Thursday, October 17, 2013

Elimination Communication

Three days ago, Michael and I made the decision that we'd try the concept of "elimination communication" with our 13-month-old Liam.

Or, more specifically, that I'd try it with him -- during the day, when we are at home together, and there are no distractions.

I had a motherly hunch that it was time to introduce the potty to our son, yet I felt it was much too early for official potty training.

Lo and behold, such a stage has a NAME, my friend Britta said, and she told me to Google the concept of "elimination communication," which she had never done with her boys but which she thought I might like.

So what is it, exactly?

Elimination communication is NOT potty training.  Instead, it is "a gentle, natural, non-coercive process by which a baby, preferably beginning in early infancy, learns--with the loving assistance of parents and caregivers--to communicate about and address his or her elimination needs" (Milgroom 2010).

From my reading, I learned that such communication is the prerequisite to successful potty training.  I also learned that when the parent and child establish good communication techniques in this area, the practice "makes conventional potty training unnecessary" (Milgroom 2010).  Sounds hard to believe, but I am willing to learn more!

Originally, I had planned not to even THINK about such things until Liam was at least 3 years old.  I've heard that little boys tend to be slower in that type of learning process, and that--to introduce the use of the potty too early--would lead to months of frustration for both parent and child.

But Liam has been teaching me something different.  And he's been communicating it to me for the last several months.  At certain times throughout the day, he stops our playing together, looks at me seriously, and his eyes tell me, "Mommy, something uncomfortable is about to happen."

He doesn't want to be held or touched during that time, but he definitely wants me to know that he's doing something.  And, when it's over, he crawls directly into my lap -- not for snuggles, but to make sure I know that his diaper needs to be changed!  This repeating pattern happens just about every single day with him!

Such awareness in him (before, during, and after elimination) and his desire to communicate it to me are the primary reasons why, on Monday evening, we could delay it no longer -- and we went out and bought a potty. 

We opted for a no-frills BabyBjorn model, which retails for $30 but which I found for $9 at the consignment store.  It doesn't light up.  It doesn't make sounds.  And, most importantly, it does nothing to distract Liam from his focus inward.  Only the sounds that he makes are heard, and these subtle cues are what Mommy and Baby need to hear!

Tuesday was our first day to try.  But Liam woke up with a poopy diaper, and that was it for the day -- so he communicated nothing else to me.  Wednesday was our next day to try, but we had both a morning class and an evening class to attend (and errands to run in between) so the poop happened en route.

But today--oh blessed day!--was perfect.

While Liam was filling his shopping cart with fake food at mommy's makeshift grocery store, suddenly he STOPPED what he was doing -- and his eyes told me everything.

I brought over the potty (which always sits out on our living room floor for his familiarity), quickly removed his pants (without laying him down), and whipped off his diaper while he was sitting there.

Like all good poopers, he needed some reading material, of course, so I quickly provided.

At times, he held onto the book with a tight, hardworking squeeze; at other times, he wanted me to hold onto it and show him the pictures.

We read it together, but before we could even finish it, he started to get up.  At first I was inclined to tell him that he must not get up just yet since I had not heard anything yet, but then I wondered, What if he's finished?

And sure enough, he was!  At 13 months old, our boy had both pooped and peed in the potty -- and quite considerably so!  When he saw his success, we both smiled and laughed and joyously celebrated with some squeals and little dances.  Then we called Daddy at work.  Soon thereafter, Grandma and Grandpa rushed over with a special congratulatory gift!

So will we be continuing?  Yes!  My goal is to make this positive experience continue for him, free of pressure and only in response to what Liam directs as his needs.  :)


Milgroom, R., & Rothstein, M. (2010). Elmination Communication [Web log post]. Retrieved October 17, 2013, from