Today let’s explore why babies resist the potty and what you can do about it.
When your baby resists the potty while doing elimination communication, it can be a frustrating experience. You might be wondering what is going on, and if there is something that you did to cause the resistance!
Don't worry. Potty resistance is normal, and I'm going to help you get through it.
You will learn:
- Reasons babies resist the potty and what it might mean
- How to let go of self-doubt and see the whole picture
- Questions to ask yourself when your baby resists the potty
- How to help your baby adapt to change
- Information about developmental leaps
- How to help your baby through a potty pause
- How to get in touch with your baby's changing rhythms
- How to offer your child privacy
Links and other resources mentioned today:
- The Go Diaper Free Book
- Montessori from the Start Book
- Dr. Sears' Baby Book
- The Wonder Weeks Book
- The Wonder Weeks App
- Continuum Concept Book
- Easy Catch #1
- Easy Catch #2
- Easy Catch #3
- Easy Catch #4
- Potty Pauses Podcast Episode
- Free Observation Log
- The Tiny Potty Training Book
- Potty Pause MiniCourse
- 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 stop using diapers as early as birth. I'm your host, Andrea Olson, author and mom of five EC’d babies. This is episode 42, why babies resist the potty and what you can do about it with elimination communication and regular potty training.
All right, so today's show, I'm going to have anything I mention in this show over on the show notes linked, live for you there at godiaperfree.com/42. Let's go ahead and dive right in. I have plenty of resources over there on the show notes in case you are having potty resistance and you don't know what to do.
First of all, why would a baby resist the potty after going willingly for so long? And what do you do if your baby resists the potty? In other words, how do you get out of it?
First of all, why do babies resist the potty? The first thing I want you to know is when a baby is resisting the potty, it's an indicator that something else is going on, that something else in the baby's life or the family's life is shifting.
And what I want you to do when a baby resists the potty is to not take it personally and not feel like you guys stink at EC, or it's just not working, or it's not for you, or blame yourself. “What did I do wrong? I've screwed it up. I don't understand my baby. I'm a failure. I'm a terrible mom or dad, etc.” I know all of you that's gone through your mind at some point or another. It's the self-doubt. It really can kill your EC practice.
Instead of doing that, or if you do that, just say, “Wow, I notice I'm doing what Andrea was saying I would do when my baby resists the potty.” Then zoom out. Everybody zoom out.
You're zoomed in to a very, very small little bug on a flower, and then you're going to zoom out to see the whole forest. This baby must be going through some kind of a change.
First thing I want you to ask yourself when you zoom out, is there something in the baby's life, the family that is shifting right now? Have you just gone on a trip and come home? Are you about to go on a trip? Have you just bought a new house, moved into a new house, left, maybe moved?
Has somebody in the family lost their job or gotten a new one? Has somebody gone back to work full-time? Are the partners, the parents fighting, or is there a divorce happening or happened? What is going on that could qualify as a big life change? Has somebody in the family passed away? Has an animal passed away? Is somebody sick in the family? Zoom out and see, are there any life changes going on right now?
If you find that there are, then what you would do is help your baby adapt to this change. In other words, give it time. Do whatever you would do normally to help a baby adapt to any change going on.
The next thing that, when you're zooming out, you can look for is a developmental change for the baby. We have oncoming mobility. We've got teeth coming in. Maybe baby is about to roll, or sit, or crawl, or start creeping along the furniture, which means just like sliding across side to side. I hate that word, but that's what people call it, creeping. Maybe baby's about to walk, maybe baby's about to run, or learning how to jump, or something else that's a developmental milestone that all babies go through.
If you want to see when babies typically go through these milestones, I highly recommend the Montessori book, Montessori from the Start. It's got a great pictorial guide, a little timeline of all the stages of the baby and what they go through and what they're developmentally working on at those times. Which as an aside, by the way, the Montessori sensitive period for toilet learning, starting and finishing toilet learning, toilet mastery, self-toileting is 12 to 18 months. Anyway, in that book, it shows a lot about when to expect what developmental milestones in that little drawing. Also, Dr. Sears’s Baby Book has a lot of that. The other baby book has that as well. You can find a lot of resources.
So, zoom out. Instead of freaking out, zoom out. Would you remember that? Don't freak out, zoom out. Life changes, developmental changes. What is happening or maybe is about to happen.
And if you want to look into something else as a cool resource, The Wonder Weeks is something one of our Go Diaper Free community introduced me to years ago. Basically, it posits that there are these leaps that babies take in development, and right before or during a leap, there can be a lot of fussiness and other things that you might notice it might be hard to handle with your baby.
And knowing about these leaps and when they happen at this week and this week and this week you expect to leap. It's an average, but typically with feedback I've gotten from people is that yeah, it's pretty accurate and it explains why my baby's getting really fussy. Potty resistance can happen during those times of leaps as well. You can check that out. They have an app and a book.
Another thing to zoom out and address, is your baby ill? Did your baby just get over being ill? Is your baby starting to show symptoms of being ill that you don't even know about yet?
Maybe your baby has developed a UTI or is developing a UTI. And a lot of people actually find that they can diagnose a UTI just from the early signals they get from something's going awry with EC and they look into it further. And then they go to the pediatrician, and they say, "Oh yeah, your baby has a UTI." That's a urinary tract infection for those who don't know. It could be something there.
There could be constipation or diarrhea happening from the illness that could definitely cause your baby to resist the potty because maybe it hurts. Maybe they need help with the constipation. Remedies for this kind of thing, remedies for developmental changes, by the way - like milestones, crawling, things like that - are really going to be… Just be patient and know that this baby is going through something and this too shall pass.
Keep pottying at whatever ones are easiest. Keep getting the poops, keep getting the mornings, whatever works for you during this resistance phase. And if it's developmental and mobility is forthcoming, then just wait it out.
We have life changes, developmental changes. And with illness, what do you do about illness? Well, you treat the illness. If you've got teething happening, we treat the pain of the teething. Homeopathically, you use Ibuprofen or Tylenol, whatever you want to or you and your doctor decide you are going to do. For illness, well a lot of people ask me, will the baby diarrhea everywhere if they're ill and I'm practicing EC?
Actually, typically babies will signal more strongly when they're about to have diarrhea because they really don't want to do that on themselves. It is a really intense, strong, just it's your instincts, you guys. We don't want to kill off the whole tribe, right? If we bring disease or keep disease in the tribe, we're all going to die off. It's a very strong ingrained instinct. If I'm sick and I'm having diarrhea or I'm having bowel movement that might have some kind of bug in it, then I'm definitely going to want to do that away from me and away from people in the sleep space.
Hygienically, it kind of makes sense when you think about it. It's very logical. If they're going through an illness, then they might resist the potty during that time. We want to address the illness and help them through that and go see your doctor. Always want to rule out.
If you've just changed from nursing or formula to solids, this can also cause resistance ‘cause maybe the poop is too hard. We want to address the constipation by giving packs of pureed prunes or using a child/infant dose of a constipation remedy of your choice depending on what your doctor says. You can definitely work with that, but we also want to rule out does this child have any food allergies that might be causing potty resistance and also causing fussiness and everything else? It's always good to call on our pediatricians who can help us with the big picture stuff and see why might my baby be resisting.
Well, let's see if there's anything medical here. And usually it's not that crazy, that's like a last resort. I always say, well, if you can't figure it out otherwise, go see your pediatrician, get a full health checkup and see if anything's going on.
That is actually about it. What to do if a baby resists. That was why babies resists. Now what to do if the baby is resisting. Oh my gosh, I left out one of the biggest reasons for resistance, or two of them actually. Let's back up for a second.
The two would be they want more control or you are over-offering. These are two other reasons why your baby might be resisting the potty. I talked about this on my episode on potty pauses.
Potty pauses are a little bit different than potty resistance. Potty pauses are weeks and months long. Potty resistance is just sudden resistance out of nowhere where they're not really letting you hold them anymore or put them on the potty or they just won't go. They fuss.
Let's talk about these two, you guys, before we move on to what to do. First of all, you might be over-offering. When your baby was born, maybe it was going to the bathroom every 10 minutes after feeding and maybe you're going for every other pee and all the poops. And then when your baby is four months old, maybe they're going 20 minutes apart. And then when your baby is six months old, maybe they're going 25 or 30 minutes, sometimes 40 minutes apart, depending on how long ago they had eaten anything liquid. And then when your baby's one year old, maybe they can hold it 45 minutes. Do you see what I'm getting at? Your baby's rhythms and intervals expand as they get bigger. It makes perfect logical sense, right?
In the middle of everything, you're not going to know all this stuff, you guys. EC is not a part of our culture. It's not ingrained in the way we live anymore. It used to be passed down as you just knew it. Just regular typical knowledge of our cultures. Now, it's not.
So you have to learn it, and this is fine if you feel like, “oh my gosh, I didn't realize I'd be over-offering.” We just think about it and then do an observation period. Look at any of my other podcasts. Or my book, Go Diaper Free, describes how to do observation. When you feel out of sync with your baby and your baby's resisting, definitely a good time to do some diaper free observation time and to get back into tune with what is my baby's natural timing interval right now?
From the time they wake up and from the time they feed, how often are they going to pee and when are they pooping? You might be over-offering. In this case, you don't want to back off completely, but maybe you start going for every other one. You definitely want to get back into touch with how often is my baby going to the bathroom now. We did this recently.
Our baby at the time of this recording, our youngest fifth baby is almost five months old. We did this recently and found that she actually could hold it up to 40 minutes depending on if she was engaged, in the baby carrier, stuff like that. But we downloaded my log and did all of that.
You can also download my log, I'll put the link in the show notes to the observation log there. It is essential in understanding if you're over-offering. That could cause resistance.
The next and last - promise, this is actually the last one this time - is that the baby wants more control. Think about this for a second. I mentioned this in previous podcasts and I mention this in my book a lot. If we were in intact culture where we are living in, for example, a warmer climate with mud huts, very little clothing. Baby is crawling, baby can crawl out to the potty space where everybody else goes and go to the bathroom there.
Jean Liedloff in her popular book, Continuum Concept, which I'm a huge fan of and has really informed my parenting, with a grain of salt because it is definitely just based on stone age Indians. You have to adapt it to what your situation is. She never meant it to be a parenting manual by the way, but it really became one.
But in there, she mentions a couple - and in an interview of hers that I quote in my book as well - she mentions about the baby pees on the mud floor in the hut and the mom shoos them out and says, “No, you don't pee on my floor. You know better now, you know where to go, go.” She doesn't say all that, she just shoos them.
18 month old seems like he needs to pee, the mother stops talking, points over to the edge of their little deck, and the baby walks over and pees over the edge of the deck. This was obviously not a stone age Indian. This is in a different culture where she was - in Bali. Lots of examples of “Yeah, it's not okay to go in here, shoo, go on out there.”
The point I'm making, you guys, is that babies at 6 months, 8 months, 12 months would ideally for hundreds of thousands of years and millions of years of evolution of our current human form, as our mammalian form, we would already be potty independent. Do you get what I'm saying? Of course at this age, if they're resisting it's cause they're done with your help. This is their body. These are their functions. They know when they need to go. They're born knowing, believe it or not, and they just want more control over the process.
Now, let's talk about what to do. When baby resists the potty, we definitely want to zoom out and see what's going on - like I already talked about - and address whatever it is, developmentally, life change, illness, milestone. Whatever it is, give time, give space, keep up with the easy catches in the meanwhile and just understand what's going on and remedy it as best we can.
Comfort our children, soothe, heal their illnesses, things like that. The other thing is if it's a control thing and an over-offering thing, we want to measure the timing and make sure we're not over-offering. We want to make sure we're not hovering and helicoptering and waiting for every single pee. I don't do that. You would think that I do that, but I don't. I have five children. I don't have time for that.
I really highly rely on timing as far as her natural timing. When she wakes up, I take her. When I notice the poop signal or I hear a very big shift in energy and I know she's concentrating on one, I tell her to wait and I take her to the potty. These are the four easy catches. They're in other previous episodes. 28, 29, 30 and 32 are the four easy catches on this podcast. They're also in my book and on my YouTube. I have it everywhere because it's really important if baby's resisting the potty to keep going in some way.
Simultaneously, if they're wanting more control, you're going to teach little parts of the potty process. I outline these as the building blocks to potty independence in my book, Go Diaper Free. If you don't have it, please get it. Do yourself a favor. Stop waiting and procrastinating on getting it. Just get it. I promise I wrote it because I didn't have anything that showed me visually and very clearly and very simply exactly how to do EC. I know about why. I know about all that stuff. I want to know how to do it. That's in my book.
Teach those building blocks. Give them some space. If you want to, put them on the toilet seat reducer. “Ignore them.” I say that in quotes. You're not really ignoring them. You're in the room with them but you're turning your back. I would peel the grout on the tile wall. I would just pretend to clean something. Just turn your back and give them privacy. That often helps cure resistance immediately.
We also want to be firm and clear. If we have ditched diapers already and they're well beyond knowing and they've done it successfully for weeks and weeks, it might be a little bit of a test and this is our first chance at positive discipline. We get to be very firm and clear and say, “Your pee and poop goes in the potty,” because we know in our heart of hearts that our value is that this is where it's hygienically appropriate to go to the bathroom and we want to teach and model and not waver in that.
If we've already ditched diapers, say we did it at walking or at 14 months or at 18 months or whenever, we are very clear that we're not going back to diapers and we're very clear that I know something's going on. They're exerting their independence, but we have to go to the potty. This is where our poop and pee goes. If that means a couple of misses happen, which we call accidents in EC language, it's okay. There's a process here.
And actually, there's another whole reasoning to potty pauses that I cover in the podcast episode on potty pauses. Can't remember the number right now but I'll link to it in the show notes on the blog that explains what exactly might be going on when you see that they're resisting and doing a full-on potty pause. It's a really great example from a long-time diaper free baby mentor Kirsty Connor. Definitely read that as part of that episode and I'll link to it again.
But yeah, we want to be firm and clear, “This is where the pee and poop goes,” if we've already ditched diapers and we're that far along. If the baby's resisting at four months, you don't need to be firm and clear. I mean, you can be clear, but you don't need to actually get into the discipline role yet. And by discipline I mean teaching, I don't mean spanking.
But yeah, those are the reasons why babies resist the potty, most if not all of them, and then what to do if your baby resists the potty. If you're in a full-blown potty pause, don't worry. Definitely get my book. It covers that extensively. There is also a deep dive mini course, like small course, on potty pauses that can help you understand it fully and get out of it. That's a supplement to my book and you can get that separately. I'll also link to it in the show notes.
But if you're in one, you don't need to stay in one and it can really be debilitating. “Oh my gosh, I've done all this EC, what was the point if now we're just in a constant daily struggle?” I'll teach you how to get out of that struggle, how to do a little reset, and how to get back on track in that course and in my book, also on the podcast if you want to check that out.
That's it for today, you guys. That is why babies resist the potty and what to do about it.
My name is Andrea Olson with Go Diaper Free at godiaperfree.com and you've been listening to my podcast. I'll see you next time with our next episode.
In the meanwhile, be sure to subscribe so you can be alerted when the next episode comes up and I'll see you then. Take care.
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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.)