You may have been wondering how to teach your baby to signal.
Pottying your baby is a whole lot easier when they can tell you that they need to go...but if your baby doesn’t already signal, or has suddenly stopped signaling, how do you teach them to do so?
Today we're going to talk about exactly that, and hopefully increase the level of communication between you and your baby in the process!
You will learn:
- What to do if your baby does not signal
- How to teach your baby to signal
- How to curb your expectations
- How to select which signals to teach your child
- What to do while you are signaling
- When to expect your baby to start signaling back
- Tips from two of our readers
Links and other resources mentioned today:
- The Go Diaper Free Book
- Signals 101 - YouTube
- Episode 38 - Sound Association
- The Four Roads to Pottytime
- Free Observation Log
- The Tiny Potty Training Book
- Top Hat Potty at TinyUndies.com
- Mini Potty at TinyUndies.com
- Easy Start Guide for EC (Free Download)
Download the Transcript
If you can't listen to this episode right now (um, sleeping baby!?)...download and read the transcript here:
Welcome to the Go Diaper Free Podcast where we're all about helping you potty your baby as early as birth. I'm your host Andrea Olson, author and mom of five EC’d babies. This is episode 47, Teaching baby to signal.
Okay, so a lot of you have probably seen all the stuff that I've talked about regarding signals through various podcast episodes, through my YouTube videos. I have a really popular one called “Signals 101” over on YouTube. Definitely check it out if you haven't. But what if your baby does not signal? How can you teach your baby to signal? “My baby doesn't do it. Andrea, I really need her to. Could you please help me teach her how to do it?” I get this question all the time. It's probably already on here somewhere as a Q & A over on my YouTube video listings, but I have to say, I'm going to make it a podcast so you can definitely get this information quickly and listen to it and then apply it.
Teaching baby to signal does not happen overnight. You're not going to teach it one day and they start doing it the next day and do it every single time. The whole process of EC − if you have known me for long − you know that it is nonlinear. It is completely ass half backwards. You don't ever know what order things are going to click in and solidify and make sense for your child. And you don't know all the behind-the-scenes stuff under the hood, what's going on with that baby, and all the developmental stuff.
So, you're going to do these things that I teach you today to teach your baby to signal, but don't expect them to ever, ever signal. Yes, you heard me right. You're going to teach all this, but you're never going to expect them to ever do it. Because if you expect something − there's a couple things I have to say about expectations − but one side of the coin is that if you expect it, it's going to kind of put pressure, and then you're going to feel like a failure if they don't do it. So, just teach this stuff as part of your day-to-day. Let it go.
You know that silly kiddy poster from the 80's? I don't know if any of you are as old as me, but it said, "If you love something, let it go. If it comes back, it's meant to be. If it doesn't, it wasn't meant to be." Something like that. I probably messed it up. It's the same thing. You teach the signal. If it ever comes back, great. If it doesn't, it won't. But I have to tell you, it will. Eventually, your child's going to tell you they need to go because eventually they're going to be like 14 and say, “Hey mom, can you pull over because I need to go to the bathroom?” Little joke, but yeah. It will work. You just can't expect it to work because that will pressure this nonlinear process.
All right. This is kind of like − just to give you a little background − teaching a baby to signal that they need to go to the bathroom is kind of like teaching your baby anything. When you start to eat like we covered in episode 45, “Starting Solids,” baby starts to eat solid food. It's your natural instinct to go avocado, or to go banana, and you show them that and you demonstrate it and you show it. If you know the sign language, banana, so that you can teach them that later on when they're capable of doing that sign that they can ask you for the apple, that they can start asking you. So, you start to identify things through verbal and nonverbal communication. We're going to say this is a cow. Cow goes moo. Things like that.
We're also going to say hungry, with the sign language. The YouTube version of this podcast, you can see me doing the sign to my lips. But you put your fingers together with your thumb and look like you're grabbing some food, and you put it up towards your mouth, and that's eat − sign language for eat. “Are you hungry?” And, we ask them that. It's teaching the child to signal is just like teaching them the ropes. You're teaching them the ropes. You're teaching them the words for things. That's basically it. I hope that really makes sense and helps to reduce pressure off of you of having to do this magical thing. It's not magical. It's like how you teach anything. If this is your first baby, then yeah, it is magical because you're like, “I don't even know what I'm doing.” But that's fine. You'll learn.
All right. What do we want their future signal to be? So, think about that. Do you want them to yell out in the middle of the restaurant...penis? Probably not, so you would probably call it...like we call it a peeny so that when they yell it out, it's not embarrassing. So, what do you want them to say when they need to go to the bathroom? Do you want them to yell out poo poo really loud, or you want them to yell out potty, or you want them to yell out pee because it's a little bit less? I don't care what they yell out. I'm actually fine if my kids yell out whatever they want whenever because they're kids. But for you, I want to challenge you right now. You can write it down if you want to. What do you want your baby's future signal to be?
If they're super pre-verbal and you want it to be a sign, then what do you want that to be? Typically, I recommend the T shaking side to side. So, you put your hand out. You make a fist with your thumb in between your first and second finger, and you shake that side to side. So, that means “I need to go potty.” It also can mean that “I need to go to the toilet.” “I'm going right now.” We'll unpack all of this as we go through this episode, but you need to decide what you want the signal to be.
Do you want it to be a sign, like sign language like I just said? Do you want it to be a noise, like they would go to you − and this would be ridiculous − but they go “pfff.” So some babies start to do that anyway because they hear you go “psss” all the time when you're doing EC at a young age. And then they start to go “pfff” and blow raspberries when they need to go. Or my baby will go “uh-uh, uh-uh,” because as she's going for poop, that's what I say. I grunt and I go “mm, mm,” and she mimics that and that becomes her signal.
Your signal in the future or their signal could be a word. Obviously, this is preferable, something easy to say, like pee or potty. Sometimes that turns into pah or bah or buddha. Somebody told me the other day, they say buddha when they need to go to the bathroom. Whatever word it is, we want it to be consistent like hungry, potty. Basic word that they can grasp. I also often recommend doing a sign with the word at the same time so you cover the verbal and nonverbal realm at the same time. So, we have a sign, a noise, or a word. What do you want their future signal to be?
Now, we're going to integrate this into the whole setup. We're going to prompt our baby, and this used to be a cue, like we'd go “psss” or “mm, mm” when it's okay to go to the bathroom. When we start to want to teach baby to signal when they're starting to get to do signs or we want them to start signaling, they've stopped signaling, we're going to prompt them. Instead of making a noise, we're going to prompt them with what we want their signal to be in the future. So, “what does this look like, Andrea? You're confusing me.” All right.
We're sitting there and the baby has just eaten and they start to get fussy. So, you would say potty. Take them to the potty. As they're going, you would say pee pee and do your toilet sign. You are prompting them and telling them “let's go to the potty” and telling them “it's okay to release and pee” with the future signal. Basically, all you're doing, you guys, is repeat, repeat, repeat, modeling what you want them to say in the future every single time.
Now, then we break it down even further. Some people want to separate down into two prompts. I need to go to the bathroom and I am going to the bathroom. So, we're defining two moments instead of one. Some people just say potty or pee. Just one word consistently every time and take them to the bathroom, and that's what they want their signal to be. Some other people will notice that when they say potty, the baby takes it literally and goes right then. If you have that problem or you don't want to have that problem, you can separate it into two prompts.
What I would recommend for this is to… Every time you know that it's potty time, your babies not signaling, so obviously you're going to go with the other three roads to potty time, which I define in my book. They're not signaling. You're going to go off of natural timing, like their actual “how often do they go.” You're going to go off transition times and easy catches, and you're going to go off with your intuition. You can totally do EC if your baby doesn't signal by going with those three other roads to potty time. There are four, but those are the three.
When one of those three things happens, you're going to point at the potty. Potty time. You're going to undress them, put them on the potty. You hear the pee or poop and you go pee pee or you go poo poo. While I do that, I would do the sign for toilet. So, I have two separate sign language signs. I have the “pointing to the bathroom when it's time to go,” and then I have the “toilet sign shaking side to side” when they're actually going pee or poop, and it doesn't matter which one. I'm giving them a language. I'm gifting them with a language of “when you're going, this is what we do.”
Now, why would I do it while they're going? Well, if you've ever potty trained a puppy, you're usually taught to not say sit and then expect them to sit, but to actually only say sit when they're sitting. So, to put the treat up high in the air, and then they sit and you say “sit, good sit, good sit,” or when they go to the bathroom outside, you don't say “go potty” before they've learned. You have them go out, you watch them, you observe them. They start to pee, you say, “go potty, go potty.” So, this is a sound association we're building. If you want to learn more about sound association, go back to episode 38.
But back to this. Teaching your baby to signal, we want to do that second sign or word or if that's your only one while they're going. So, we can separate it to point at the bathroom, pee pee time or time to pee or potty time, or whatever you want to say. Or just say potty and we point. We go over there, undress, they start to go, and we say pee pee or poo poo. So, we're giving them...it's just like saying avocado, banana. It's the same exact thing. The hungry or eat, do you need to eat, are you hungry, little thing is kind of like our pointing at the bathroom prompt. It's time to go bathroom. It's time to eat. So, we're giving a language to, “it's time to eat and this is the food you're eating,” and we're giving a language to “it's time to potty and this is what you're doing while you're on the potty.” You're going pee. You're going poop.
Okay, so hopefully that helps clear up a lot of that. Again, with all of this, you just repeat it, you're communicating, you're having a conversation. Whether they ever say the signal back to you is not the point. It's that you're establishing and you're creating a language around this activity. With any other activity, it would be normal. “Are you sleepy?” And, you maybe do a little sign language for sleepy, and they react to that. They know you're having a conversation. They go “uhh, yeah, I am sleepy.” And then when you lay them down, it's very clear it's sleep time. There is a lot of conversation we have with our babies. This is just zooming out to include one more bodily activity that we're going to put words and signs to.
Now, what to expect? Babies often will sign back around eight months, the average earliest time that I've really seen in our community. Your mileage may vary. They start to sign and maybe they stop signing, or maybe they only sign particular things, or maybe they sign something completely different from what you taught them.
At this time when they start communicating back about things, you roll with what they're signaling with. If they choose something that you didn't teach them, then roll with that and take that on as your mutual conversation, your mutual language, your shared language about that. They can create and participate in that too, right? That can come from you teaching it or them taking what you've taught and adapting it, and then you work together and you develop this language as you go and as your baby ages.
Talking, obviously, your timing may vary with that. I've had a baby talk as early as nine months and say short sentences by twelve months. That was extremely early. I've had other children who haven't really talked till about seventeen months. But if they can tell you that they're hungry or they're tired by yawning or whining and you know the timing of day they have to eat, and then you say to them “are you hungry” and you point at your mouth, do the sign, and then you sit them down and you name what they're eating, you're fully capable of having this conversation around pottying too. So hopefully that makes sense.
Again, see episode 38 for sound association information. And then I want to give you a list of all the signals which is in this handout that I have that comes with my book. It's called “The Four Roads To Potty Time.” It includes all the signals that we've seen in our community. Maybe you have some that aren't on the list, but pretty doubtful. You can download that at the show notes at godiaperfree.com/47.
I want to ask you a question first before we give you your tip from one of our readers. What is your plan − and go over to godiaperfree.com/47, scroll down to the comments, and I want you to type in there − what is your plan to do this and implement this in your house? How are you planning to teach your baby to signal? Which signs are you going to use? Which words are you going to use? What is your plan? When you share it, it makes it real, and we can support you, and cheer you on, and encourage you. So, go ahead and do that right now, and then I've got a tip from Rachel and a tip from Andrew, two of our readers.
Rachel says, "For new moms especially: plan and set up for future success [with EC] but do not worry about getting anything actually in the potty until you're less overwhelmed. Same goes for EC-friendly clothing, etc. − if it seems overwhelming, wait until you actually need it." Basically, she's saying you can plan and prepare for future success with signaling, but don't worry about it happening. We don't want this to add overwhelm. We want EC to make our lives easier.
Andrew from San Francisco, who started EC at about 10 days old and baby was five months old when he wrote this tip − he's one of our EC-ing daddies − has two tips for everybody. Number one, “start doing EC early,” as early as you hear about it, and number two, “to position the potty somewhere where it won't easily get knocked over during use.” Thank you for that very practical tip, dad, because that is a good one.
All right, you guys. That's it for today's podcast. I'm Andrea Olson with Go Diaper Free. This has been the Go Diaper Free Podcast, and I'll see you next time.
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How are you planning to teach your baby to signal? Which signs are you going to use? Which words are you going to use? What is your plan? Please leave a comment below with your experience!
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About Andrea Olson
I'm Andrea and I spend most of my time with my 5 children (all under 10 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.)