Simplicity Parenting + EC: The secret to a slower, more meaningful foundation to your potty practice (and your life)
Today we’re going to talk about the lessons I’ve learned from one of my favorite books, Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne, and how his advice can create a slower, more meaningful foundation to your elimination communication practice with that sweet lil baby.
When I had my first child, Kim’s book had just been published. I ate it right up! The book shared all the things I needed to hear at that time to create the family rhythms, calm space, and focused connection that I knew in my heart I wanted, but didn’t quite know how to build. It also helped me keep the brand new, newly released iPhone out of my hands and my focus on my newborn baby. It helped me push back against the “toy creep” that has threatened our family for almost 10 years. Man, I owe Kim a giant thank you for writing this book.
And I was thinking about it the other day, how this book informed my journey as a new mama, and wanted to share those secrets with you today...especially how they relate to infant pottying.
The subtitle of this book is “using the extraordinary power of less to raise calmer, happier, and more secure kids.” If that’s what you want, let’s dive in!
Why Would We Want to Simplify Our Lives?
Let’s talk about the core reason we parents should simplify our lives. The thing is, yeah, it makes sense...simplify!...let’s do it...but in reality, we need to look at the underlying reasons, square in the face, to really implement what’s in his book.
Basically, we aren’t doing a great job of working with the pace of childhood. We become parents and continue as we did before babies, leading our day-to-day lives in a, to quote Payne, “media-rich, multi-tasking, complex, information-overloaded, time-pressured” way. We are out of alignment, and if you are also feeling swept away by the pace of a very rapidly-moving life, it may have detrimental effects on your EC practice, too.
If you’re rushing through life, it makes sense that EC will feel rushed, too. We’ll talk more about how this affects EC in a sec, but let that sink in.
Protecting Our Babies’ Childhoods
Kim argues that we can protect our children’s childhoods in many basic ways which I’m going to overview today. But the main basis is this: we need to protect their childhoods from adult life and concerns, make space for free play, and make space for their natural development rhythms to truly prosper.
We are all for an unrushed childhood over here in my house! And at the same time all of my 5 kids have gotten out of diapers at walking. Many may say this doesn’t add up, but it does. If you missed my episode on the Natural Laws of Development, definitely check it out...it will tell you very clearly that the 12-18 month range is the actual natural period for wrapping up the potty independence task, and that doing so in this time window actually enhances a child’s development. It isn’t rushing! It’s honoring the natural flow of things, which Payne’s book is all about.
What We Can Do (and what it has to do with EC)
Okay so next thing I found valuable is the actionable nature of this book. Kim says we can simplify on four levels:
- Filtering out the adult world.
Addressing these four areas creates a CALM environment, and Kim says “behavioral tendencies can be soothed or relaxed by creating calm” - so if you want your baby to be relaxed and therefore easier to EC...create calm!!
I wrote my own notes in pencil in the margins of each chapter, so I’ll share them with you here and maybe they’ll help you see how to take action.
Every one of these things will make EC easier for you because a calmer, more focused, less hyper, less helicopter-y environment will serve as a solid foundation for everything you’re accomplishing together. Each of them truly limit stress in the environment and make every single part of parenting EASIER.
Environment + elimination communication
In chapter 3 of Simplicity Parenting I took the following notes:
- Limit or omit choices
- ½ the number of toys you have, then ½ them again, put some in a “toy library” in the closet, then ½ them again
- Only leave out as many toys as the child can clean up on their own
- Make sure you leave out one of each type of toy that Payne suggests (he has categories)
- Toys that encourage open-ended play (like blocks) are best (versus “fixed” toys such as a leapfrog pad)
- Allow the child to draw, build, play, and move
- Leave only 1 or 2 books out, less than 12 on a shelf nearby, and the rest hidden/stored in a “book library” in the closet.
- Ask yourself of every book or toy - do they lead to positive play?
- For clothing, only keep out those that fit now and match the current weather. Store the rest or give to someone else. Leave very little choices (because choices create stress and power struggle).
- Use candlelight once a day and more during winter
- To mitigate harsh sound, use a rug or carpet and perhaps hang cloth on the ceiling
- No chemical or artificial smells
- Be sure to make space for social interaction, movement, music, art, and being outdoors.
As for elimination communication, setting up your potty space with all the things your baby needs, and nothing more, simple/limited items, chemical-free, clutter-free, child-height and child-friendly will help your child feel safe and happy in their potty space and more willing to cooperate.
Rhythms + elimination communication
The second sphere Payne talks about is establishing rhythms.
“Rhythms establish a foundation of cooperation and connection.”
“Rhythm calms and secures children, grounding them in the earth of family so they can branch out and grow.”
“Parental authority is strengthened by rhythms; an ‘authority’ is established that is gentle and understandable. ‘This is what we do’ also says, ‘There is order here, and safety.’”
If you’ve known me long, you’ll know that I often suggest doing EC with a matter-of-fact tone to everything, if you even talk much about it at all. “This is what we do” is a great way to normalize that potty time is now just part of everyday life.
Additionally, if we are using the 4 Easy Catches in doing EC with our babies, we are typically inserting potty time during transitions throughout the day. This makes things predictable and, as Payne says, safe.
Parents also benefit from having a rhythm. I often joke to first-time parents to “pretend” like they have 5 children like me so they are forced to create a rhythm to their day, and often that makes potty time a lot more sensible at certain transitions, and truly helps at-home EC move from a disaster to a major success.
“Rhythm carves the necessary channels for discipline, making it more intrinsic than imposed. Where well-established rhythms exist, there is much less parental verbiage, less effort, and fewer problems around transitions.”
This is key, y’all! When you use the 4 Easy Catches and those transition times to ground your EC practice, you are actually making your job easier.
As your baby turns into a young toddler, when you pick a nap time, a bed time, snack and lunch times, you are actually helping your child feel calm and safe, making it easier to understand when they need to go potty, and making it less likely they’ll resist because this is simply “what we do.”
“The rhythms of family life provide consistency; the best ones also offer connection.”
100% of people who’ve done EC in our Go Diaper Free community, with or without my book, tell me that EC has offered a deeper connection with their babies. 100%!
EC is totally connective because it is based on rhythms, and if you focus on creating rhythms to your days and weeks (even - and especially with - a newborn baby), you will see how nicely every other thing (including EC) falls into place.
Rhythms are the opposite of forced, unnatural scheduling. They are creating a framework for your days and weeks within which to live, breathe, improvise, and raise babies.
I’ll move on here - this gets me so pumped, y’all!!
Schedules + elimination communication
I know we’re dealing with mostly babies here, but I’ve got to say it - you need to be prepared for what’s next! Take it from me with 5 kiddos in an 8 year span...you need to be prepared for what’s coming. Shoot, it may have already begun in your child’s life.
“Too many scheduled activities may limit a child’s ability to motivate and direct themselves.”
That’s it in a nutshell.
“This time - this afternoon, this childhood, this child - could be enriched! That’s it! Enrichment. As parents, we’ve discovered fertilizer. And we’re applying it by the ton to childhood.”
Payne explains that “rest nurtures creativity, which nurtures activity. Activity nurtures rest, which sustains creativity.” It’s a beautiful feedback loop.
Since I read this with baby #1, I’ve been fortunate to follow this advice for all 5 of my babies...free play is nothing to worry about, it is, in fact, the name of the game. The be-all, end-all. The solution to all woes. Let them play.
Here are my notes on this chapter of his book:
- Notice deep play and don’t interrupt (unless it’s potty time - we would go potty if we were immersed in deep work or play, yes?)
- Activity and interaction are essential, too, in balance
- Leisure time is priceless
- Play does not equal play dates and scheduled activities
- We are not entertainment, we parents. We don’t “fail” if our children are bored. Outbore their boredom.
- Give them space to find themselves and their world, likes, passions.
- The A+C Balance - activity days and calming days
- Sports or karate 2x/week is too much for a child less than 10 years old
- The park/playground/free play with a benign parental presence is better than driving to all these organized events
- Early childhood play stages include solitary, parallel, and let’s pretend
- At 9-10 years old, they are ready to learn how to play the game
- Give ordinary experiences and encouragement; talents will emerge on their own
- Ordinary days are good! Rainbow days and constant overdoing it to please our kids leads to entitlement and addiction even - life doesn’t hinge on “high notes”
- If we burn out our kids by overscheduling their childhoods, by the time they’re teens they won’t want to engage and will miss out; teens need sports, drama, community service to balance the strong turn inward
- Start by balancing schedules
- Build anticipation! Fewer, more meaningful events, spaced out; delayed gratification builds inner strength
- Have sabbath moments - no phone, computers, or schedules - regularly
- Gently insist on and model the importance of downtime and balance in day to day life.
What does this have to do with EC? If you’re struggling to make catches, have tons of misses, are encountering a lot of misses at home or out, try simplifying your life. Simplify your schedule. Start basic at-home rhythms to your day. Have restful quiet time mixed with creative time, and put on the breaks. This combined with decluttering your child’s stuff and what we’re about to address regarding screens will make things much easier to grasp.
Filtering Out the Adult World + elimination communication
This part is all about putting in filters so our babies don’t get overwhelmed with adult information, concerns, and pressures.
First and foremost we do that by limiting screens. This includes television, computers, video games, handheld devices, ipads, smart phones.
If you’re gasping that I suggested limiting the smart phone or ipad, I highly recommend listening to or reading the book “How to Break Up With Your Phone” or the one called “Digital Minimalism.”
With babies, we are already modeling how it is to be in the world. If you’re glued to your phone, they soon will be too, and then that precious childhood we’re trying to protect...has vanished into thin air.
Screens also impact concentration. They interfere with children conjuring their own imaginary worlds.
But not to get all anti-tech here, I’d like to say that any tool can be helpful when age-appropriate, and this baby and toddler phase is NOT that time.
Okay that said...let’s move on to how we can stop being bad parents...and prevent potty pauses!!!! :)
There are 4 types of parents that Payne considers of the “helicoptering” kind...Overinvolved Parents. Yes they totally love their kids but they’re also smothering their children’s independence.
With EC, we are supporting our children’s early independence in the realm of pottying (which extends to so many other areas). Being an overinvolved parent is counterproductive to what we’re doing with practicing elimination communication.
I am also sharing this part because you may know that 95% of potty pauses are caused by over-offering. This may shed some light on who you are as a parent and how you can shift to give more space to your child without stopping EC altogether. It’s like a rebalancing of things that many of us need (myself included).
- Sportscasters - these parents “telecast everything the child touches, does, is wearing, or even what they may be thinking.” If this is you, stop if right now!
- Corporate Parents - these parents “try to get kids excited about their own ‘packaging,’ about their ‘profile,’ and their advantages over other kids.”
- Little Buddy Parents - these parents expend a lot of energy, words, and time to avoid the word “no.” They are lonely and seeking an equal friendship with their babies. They themselves want to be children again. They will morph into the “best friend parent” when the child grows up.
- Clown Parents - these are the entertainers…”they believe that childhood, in fact, needs to be ‘larger than life,’ a sort of ever-expanding carnival of delights.” This often leads to exhaustion and disappointment for child and parent.
An antidote to this type of parenting - especially if this is you, which is totally fine! - is to stop talking so darn much!!
When we say less, we notice more. “The more you say, the less you are listening.”
If EC is about tuning in and listening for signs, signals, and information, then we should definitely talk less.
“When we talk over and under and around a child - when we talk too much - there’s less space for their thoughts, for what they have to say.”
Can you take in the fact that your child just went on the potty successfully and really experience it without saying a word?
“To be a parent is to have one’s attention split several ways in any given situation, and we often try to bridge our fractured focus with words.”
“In a noisy world, quiet attentiveness speaks louder than words…”
When ECing my babies, I have often said absolutely nothing as we go on with our day to day lives. I act matter-of-factly, with as much confidence as relaxed attitude, and I simply don’t say anything unless I’m introducing something for the first time, and with that, I only say it once. If I’m reinforcing something or teaching the words for something (like a signal they can use), I say it only when doing the activity.
This is essential you guys!
It is your calm and consistent manner more than your words that speak to your children (I’ve edited Payne’s words here...so beautiful).
“Just as it’s hard to cherish a toy lost in the middle of a mountain of playthings, when we say less, our words mean more.”
The other thing is feelings...emotional monitoring. Kim suggests “don’t talk too much to kids nine or younger about their feelings.”
When a child feels something, they don’t have the desire to discuss it...they want to DO something that will resolve that feeling. Get a hug, find the cat, grab the fork themselves, etc.
Us trying to teach “emotional intelligence” at an age where it does not jive with natural development is rushing things.
What to do now…
Alright so if this little dip into the world of Simplicity Parenting has piqued your curiosity, please order a copy and listen or read it today.
Now it’s time to take Kim’s advice - and answer in the comments below:
“Is there a step in the process of simplification that seems absolutely doable, something you know is possible now, in your own home?”
Comment below. And let me know what you’re going to do today...and how it positively accentuates your own elimination communication practice with your baby!
PS - here’s the video version of this episode in case you prefer to YouTube it. ;)
We’ve tried decluttering of toys…. haven’t done the get everything out in a pile and sort it (yet!) but I keep meaning to. We only have a few meaningful toys out at a time that I rotate when I notice she’s bored of something, everything else is stashed away for sorting.
Relly need to do the books too. She loves books, but I definately feel she has too much choice going on at the moment. I tried limiting by putting some in a small basket for her…. but the basket is now overflowing and there are some on the shelf too.
Definately need to get onto decluttering!
Hi! It sounds like you are well on your way to simplifying!! It really does make such a difference. xx Andrea
I love this! We have been in a years-long process of trying to simplify and minimize. With our daughter, I felt like we didn’t have much in the way of toys, and yet it’s clear we have too much. I also tend to over-talk, and probably hover a bit much especially as we are entering potty independence. Thank you for sharing this, adding this book to my list!
Hi Liesl! It is definitely a process to simplify. I hope the book helps!! xx Andrea
So many great thoughts in this post/podcast and some books I really want to read! We have a 2.5 year old and a 3 month old; doing EC with our little guy and my daughter potty trained really easily. Definitely have some misses and we’re still learning – limiting my phone would help, if I’m being honest! And the toy creep! Thought we were minimal but the toy creep is happening. Do you think it’s something to chat about with your kid before you do it? My daughter is at her grandparents’ house for a few hours and I’m inspired to declutter!
I’m so glad you got so much out of this episode! I probably missed your ‘few hours’ window, but yes, this is something that Kim John Payne suggests you tackle when your child is NOT around! Because that just complicates everything. Then you keep the toy library or book library just in case they ask for that toy that they love that you didn’t know they loved. xx Andrea
Thank you so much for this episode, I’m definitely going to buy the book! I was looking for a good book on parenting for a long time and I think this is finally what ai was looking for. Now the challenge will be to have my husband read it -especially the part on screen time 😅
In this episode you talk much more rapidely than usual, and as English is not my first language it makes it a bit difficult to follow, so thank you for the printed version 👍🏻
Hi Suzanne! I’m so glad you’re getting this book, it is wonderful! If you ever find that I’m talking too fast (sorry about that) you can adjust the playback speed. If you look at the player controls you’ll see a 1x. Click play, then click the 1x to adjust the speed. You can do 50% or 75%. That should help. xx Andrea
Delightful, thanks for sharing. A breakthrough concept to consider establishing a routine, via environment, rhythm, and flow of using the potty. The words thoughtless and seamless come to mind. Resembles Montessori idea of observing your child, then facilitating acquisition of skills like dressing, cooking, cleaning as the priority as opposed to playing with random toys…
It seems children are capable of utilizing their abilities to contribute to family life in a productive way much earlier than they are basically invited to
It’s my pleasure Leslie! I’m so glad you enjoyed it. I agree, very Montessori like. Children are absolutely capable of so much, they just don’t get the opportunity to try. xx Andrea
Kim John Payne has come out with a new book, Being at Your Best When Your Kids are at Their Worst. He says this is the book that he wish he wrote first. I’m almost done my first read through. it is quite enlightening. He gives us so many tools to use!
Thank you for the recommendation Jennifer! xx Andrea
Inspired and oh, the guilt! Will it ever go away?
I’m definitely a sportscaster and we’re struggeling hugely with wrapping up EC since she was 14mo. Now 20mo. We get so fed up with changing 8+ wet pants a day that we go back to diapers when we run out of pants. Weirdly enough, it seems like we have less misses in cloth diapers than in cloth pants.
I’m going to talk less next week. In general.
Thank you for sharing all this wonderful information!
From the Netherlands
Hi Inge! The guilt is so difficult sometimes. If you feel like wrapping up just isn’t happening, potty training is a great option at this age. It can help both you and your kiddo when wrapping up is a struggle. Having that plan to follow makes such a difference. xx Andrea
the wet pants can be taxing. we are in the same boat with our 2nd, he is 17 mos and is slowly starting to progress from “I’m peeing!” to “i need to pee.”. The first child was potty trained at 2.5 and in retrospect EC seems more custom tailored to the child and easier on the psyche than the other way. No pressure to complete the process in 3 days, no coercing, no deadline. The building blocks are laid out early so as to theoretically ease the way to mastery. Your child has those in place and will wow you
His awareness sounds wonderful Leslie! Definitely making progress there.