You’ve heard there’s a difference between EC and potty training, but what is it, and why? Is there a point when it’s better to shift gears? In today’s episode, Nicole breaks down when it’s appropriate to use EC vs potty training, and how you can transition from one to the other.
You Will Hear:
- The major differences between EC and potty training
- When it might be appropriate to shift from EC to potty training
- How to determine which method is best-suited for your child
- The philosophy and science behind why EC doesn’t work for older toddlers
- Helpful considerations before beginning potty training
Links and other resources mentioned today:
- How to start potty training - Podcast #218
- Go Diaper Free Book
- Wrapping Up EC MiniCourse
- Tiny Potty Training Book
- “Tiny Potty” board book
- Hybrid Plan included with the Go Diaper Free Book
- Find a Local Coach or EC Group
- Private EC Support Group on Facebook
- Private Potty Training Support Group on Facebook
- Go Diaper Free Store
- Tiny Undies Store
Download the Transcript
If you can't listen to this episode right now (um, sleeping baby!?)...download and read the transcript here:
EPISODE 229: Shifting from EC to Potty Training: What's the difference?
Hello, and welcome to the Go Diaper Free podcast. I'm your host, Nicole Cheever, Go Diaper Free Certified Coach and mama to three kiddos who all went through EC and potty training at different ages and stages.
Hi, everyone. Thanks for joining us again today. I'm Nicole Cheever with Go Diaper Free, and this is episode 229, Shifting from EC to potty training: What's the difference? You can find everything I'll talk about today on the show notes over at godiaperfree.com/229. When you're done listening here, head on over, leave us a comment, ask us any questions you have. We always love chatting with you on the blog.
Many of our readers and listeners often wonder, what's the difference between elimination communication and potty training? Not just the nuts and bolts differences, but how do you move from the more carefree mindset of EC, the, "That's okay. We'll try again later" type of philosophy, to the more strict mindset of potty training when every pee and poo goes in the potty every time? This can be a confusing transition for a lot of people, especially when they get to the end of EC and aren't really sure where to go next. It's sometimes hard to decide which is right for you. It typically depends on age, and you also can wrap-up EC with potty training. And we will go into all of the details of that here in today's episode.
First, I want to address age. We typically say that elimination communication is only appropriate for children 18 months and younger, and even some of them will start to blossom into true toddlers more around 16 or 17 months, or maybe even earlier. So it's dependent on your specific child. But the reason for this is because there is some major brain development going on during this age range, and this particular leap, as it's sometimes called, ends right around 18 months, give or take. This is when they have been building their long-term memory. Eighteen months is known as the language explosion period for both understanding and expressing. The emerging individuation and independence of a toddler is starting to show, and they're beginning to understand their parents are other. They also have a great need for mastery and a hunger for knowledge.
As I said, this does depend partly on their personality. Some children hit this phase sooner than others. Some are very chill babies. Andrea's had one of those who could wait and be guided along with EC until they were 20 or 21 months old. It really, really depends on your child. A quick anecdote, my second born was in diapers up until about 16 and a half months when we started to try EC with her, and it was a disaster. She wanted control, so we took a break. Our next opportunity was Thanksgiving week, and we did a potty training experience, and it went great. She was a little over 18 months at that point. And there are some things I would do differently now, being on this side of it, but that's maybe for another episode. The point is EC was too parent-controlled and wishy-washy for her. She was a very independent child, interested in clothing manipulation far sooner than my oldest was, and she wanted to be in control. And that's really the crux of it. When your child hits the phase where they really want to be in control and when they are developmentally capable of performing all of the tasks needed for potty independence, that's when you really want to switch gears.
I recorded Episode 218 not too long ago on how to start potty training, and both of the parents that submitted questions for that episode had children who were kind of in this transition phase, so you can listen to that episode to get a little bit more information on that as well.
Now, kind of the philosophical differences between EC and potty training. Elimination communication is mostly about the “C,” the communication part. You are learning from each other. It's a time of great development, when secure attachments are made. EC tells your baby that they can trust you to help them with their pottying needs. EC is all about assisting the baby with the potty because they can't do it themselves. It's more about exposure, and it can also be done completely part-time. Practicing EC part-time or minimally, even just trying one catch a day, is not going to derail your EC practice in any way. Being laissez-faire and wishy-washy about potty training really could. So that is a big difference. Potty training is teaching them the skills they need to be potty independent because they are developmentally capable of learning and performing those skills.
Hopefully, EC gradually builds as developmentally appropriate over time, so that baby can be fully independent between 12 and 18 months. It's a natural progression. It's like any other skill: eating, walking, talking, et cetera. If you follow the natural progression and build in those skills, you will eventually have taught all the steps to the potty training experience, just over a longer period. If you have been practicing EC and you're at that walking stage, they've mastered walking, or even you've hit 18 months, 20 months, and you're still practicing EC, and especially if it's really starting to fall apart, which it might at that point, please check out the Wrapping Up section in the Go Diaper Free book, and there's also our Wrapping Up EC MiniCourse that can give you a deep dive into how to do that. If you did not build in those skills and teach them along the way with elimination communication, you can kind of give your child a crash course in that to build potty independence.
The potty training experience packs all of the same teaching into just a few days or weeks. And this is very important to do it in a short period of time for that phase of development, for that 18 months and older crowd. At the end of the day, this is their journey. You can follow all of the tips and tricks, and they still have to figure it out. You, as the parent, can do everything you know and have learned and have read, but it's up to your child to put the pieces together and do it for themselves. And this can be really hard, especially as a first-time parent, that can be a really hard transition to make. But during this stage of development, it is most effective to lay it all out and let them do just that, just figure it out. Drawing the process out maintains the parent's control, and that can be met with a lot more resistance, kind of like I saw with my daughter. I was trying to guide her, and she really wanted to take the lead. Plus, dragging it out gets the same tasks accomplished, along with the same struggles and battles if you're going to have any, just over a longer period of time, and who wants that? It's just dragged out longer. It's longer-lasting stress and anxiety for both of you, so it is most effective and easiest on both child and caregiver if you do a shorter potty training experience. That's why The Tiny Potty Training Book is written the way it is and helps you to wrap up in anywhere from about a week to a month, depending on how young your child is. When your child is closer to that 18-month mark, it might take a little bit longer. It might be a little bit more involved as far as teaching some of the skills. But if you're working with a three-year-old, you could probably get it done in a couple of days if you're committed to it.
Another theme that often comes up with this is the idea of being gentle. Many people who decide to practice EC also ascribe to gentle parenting, natural parenting, Montessori, and other similar philosophies. Here is where a lot of parents get confused. Gentle does not mean gradual, and it does not mean child-led. A more clear term would be non-coercive. The Tiny Potty Training Book teaches you a gentle, or also known as a non-coercive, method of potty training. Toddlers need clear boundaries and direction. It helps them feel physically and emotionally safe, and it causes less confusion, and they're able to take more pride in their accomplishment. Pride is key, by the way. More on that in a moment.
Gentle means teaching and allowing your child the space to learn, take it in, process, and go through the phases of development without trying to force the issue. You're not going to be using bribes or prizes or consequences. All of these are an effort to maintain control and, at the end of the day, an effort to persuade, or a more harsh term would be “coerce,” your child into using the potty. So that's one of the things that gets confused is many people want to do a more gentle approach, and they think that means that they have to take the child's lead with it. It is so key to remember, in the toddler phase, your child needs those clear boundaries. They are still going to want to do it themselves, but they need clear and consistent rules.
What are your family rules? That might be something to think about before you enter into potty training. How do you communicate them, and how do you encourage everyone in the family to follow them? Do you always sit at the table to eat? Is everyone expected to remove their shoes when they enter the house? If you're finding you're having struggles with these kinds of rules and boundaries, it may be best to evaluate those before embarking on potty training with a child 18 months or older. Typically, if you're meeting resistance, having power struggles in any of those areas, it can and probably will spill over into the potty training, where you're trying to lay out a new set of rules that's something else for your child to push up against. So how you respond when your child pushes up against boundaries in everyday life is a pretty good predictor of how your child is going to respond and how you're going to respond when they push up against boundaries during the potty training process.
Just remember, gentle is firm, firm is gentle. Gradual or casual is frustrating, and unclear, and controlling. When you drag it out, you are still trying to control the process. They don't want their pace controlled. Give them the tools, allow them to rise to the occasion, let them run with it.
EC can be casual, but potty training requires commitment. A toddler's job is to push up against those boundaries and figure out if they are true, if they always exist in every situation. And if you are non-committal, you are telling them you didn't really mean it when you communicated those rules. That's when we fall into traps like giving the diaper back for pooping, withholding issues, chronic or medical constipation. None of us wants that. So, again, if you're finding that your child is really pushing up against your boundaries, which is their job, and you are having a hard time maintaining them, that is a really important thing to work on before you get into potty training.
An illustration I like to use when I'm talking about the difference between EC and potty training is feeding. When your baby is born, they cannot feed themselves. Whether you're nursing, bottle feeding, or a combination, somebody has to feed the baby until they are developmentally capable of bringing the food to their own mouths. Bottle feeding a baby, nursing a baby is similar to EC. You're going to be a little child-led in the sense that your baby is going to communicate to you when they're hungry or when they need that comfort, and you are going to learn their cues, just like you would in EC, to know when it's time to feed the baby.
As they get a little older, as you're introducing solids, you're going to start picking meal times for them, and presenting them with food, and laying down some family rules: Where we eat. Do we keep the food on the plate? As they get older, do we use a fork or spoon rather than our hands? My baby is almost 18 months right now, and we're going through a phase of her throwing her food all over the floor when she's done eating. I can tell she's not hungry anymore because she starts to try to throw it. And at that point, I remove the food. I don't want to encourage that. That's not what we do in our house. We don't throw food all over the floor. I usually try to enlist her help and teach her how to pick it up when there is food on the floor, teaching her another rule that when we make a mess, we clean it up. And I try to be as consistent as possible with these rules and boundaries because she needs to learn them. She is part of our family, she is part of our wider culture.
If we go out to a restaurant, I don't want to have my kids throwing food all over the floor. And so, I have to maintain consistency with those boundaries and just be very firm, gentle and firm. It's not punitive. It's not a punishment to pick up the food off the floor, it's just what we do. It's not a punishment to use a spoon, I'm teaching her. And she's not always going to be able to hold it well right away, it's going to be a learning curve. Some things, it's going to be easier for her to pick up with her hands, or she's just really hungry, so she's going to go for that. I have some understanding of where she should be developmentally to allow for that. I'm still going to allow some eating with her hands. And even my older kids, we all know there's certain foods that are appropriate to eat with your hands. If I serve them a sandwich, I'm not going to give them a fork. They can use one if they want, but it's not going to be a rule I'm going to maintain.
If you think about it like feeding, that might be a little bit easier to understand, because I think that's better understood in our culture that when babies are really young, we have to do all the feeding for them. As they get older, we are going to give them the tools they need to be able to self-feed. Eventually, we're going to be teaching them to make food, and they're going to be setting their own schedule for meal times. So it's a progression, but right around at that 18-month stage, if you haven't already, you will notice that they will start testing the boundaries. They will start throwing the food on the floor, and throwing the implements, and dumping the bowl, and experimenting, and that's going to be the same thing that's going to happen with their potty learning.
I mentioned before that pride in their accomplishment is so important. This is really the only way you're going to avoid feeling the need for any kind of reward or extrinsic motivation, as we call it. If their motivation for going potty is coming from outside of them in the form of M&M's or stickers or a toilet that makes a lot of funny noises when you flush it, whatever it may be, then that's not going to be reliable. That's not a way to maintain this motivation. The only way to maintain motivation is to have it come from within, have it be an intrinsic motivation, and that is built best by allowing them the space to have ownership and find mastery with the task, so that they can feel that sense of pride.
We talk a little bit about whether or not to celebrate, and Andrea herself has even gone back and forth. My general philosophy is I recommend only celebrating as much as you would with any other developmental milestone. When your baby takes their first steps, you're usually pretty excited. I know I always am. It never gets old for me. I might clap and cheer, but eventually, your baby's walking, and it's just part of what they do. It's part of what they know. So the first time your baby goes in the potty, you can say, "Yay, you did it. Great job," or some kind of light celebration like that. But if you try to hype it up and be really excited every single time, then that starts to get into that extrinsic motivation as sort of a reward, and your child is going to be performing rather than just completing a task that's part of everyday life.
If you don't have them already, Go Diaper Free and The Tiny Potty Training Book are going to be your go-to, complete manuals for all of this information. Everything I talked about here is in there. Of course, they both come with your support community and downloads, and lifetime updates.
Go Diaper Free... Actually, I believe both of them come with the hybrid plan. There is sort of an in-between if you've got a young toddler between 12 and 18 months. And the hybrid plan is what I tried to start out doing with my second child, but she was just fully in toddler land, so I had to regroup and just do the potty training experience with her.
If you have a child who is newborn to 18 months, and you want to start EC, of course, Go Diaper Free is going to be the best book for you. Even if you've done EC and you're having a little trouble wrapping up, you can get The Tiny Potty Training Book and just go through a quick potty training experience, and that should wrap it all up for you. Both books have in there the “Building Blocks of Potty Independence,” and those are all the skills that, for EC, you want to be building over time, and for potty training, you're going to teach in that short period, start to finish to be able to complete the pottying task.
We also have the Tiny Potty board book in both board book and digital forms, and it's a really cute little rhyming story that goes through the whole potty process, start to finish. And that can be a great motivator too when your child sees themself in that book, completing all of these tasks. They learn and they process through play and through stories, so that can be a really great way to help them put all those pieces together in their brain, process it, and be able to complete that whole task.
There you have it, folks. That's the nuts and bolts of the difference between EC and potty training, as well as a little bit of the reason and philosophy behind it. And now, we'd like to know, which did you try with your kiddo or kiddos? Did you try elimination communication? Did you do potty training? Was it a combination of both? What did you learn from the experiences, and would you do it the same way again if you knew what you know now? Head over to the blog, godiaperfree.com/229, and let us know there. Thanks so much for joining us today. I'm Nicole Cheever with Go Diaper Free, and we will see you next time.
Thanks so much for listening. This is the Go Diaper Free podcast at godiaperfree.com. We'll see you next time.
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Which did you try with your kiddo(s): EC or potty training? What did you learn? Would you do things the same way again?