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Cover Story

All I Really Need to Know I Learned From EC
by Elizabeth Parise (Mentor, Massachusetts)

Before I started practicing EC with my 4th child I related much of life to two of my favorite things, breastfeeding and ballet. I would say, "Learning is like can't see it going in, but you have to trust in it coming out," and "Don't 'over-think' things. It's like in ballet when you take a beginner's class, but you are at an advanced level, you start to make mistakes because you are over-thinking." But more and more I would use EC as an example, "Just be patient and 'ride it out'. It's like EC where there is a 'storm before the calm' just prior to completion."Or "Maybe if your daughter is acting 'hyper' after school she needs to go to the bathroom. From practicing EC I know that hyperactivity is a sign of needing to urinate. Perhaps she doesn't like to go at school and has a full bladder when she gets home."

EC became more than just "handling eliminations"; I was learning lessons that carried through to the rest of my parenting and my life. Once I saw how smoothly toilet learning went after laying a solid foundation through EC, I wondered if it would work with other parental teachings. I remembered the 1980's essay-turned-book All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum ( I thought, " I should write one about EC!" Below is a what I came up with, lessons that are as true for EC as they are for life.

(And if you're wondering what happened to breastfeeding and ballet... breastfeeding already had its own essay All I Really Need To Know About Parenting, I Learned From Breastfeeding, and I'm working on one for ballet...)

Be patient- EC is a process. There is no need to rush. You are simply laying the foundation for future toilet independence, not expecting it right away. If you are patient with yourself and others, life will be a lot more rewarding too.

Stay relaxed- EC doesn't work if you're not relaxed. Babies need to relax in order to eliminate. They will pick up on your relaxation and relax too. Staying relaxed helps you physically and emotionally in every aspect of life. Having to stay relaxed when practicing EC has helped me learn to stay relaxed no matter what I'm doing.

Communicate- EC is more about the communication than the elimination. Learning to communicate is one of the most helpful things one can learn in life.

Love your body/Respect your body - EC teaches babies to love and respect their bodies. By treating their bodies with the same respect adults show their own bodies, it teaches them that they are important and their bodies are important. By honoring children's natural bodily awarenesses by offering the potty if they need to eliminate or taking them off if they signal "no," we are teaching them that we respect their bodies and they should, too. They learn that they deserve a say in how their bodies are treated. They learn how amazing their bodies are.

Have empathy- Empathy could be another "E" in "EC" because it is so much a part of the process. The word itself has its roots in the German psycoanalytic term Einfühlung, meaning "to feel as one with." Empathy is important in the development of healthy morals and EC fosters empathy in parent, child and all those around. Don't be surprised if older siblings have a heightened sense of when an ECing baby needs to eliminate or if an ECed child grows up to be sensitive to the needs of others.

Express expectations- EC is the perfect example of expressing expectations. The adults in our society don't use diapers to handle their eliminations. Why would we tell our babies that we expect their eliminations to go in diapers, only to change this expectation on them years later. Many problems in life could be eliminated (no pun intended) if we started off expressing the appropriate expectations.

Be a role model- Modeling is a powerful teaching tool. After seeing how placing my baby on the potty while I used the toilet was an easy time to catch eliminations during an otherwise distractable time, I started to carry this into all other parenting practices. Now I make sure I always pick up my 10-month-old's toys before moving into something new. I do it with joy and include him by holding him or placing him nearby. He is already starting to pick up his toys with me. My older children bring their dishes to the sink unprompted because they see us doing it. My three-year-old will get into bed and take a nap if she is tired.

Dress for success- EC is easier when your baby wears clothes that you can get him out of easily or that he can get himself out of. Cloth diapers, training pants, underwear or nothing at all, all help your baby learn from each elimination, even a miss. It is true in all aspects of life that you should dress for the success you want to achieve.

Cooperation, not competition- With EC the emphasis is on cooperation. It doesn't work if it is a viewed as a competition to get your baby out of diapers the fastest or have the most catches. Through DiaperFreeBaby support groups a caregiver gains the encouragement and problem solving wisdom of others and has the opportunity to share their own knowledge. Think of how many more things could be accomplished if the idea of cooperation over competition was applied.

Find rhythms- With EC you often use timing to predict your child's need to eliminate. You may also create predictable elimination times by offering pottytunities at certain times throughout the day. Creating these same types of rhythms with other aspects of life can be helpful too. For example, we don't have bedtime struggles in my house. My children fall asleep at roughly the same time each day after the same bedtime routine. We don't have a set schedule, but we do have common rhythms to the day.

Expect change, but not right away - Change can be a profound feeling. EC brings about a gradual change at a pace that is comfortable for you and your baby. This is the reason that "two steps forward, one step back" rings true, for EC and in life.

Trust in yourself/Trust in others- EC is most successful when you trust in yourself and trust in your baby. You will pick up on signs, you will get to know your baby. Your baby is born aware of the feeling of needing to eliminate. She will express this need to you.

Surround yourself with supportive people- Surrounding yourself with positive people who have your best interest in mind can make your journey in life easier, this is especially true with a "lost art" like EC. This is the basis of the DiaperFreeBaby support groups.

There is a storm before the calm- We've all heard the expression, "The calm before the storm"; but through EC we realize that it is also the reverse in life. Before and during a period of great change there is a period of unrest. Your baby cues her need to go to the bathroom by getting fussy, your newly mobile baby has a "potty pause." I know my house is always craziest during daily transitions. It explains the toddler years, the teenage years, the mid- life crisis... So now, when things get a little hectic, I think of the period of calm to come. I welcome a new stage in life.

Life goes in stages/cycles- EC shows us that there are many stages to life. Embrace these stages. When again in your child's life will you be able to laugh because he peed on the floor or cheer because she used the toilet?

Learn something new everyday- Learning is one of the most rewarding parts of life. With EC you have opportunities all the time.

Build foundations- Anything is easier when you lay the proper foundation. strong foundations build things that last. EC lays the foundation for future toilet learning making it a smooth process.

Life is a process- Have you ever heard the expression, "Getting there is half the fun?" Well, this applies to life as much as it applies to EC.

Use all your senses - We think of communication as happening with words, and of course it does; but, most communication is actually non-verbal.

Look for cues- Today I came across an article about looking for non-verbal cues that someone is attracted to you. People are interested in this stuff as a way to crack a code, delve into another's mind. When you tune into your baby's cues through EC you start to become more aware of cues in all aspects of life.

Think of misses, not accidents- In EC we call a potty accident a "miss". Accident sounds so catastrophic, like a train wreck. A miss is more like a missed communication, like you missed a friend's phone call. No big deal. you'll catch it next time.

When misses happen, clean up and move on- Misses happen, big deal. Treat them matter-of-factly.

Find magic in the mundane- You'll never have so much fun, laughter and joy over something so everyday as when practicing EC. Try to carry this into all the other aspects of your life.


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