Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Toilets and Straight Line Progress

I have been on hiatus with several projects: painting a sewing desk, cutting and fitting a dress, and helping Evan learn about his body... and how to use the toilet.

This post turned over in my mind during worship this past Sunday. The pastor was preaching on the difficult subject of "Race and Grace," and at one point shared that God provides the resources for all that he commands. Plus, if I allow Him, He will give me more than I can handle so that I must rely on Him. God loves us through our failures and set backs. My mind went straight to Evan's toilet learning. I realized that I have never had a "straight line, forward-only progress" approach in my classroom as a teacher -- so why the heck did I used to have that attitude about toilet learning?? Or many other things in life??

Two years ago, Abigail mastered all aspects of toilet learning within a week (clothes, timing, aim, wiping, etc) at 27 months. But when I reflect on that time, she was actually ready earlier (I was in denial) and I regret a "boot camp" approach that put a lot of pressure on her with sticker charts and candy rewards. Taking a very relaxed approach with Evan has also resulted very good accuracy at 23.5 months! Within 4 days! But there are some differences.

What has been the same for both kids? PRE-Toilet learning


  1. We matter-of-factly point out bodily functions. "Your diaper is wet because you peed." We use positive language to describe (dry, comfy, wet, squishy, etc), and never use words like yucky, smelly, gross, or dirty.
  2. We label private body parts as what they are. There is no discomfort saying, breast, vagina, or penis. "Breasts are for mama milk, to feed babies."
  3. We allow the kids in the bathroom, and shower with them. They are comfortable and not overly curious about naked bodies.
  4. We cloth diapered our little ones. And we watched them for signs of peeing or pooping, then changed them immediately so that they prefer dry, comfy diapers.
  5. The potty has been out and available for months... even if unused. Younger Evan watches big sister Abigail use the toilet. When he does, we read books like "Once Upon A Potty" by A. Frankel, "KoKo Bear's New Potty" by V. Lansky, "Time to Pee" by M. Willems, and "The Potty Book for Girls" by A. Capucilli. Those books just happened to be handed down and around our house.
  6. Underwear has been around and washed for a while. Both kids liked the idea of underwear and being just like Mama and Papa (or big sister). They liked holding it or trying it on, but wouldn't wear it for long periods in the early stages.

What is different with Evan? EC Toilet learning

Although familiar with the concept for the past four years, a diaper-free baby uses terminology that I didn't grow up learning. For example, Elimination Communication was the toilet learning 50+ years ago, but the arrival of disposables on the market at a time when more mothers were working (as single moms or two income families), meant that toilet learning got pushed back to a later age by the mid-1980's (2.5-3+ yrs). Plus, some studies by researchers like T. Berry Brazelton impressed upon parents that children were not ready, aware, or in control of their body's elimination until at least 2.5 years. The ridiculous "Train a Child in One Day" candy/juice/salty snacks approach first appeared in 1973 (exactly what is the child focused on? Candy!)  The Diaper Free Baby by C. G. Lin argues against those approaches... working with an infant and toddler's natural body rhythms and cues, EC seeks to keep the child aware of his elimination and show him where it belongs from birth. Some parents start with their newborn, others start once their infant shows a regular elimination schedule. EC can be part-time or full-time, or even take developmental breaks. EC is used by cultures around the world, and has been used historically. Turns out all of our talking about what happened, immediate changes, and carefully watching for signs was like part-time elimination communication. Reading the DFB book from the library, I realized last Saturday that the only step left to take was for Evan to put that underwear on some period of each day! He was so proud of himself :-)


  1. In just padded training underwear, Evan quickly commented on what was happening in his body. It is so obvious...
  2. We didn't give candy until he was very accurate (now one jelly bean is just a sweet extra when he remembers to ask for it, the jar will be done in about 4 days). There is no over the top praise. We still haven't done a big "call Grandma" phone call. Just comments on what he did, "You went straight to the potty. You put your pee-pee in the potty." Hugs are always great!
  3. We don't punish for "misses," just quickly and quietly clean puddles up after helping him get dry. Thank goodness urine is bacteria-free.
  4. We allowed Evan choices: "Do you want to try the potty now, or after we clean up toys?" "Do you want a diaper or underwear for your nap?" He really appreciated choices, and always chose the underwear. We thought that we'd let him try underwear at certain parts of the day, but he wants to wear it full-time. That's his choice.
  5. We kept our usual routine, with just a few modifications. We went to church the second day. On a walk to the playground the third day. One modification was timing: short so we could return for the potty. The other was using the cloth diaper wrap to save his pants: the underwear would soak, but the wrap encased the wetness.
  6. We started bringing a plastic bowl as an outside potty and a public restroom potty (he finds the big toilets scary in public restrooms). It sits between my legs, and my legs are the 'seat.' He's a boy, but it's cold and he only just mastered sitting down to pee; the bowl allows him to sit, me to help catch all the pee and keep clothes dry, and for his naked bum to be sheltered from the wind.
  7. Evan still needs help with pants, but has the idea of pushing down underwear. The kid has improved muscle control and can wait to use the potty; I assume that a few more months of dressing and undressing will soon hand that part completely over to him.
  8. Our attitude has been "There will be misses. They are easy to clean up. The point is, Evan is learning something for himself. Things will only mostly improve from this point, even as there will be misses along the way."


What have I liked about the process?


  1. Watching Evan even more closely has helped me let things go from my to-do list. And I feel much better at the end of the day, because we really connected -- a much better accomplishment in this mama's mind.
  2. Sitting on the potty takes a while, and we read books, sing, or talk for 5 minutes. Abigail joins us. It's a party!
  3. Diaper changes had been a struggle for control. No laying down. Much yelling and screaming. Using underwear and letting him tell me he needs the potty has turned most control over to him. He's very proud.
  4. Evan's language and attitude are much improved. He uses words even more to make requests or comment on activities we're doing. I think he had been a little distracted by what was happening, when in diapers.
  5. Evan sleeps better at nap time. Unconscious muscle control during sleep is supposed to come later; I think he's learning it now for short periods. Evan has gone 2-2.5h dry for 2/4 naps; he used to sleep 1.5-2h and wake crying... I suspect he disliked a wet diaper.
  6. Other than the Epi-pen and a change of underwear stowed in my purse... there is no diaper bag!! Yes!!

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