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Separation anxiety: My baby will no longer sit on the potty or let me hold her over the toilet.

Branson at 18 months...Separation anxiety? Totally.
Branson at 18 months...Separation anxiety? Totally.

This post was originally posted on November 20, 2018, and has been fully updated on October 13, 2020 to include an audio (Podcast) version, a video (YouTube) version, and to include some basic updates. Enjoy! xx Andrea

Listen to the Podcast

Watch the Video Version

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

Separation anxiety in little babies: the struggle is real! How does it affect elimination communication, and what do we do about baby’s separation anxiety related to potty time?

Today I’m going to answer that specific question from one of our community members:

Q: We used to have a guaranteed catch whenever Unya woke up in the morning or after a long nap, but now she is almost 9 months old and separation anxiety is in full swing. For the past few weeks she often gets upset if we try to put her down on the potty, and then she pees on the floor as soon as one of us picks her up. We’ve tried holding her over the sink so that she’s not separated, but that doesn’t seem to work much better. Any ideas on how to get the morning pee in the potty or the sink instead of on the floor (or on mommy or daddy)? ~Jeremy, Thailand

A: Hey Jeremy! Thanks for asking this question. I can, unfortunately, totally relate to this phenomenon.

Luckily, there are some things you can do to get through this without negatively affecting your EC practice. Here we go….

Continue in-arms where it does work

I say this tentatively because I want to stress that this is not a permanent fix…but the first thing you’ll want to try is to continue using the in-arms hold in locations where it still works.

For us, we pottied our son outside (thankfully, in summertime), in-arms, for several weeks during his major separation anxiety period. I’ve also worked with several parents who’ve done the same, as a temporary fix, and it’s worked wonders.

There are many reasons why this probably works as a temp fix. First off, a baby in an indigenous tribe would already be potty independent at 9 months old. That is, he would be crawling off to the ole pottying pit, outdoors, and doing his business solo. No pants in the way, just a loin cloth (if that).

Secondly, the outdoors are the prime distraction for babies. You all know what I mean by this. Mother Nature is always a great “auntie” to turn to when your baby is fussy and there seems like no consolation is possible. The warm sun, soft breeze, animals and plants…they definitely cause relaxation.

However, remembering that this is temporary, realize this pottying choice will have to shift. I think that when the time comes, you’ll know (for example, you’ll say to your wife “If I have to pee him outside one more time, I think I’ll go nuts.”).

Then, transition with confidence (see my podcast episode on transitioning from in-arms pottying to the mini potty).

Hug/hold her onto it (and, beginning discipline)

Many a parent have found that, with this newfound ability to resist things in her life, the opportunity for disciplining a child has begun.

What?! you say. Discipline a 9 month old?!

Yes, I know it may sound strange, but in cultures all over the world, including our own Western ones, many families begin disciplining their babies at an early age, and it pays off.

So, with regards to pottying, you can reassure your baby “I’m right here” and hold her on the potty with a hug (if she’s cuddly) or a hand (see below). She may not like it at first, but many babies will eventually relax (which is the goal here) and will release their pee.

Here’s an example of what you might do (from an anonymous parent):

So my 6-mo has decided that he doesn’t really need to sit when he goes potty…. He doesn’t want to pee standing up or anything, he has just become very clingy all of a sudden and wants to hold on to me rather than sit to pee. So I ask him to please sit, telling him the potty is for sitting and placing my hand against his pelvis to encourage him. After a minute of not-really-unhappy resistance on his part, he’ll usually sit and pee. And if he does have to pee, he’ll sit just in time, almost every time (so far), and seem relieved and not stressed anymore. If he continues to resist, I take him off, though, and figure that I misread his signals. Occasionally he will pee after he’s off the potty, but not often. He holds on to me for dear life, as if I’m going to leave him, but I have never left him on the potty — I always hold him, at least his hand. He only does this with pottying. I think I need a potty cozy for the living room potty. I’ve had one on the BR one b/c we use that for early morning times when he’s all warm and sleepy, but I haven’t put one on any of the other potties b/c they’ve never bothered him until now, since it’s been warm. But when I picked him up from it just now, his bottom felt colder than his back. The house is definitely cooler than it was a few days ago.

I thought it might help folks to kind of see my thought process in this problem, to see how I try to figure out what’s going on. Once I get the cozy made, I’ll let you all know whether I’m right in my diagnosis. :)

Note: If your baby simply doesn’t have to go (you’ve misguessed), then don’t force her to stay on the potty. I’m suggesting a gentle, physical encouragement to demonstrate your expectations.

Just remember – it’s totally okay to teach “we sit on the potty when we need to pee.” In fact, it’s your job.

You might need a potty cozy

Like the woman above described, she figured the potty seat might be too cold for her son, and that this was making him cling to her.

If you don’t already have one, I suggest trying this as an easy fix for a baby who just won’t relax/is clingy/won’t sit/won’t be held. Here’s more about potty cozies and how to make your own.

Be more matter-of-fact about pottying

Talk less. Sign less.

Do it and move on.

Kinda like changing your baby’s clothes.

Take charge, even.

With confidence.

Have a “diffuse awareness” around pottying (in other words, without embellishment, hyper-focus, or any sign of fear, even if you’re feeling it). Don’t make it the focus of your day.

You’ve got the tools. Use them.

And move on back to what you were just doing! (Which was way more fun that pottying, right?)

Spread out your pottytunities more – offer them less!

Your baby is now 9 months old. She no longer pees or poos at the frequency she did when she was a newborn (if she does suddenly return to that frequency at some point, you might want to look into that).

So, you should consciously reduce the number of pottytunities you offer throughout the day.

Some of the separation anxiety could be stemming from her growing desire for independence, and you, at the same time.

So laying off + reducing the # of opps would have a positive effect in this case.

She’s not a newborn anymore

Don’t react to a 9 month old like you do a newborn…in all aspects of parenting.

You don’t have to be the immediate-responder all the time, always on high-alert.

While she’s having her separation anxiety about pottying, and you’re getting creative on how to get her to sit or be held, remember that she’s tougher than she used to be.

“You’re okay. Do this with me and we can move on.” With confidence and reassurance, at the level of a 9 month old, not a newborn.

Offer Privacy

When she doesn’t want to be held over the sink and she gets off after you put her down on the potty, you could try the toilet seat reducer.

And then because she’s 9 months old and she could sit very well by now, you can leave the room and pretend that you forgot something and come back in or you can turn your back and ignore her a little while and see if that helps her to feel that privacy that she might be wanting right now - that might come across as separation anxiety - like:

“I really need you but I really actually just need you to leave the room and I don’t know how to tell you that.”

Thanks for your question Jeremy!

What have others of you experienced with separation anxiety and EC? Please share in the comments below.

Looking forward to hearing from all of you! xx Andrea

Attention: As a member of the Amazon affiliate program I earn a small commission for the links on this page.

Resource Recommendation

Getting EC Back on Track: a minicourse that walks you through observation, logging, and getting back on the EC wagon

Potty Time Mastery: 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 husband and 5 children (newborn to 8 years old) 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.)

7 Comments

  1. Avatar Christina on November 21, 2018 at 6:39 pm

    HI Andrea. thanks for this post. My bub was happily doing most of his business on the potty by 3 months, but after he started teething (7 months) he became more and more resistant to the potty. By 1 year I had just about given up. At 13 months I still offer him the potty when I think he needs it but he straightens his body and screams most of the time and I don’t want to force him. I am afraid he has forgotten what to do it has been so long now. I’m so dissappointed but trying to respect him and not cause potty anxiety!. I’ll try a few of your recommendations here. Thank you.

  2. Avatar Akemi on November 21, 2018 at 10:12 pm

    So interesting to read all the different separation anxiety EC issues. I will never forget our particular issue at 9months. Our daughter had been EC’ed since she was 2 months old and was very good it. Then one day she refused to let me hold her over the potty like I normally did as soon as she woke up. Arched back, screaming—very unhappy. And then she’d immediately pee as soon as I put her diaper back on. This continued for the rest of the day and I remember having to come to terms with what seemed like a potty pause. Then at the end of that same day, when I had already stocked up on loads of diapers and wipes, I was getting her ready for her bath and will never forget what happened next. She was naked and sitting on the floor beside the tub. My husband and I were still discussing what to do re: EC and not paying much attention to her. Then out of the corner of my eye I noticed her pull herself up to stand using the side of the bath tub, half sit on her potty and do a big pee (some of it got in some didn’t)! My husband and I couldn’t believe our eyes! I misread her cues. It’s not that she didn’t want to go in the potty, but rather that she wanted to do it herself. After that she was fine. I stopped holding her over the potty (like a baby lol) and she completed her developmental leap. Now she’s a 21-month old underwear clad toddler who responds very well when I tell her “no peepee in _____” (underwear, bath, car seat, etc). She had very acute separation anxiety at that 9 month mark (I remember repeatedly asking the pediatrician if the clinginess was just a phase at her 9-month checkup). I remember feeling worried that she’s always be that way but I was the proudest mom on earth when I saw my 9 month old try to potty herself. It was a huge lesson about how smart babies really are.

  3. Avatar Jasmine on December 4, 2018 at 10:01 am

    My son just turned 10 months and he used to do so well using the potty when i took him. Now he is doing the same thing….resisting. He screams, straightens his legs and arms, and then once i take him off he will pee on the floor almost all of the time. Im always scrubbing the floor. This is what i needed to read today. Should i keep trying or just let him go in his diaper? Thanks ladies.

    • Avatar Tabita on October 17, 2020 at 9:03 am

      Hi Jasmine, my experience so far is (8 months old baby), if this happens to teach something new! Get a new potty where he can sit on to himself, get a toiletseat reducer or what ever the next step to your current situation is. Also, like mentionened in this article, offer less, rather take some pees in the diper than a fight at the potty to catch every pee. These two cues actually helped us so far. Maybe it helps you, too :) Good luck!

  4. Laura Laura on October 16, 2020 at 10:05 am

    OMGosh, Andrea. That photo. EPIC! :)

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