An Open Letter to the Public
by Amanda Alvine (Mentor, Massachusetts)
Dear Concerned Parent,
This letter seeks to address some of the misconceptions and incomplete information arising from the recent media coverage. It is not meant to be an introduction or explanation of Elimination Communication (EC), but rather a response to reactions to the media portrayal of EC and DiaperFreeBaby. If you have concerns, I hope I can deal with some of them here.
Starting at various ages
First of all, although several articles have given the impression that elimination communication (EC) is begun at 6 months of age, this is actually a misrepresentation. Many families begin at birth or shortly after, and many more between 1 and 6 months. Families may also choose to begin as late as 9, 15, 18 months or even beyond. Also, EC is not at all the coercive form of early potty training practiced at the beginning of the 20th century. Elimination communication is not coercive or punitive, and the focus is more on communicating with our babies than about getting elimination in a specific spot.
Responding to the child
Some people have expressed concern about the possibility of forcing an infant to sit on the potty, and I want to assure you that EC does not involve forcing an infant to do anything, especially to sit on a potty against his or her will. Elimination communication is something initiated by the infant, when he wriggles or makes some other sign that he needs to eliminate. The role of the parent is one of response; just as a parent responds to rooting or a hungry sound by feeding the baby, a parent can respond to a wriggle or grimace by offering the baby a place to eliminate. This signal and response is an important part of the communication, and parents often add to it by talking to the baby about what is going on. For instance, if the parent notices the baby is peeing (in the diaper or in a potty location), the parent might say, "Oh, you're peeing," or make a particular sound ("psss" or "shhh" or "ahhh"). As this two-way communication continues, parents often notice that the signaling from baby becomes clearer and more insistent. Some parents see this as a sign that the baby realizes they are paying attention and are responding.
Preferring not to eliminate in a diaper
Also, many parents notice that their child shows a marked preference for not eliminating in a diaper. Some media stories have referred to this with comments about "infants sitting in their own waste," which can seem overly harsh. While it is true that many infants don't know any different, many parents find that even a conventionally diapered and toilet trained child will show an aversion to wet diapers early on, and then gradually become less concerned. And almost any parent can tell a story of a child peeing just as soon as the diaper is off for a change. Some people have suggested that this may be due to the temperature change, but it might also be due to a baby's desire to get the pee out when he knows it won't stay next to him. For parents whose child has made it clear that wearing a used diaper is intolerable, they often find it best for their family to respect their child's wishes and either change the diaper immediately or offer a potty place when the child signals.
Speaking of diapers, parents practice EC with various levels of diaper use. You may question the claim that keeping babies diaperless for a bit can strengthen the parent-child bond. I agree with you that if diaper-free time raises the stress level and makes fun time with the child impossible, then it would be best for the family not to try it. However, it is possible in many families to find a way to be diaperless and relaxed at the same time. For instance, before a baby is mobile, bare bottom time can be spent sitting on a cloth diaper on a waterproof pad and playing with a parent and some toys. Parents who enjoy carrying the baby in a sling might line the sling with a diaper and sit the baby on that, while wearing an easy-to-wash T-shirt. Many parents who EC have some rooms in the house that they consider potential diaper-free rooms, and some where diapers or a good track record are required. In this way, parents don't have to worry about their furnishings.
Pottying as playtime
Also, while it may seem that playing with baby or taking baby to the potty are mutually exclusive activities, many parents find that taking a baby to the potty can be playtime too! Some parents have a little potty placed on the bathroom counter, to save wear on the back, and parent and baby have a great time making eyes at each other in the mirror. Other parents stash books near the potty, or exciting toys. And some babies and parents just enjoy talking to each other. As the baby gets more mobile, potty trips can actually be more enjoyable than trying to keep a moving baby still long enough to get the diaper back on. In general, parents who practice EC often find that things go most smoothly when the stress level is low and everyone is still having fun. It can be a good indicator that it's time to relax when a parent starts to feel out of touch with the baby and his cues.
Meeting the needs of the child
Another potential concern is the thought of a parent "jumping to meet the every need" of their child. It does seem like that kind of parenting would hinder a child in becoming a capable person in his own right. It might be worth making a distinction between needs the child has the resources to meet and needs the child has no way of meeting on his own. For instance, I'm sure you would agree it would be senseless to expect a child to find his own way home from school 5 miles away as a first grader. But at the same time, it would not be asking too much to have an older child arrange a way home if he chooses to stay after for a special activity. In the same way, it is senseless to expect an infant to take care of his elimination needs on his own. Either a parent must somehow contain the waste in a diaper until an appropriate time to remove it and clean the baby, or the parent must undress the baby and offer an appropriate potty location. When tending to this elimination need with EC, by showing the baby "where people potty," we begin to give him the knowledge he will need to take care of his elimination needs later, when he is able to undress himself and take himself to the potty. And by responding to his body's cues of a full bladder, we help to reinforce his feeling of what a full bladder feels like, so that he will recognize it later when he is able to get to the potty. Any jumping that is done is in response to the fact that small babies have very limited ability to wait between signaling the need to pee and actually peeing, but as a child gets older, the response begins to vary and gradually the child takes over various parts of the pottying process until he is completely responsible for taking care of the need to eliminate.
Reaching toilet independence
Lastly, the claim in some articles that children are completely trained by 2.5 years is not one that we espouse. Many parents find that a side benefit of EC is that a child is independently taking care of their pottying needs by as early as 18 months, while other parents find that their children may take longer. I believe that the 2.5 year mark is the average age when EC-ed child reaches toilet independence. Despite the slant in some articles, an early age of training is not actually the goal of EC. Rather, elimination communication is an alternative way of responding to a child's elimination needs, and many parents find that it fits in with their families and parenting styles. Many of us feel that we wish we had known about it sooner, and that the idea of responding to a child's cues around elimination just as one responds to cues around sleep and feeding really made sense to us. Our goal with DiaperFreeBaby is merely to get this information out there, so that parents who find it a good fit can try it.
I hope I was able to explain the idea a little more clearly. If you have other questions, or are interested in finding a local group, please check out our website or email us.