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What is a “Potty Pause”?

This is a re-post of an article originally published by Andrea Olson on December 21, 2015


Potty Pause. A not-so-great word. Let me share what it is and what to do about it....

So you're doing Elimination Communication with your baby and everything was going great for the last few weeks or months. You caught every poo and almost every pee, or the majority thereof. You may not even have studied up on infant potty've just had such great beginner's luck!

But now...oh my. Now. Sheesh. Your baby pees right after you take her off the potty. On the floor. She arches every time you try to put her on the mini potty.

Hello, potty pause. (Or call it a potty training strike. Because it darn near is!)

Before she happily went along with you. You were in harmony. But now...let's just call it the opposite of harmony, and it's gone on for several days.

You are royally frustrated (understatement?). You need help. So here it is.

An Alternative View of the Potty Pause

I'm not going to teach you how to address or fix a potty pause in this article. Instead, I'm going to pass on vital information that was handed to me from a long-time DiaperFreeBaby Mentor in Seattle, Kerste Conner.

It's an excerpt from my book, which covers how to simply begin an EC practice with your baby. Here it is:

EC Phases
by Kerste Conner, long time DiaperFreeBaby Mentor in Seattle, WA

I've noticed that there seem to be two times in a child's life with EC when problems arise. And I think that during both of these times, it is frustrating for the adults involved (and also for the child involved, but they can't tell you clearly) and with life being busy, it is easy to decide to put the diapers back on and wait until things improve. However, it would be better to continue doing what you are doing - this time of discord is very important to the process and even though there may be more misses, this is a time of great strides for a child.

When your child begins to walk or talk, they stumble and stutter and make mistakes. You wouldn't see your child struggling to walk and then think - she's not ready to walk yet (cuz she isn't perfect at it yet), so I am going to confine her to a safe environment where she cannot walk and I will keep her there until she is ready to walk. Instead you do what you can to keep her safe while she stumbles and falls and learns to teeter and totter and finally eventually walk. She fails while she is learning and as parents we tolerate these failures because we know it is part of the learning process.

However, when it comes to the EC process and we've been having success, somehow as our child begins to learn that they are a part of the process and they can control both when and where they potty, parents become confused - why is there now failure when before there was so much success? I think what we fail to realize is that our measure of success needs to change at this point.

Children learn how long they can hold the contents of their bladder by holding it so long, they can't hold it any longer.

They are in touch with the elimination process, they know what it feels like when their bladder is full, but what they don't know is - how long can I wait before it is too late? They get involved with other activities and they don't want to stop, even if they have that full bladder feeling. They may be involved in this experimentation process when, based on timing or intuition, an adult decides to potty the child - who protests vehemently. Then as soon as you take the child off the potty, they realize that they have exceeded their potty-holding limit and they pee on the floor. The adult reaction is frustration - why is this happening? But in fact, the learning process is happening. And this is a great time to continue your communication with your child - "Oh, you are peeing. Next time, if you let me know, I can help you put it in the potty." Very low key.

So my theory is that this part of the learning process happens sometime between 7 and 12 months. What we did during this time was try a few different locations (mini potty, then sink with mirror, regular toilet with insert, then outdoors). We were trying to distract her from her bladder holding experiment long enough for her to pee. If she peed, great, if not, we used either diaper back up, or we put her on some sort of impervious surface, or lived dangerously, knowing that we'd be cleaning up a miss in the near future. Sometimes she surprised us and held it much longer than we suspected that she could - and we both learned. Sometimes she peed almost as soon as we let her go back to her chosen activity - and we both learned. The process smoothed back out again for a time, but our success rate was probably never as high as it had been before our daughter learned that she could delay the inevitable, if it suited her.

Then between 12 and 16 months, the misses begin to increase again and for us this was the real key to our daughter graduating. She became very resistant to us ECing based on timing (which we had done from birth with her). Although we had been signing with her and talking with her about elimination throughout our journey, at this stage she was really acting out that she wanted control over this part of her life. It resulted in quite a few misses, but instead of diapering her back up and waiting until later when we thought she was ready, we gave her MORE control, instead of less. We would ask her if she had to potty (when we thought she should have to go, or if we were heading out for a trip) and if she gave us a negative response, we would believe her (even if we were skeptical) - we allowed her the ability to have confidence in knowing her body. Even if, sometimes, it turned out that she was wrong, the amount of time that it took her to realize that this was her thing and we were no longer the ones in control of where and when she pottied...she was completely diaper free within one month, and about two and half months later, she is completely miss free.

I'm not saying that this time table will apply to everyone. My point is just this: When a child who is on the EC journey has a series of misses, instead of considering it a "potty pause" maybe consider it as part of the process and that the child is really expressing that they realize they are part of this process and support that, instead of backing off and diapering them up and waiting - sending them mixed signals that they aren't trusted to learn this skill because it is simply too messy.

Thanks for the amazing contribution, Kerste!

So what do you think about this concept? Does it resonate? Do you have other thoughts or experiences of how to end a potty pause or full-on potty strike?



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:

Resource Recommendation

Potty Pause Resolution Minicourse: a MiniCourse that will help you understand what's happening when baby resists, learn the steps through it, and prevent another from happening (or being quite so dreadful)...

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

The Tiny Potty Training Book: my book for anyone with a kiddo 18-30+ months who wants a quick, effective, sensible solution to potty training without force, rewards, sticker charts, or M&Ms.

“Movers + Shakers” Mobile Babies EC Program: Skillfully navigate EC and know what to do next with your mobile baby (5-11 months)

“Passing the Baton” Young Toddlers EC Program: Take logical steps toward potty independence with your young toddler (12-17 months)

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

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.)


  1. Avatar Victoria on March 1, 2023 at 2:32 pm

    Thank you for sharing your experience! ❤️

    • Andrea Olson Andrea Olson on March 4, 2023 at 4:30 pm

      Thank you for tuning in!

  2. Avatar Sydney Deas on April 17, 2023 at 10:49 pm

    Hi Andrea! I found your podcast and read your book while I was pregnant, and I’ve been doing EC with my daughter since birth. We mostly have focused on catching poops and other easy catches and it has worked SO WELL for us. 95% of the time we were catching the poops. Seriously, I sing ECs praises to all my friends.

    Recently my daughter turned 6 months and was fighting some sickness and diarrhea. She started pooping in her diaper a lot (because she just couldn’t hold it and had to go so much), which seems to have set us off on a major potty pause (3+ weeks of lots of misses). Then we traveled and now she’s starting solids… so just a lot of things. She’s not crawling yet, but we can tell she wants to be more mobile. Basically our timing seems all off, she spends lots of time on the potty not going, and then she pees/poops in a diaper after. I feel discouraged and unsure about what I should do next.

    I’m thinking naked observation time needs to happen. I’m also wondering about doing a reset? Although that makes me sad because she has been ECed from birth, so even two weeks without doing it feels long! I just want to do what’s best for her though to get us back on track! Thoughts?

    I so appreciate everything you do!! EC has been one of my favorite parts of parenting. ♥️

    • Andrea Olson Andrea Olson on April 19, 2023 at 11:46 pm

      Hi Sydney! Thank you so much for your support! You got this momma, it sounds like you are already headed in the right direction! Naked observation would be a great place to start, after doing naked time and adjusting as needed, if a reset is needed then by all means continue with it. Feel free to also shorten the reset period! Remember EC is not a linear journey there will be ups and downs, but staying consistent will be what helps our littles the most. Again, you got this momma!

  3. Avatar Julie on May 15, 2023 at 1:23 pm

    Hi! My baby (11 months old) poops in his diaper when I leave him alone (obviously in a safe place like a pack and play) to clean up his high chair or use the bathroom. Even if I wait longer after a meal to use the bathroom myself he still waits for me to leave him alone to go. It seems he wants privacy. The problem is when I even just sit near him he 1. still doesn’t poop 2. Reaches his hand in the potty and/or creates a firehouse effect while peeing. I don’t know how to give him the privacy he wants while not having pee go all over or having him grab stuff out of the potty. We use ikea mini potties. He will pee in the potty at least sometimes.

    • Andrea Olson Andrea Olson on May 15, 2023 at 9:16 pm

      Yes, it definitely seems he wants privacy. Given that he is sitting well on his own, have you tried using a seat reducer that has a splash guard on it. This way, you can give him the privacy he needs and prevent a the fire hose effect. Most of the big box stores like Wal-Mart, and Target etc. sell infant seat reducers that come with splash guards for boys.

  4. Avatar Nadine on June 7, 2023 at 4:50 am

    Hello, for the last 3 months my 16 month old almost always (she’s sat under 10 times in this time span) arches her back and refuses to sit on the toilet seat reducer or potty.

    I’ve taught her how to sit on the potty herself but this has made no difference in that she will not go to the potty herself and just pee on the floor. Or she will sit on the potty but not pee.

    Do you have any other tips for moving through this phase? Many thanks, Nadine

    • Andrea Olson Andrea Olson on June 8, 2023 at 10:25 pm

      Doing a reset, starting with some naked observation time might help. This way she really gets that mind body connection.

  5. Avatar Bobbie Frizzell on February 12, 2024 at 12:50 pm

    “Potty Pause” is a helpful strategy for potty training, allowing children to take breaks without pressure. It fosters a positive experience and empowers them in their learning journey.

    • Andrea Olson Andrea Olson on February 13, 2024 at 5:38 pm


  6. Avatar Karla Dennis on February 13, 2024 at 10:13 am

    A “Potty Pause” is a temporary regression in toilet training skills, common in toddlers, requiring patience and support.

    • Andrea Olson Andrea Olson on February 13, 2024 at 5:39 pm

      Yes, all the patience!

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