her, so I failed. I hope beeing more successful starting potty training at 24 months, but Im worried about the privacy thing.

    • Andrea Olson Andrea Olson on November 29, 2023 at 8:21 pm

      You got this momma!!!

  2. Avatar Kim on November 28, 2023 at 8:49 pm

    Thank you, being told to shut up is just what I think I needed! My 14 month old doesn’t signal much and I have been trying to increase communication in the hopes that she’ll signal – going on timings/intuition works great for us – but now I’m thinking that I need to sit back a bit and let her work out her own way to communicate. She can get herself on the potty and is getting better at pants on/off and I’ve been giving her a lot of time and space to practice those skills, but for some reason I didn’t think to do the same with the signaling. Thanks so much!

    • Andrea Olson Andrea Olson on November 29, 2023 at 8:22 pm

      So happy to help, you got this momma!!!

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