Monday, June 29, 2009

In defense of EC: A Contrast of EC to Traditional Potty Training

One very common misconception about EC that I've been running into, is that it is potty training an infant. My husband and I held that misconception ourselves, until we started researching it. I completely understand that people will have this misconception, and I understand the reasons for it. What really bothers me, though, is comments that I get from friends and loved ones who see our communication in action. I have been told that I am pushing my child to do things he isn't ready for; I am holding standards for his development that are too high; and I am not just letting him be a baby. I feel resentment towards these attitudes, because they are far from the truth. The reason that my friends and family think this way, is because they are equating elimination communication to traditional potty training. If it were the case that I was trying to use traditional potty training with my ten month old, then I would tend to agree with them on all the negative comments they have made. But as it is, there are vast differences between what I do with my son, and potty training as western civilization knows it. I'd like to address those differences.

Potty training and elimination communication seem the same to most people, because the end result is the same: the child eliminates on the toilet instead of his or her pants. To look at the differences between the two, you have to take the "process is more important than product" approach. Then it will be clear how the two are different.

In potty training, an infant eliminates in his diaper until the age of two or three. He learns that the reason for having a diaper on is to catch the elimination, and so he learns to just go. Then at the appropriate age, the child is taught that the appropriate place to eliminate is the toilet, and he must then be untrained to go in his pants, and trained to go on the toilet. For many families in the Western world, this approach works well. For many families, it is also very frustrating for the parents as well as the child. Elimination Communication (EC) is a way to teach the child to eliminate in the toilet from birth. He never learns to eliminate in a diaper or his pants.

The biggest difference between potty training and EC is that potty training focuses almost solely on teaching the child how to independently use the toilet. It is about teaching the child to recognize when he has to eliminate (an instinct that infants are born with) and going to the toilet in time to "go potty." EC focuses on teamwork between caregivers and child. The caregivers nurture the instincts of the child, as well as the communications that the child is giving. The infant knows that he has to urinate, and gives the caregivers signals that he has to go. If those signals are ignored, they are soon extinguished. If, however, they are acknowledged and nurtured by the caregiver, the infant's ability to recognize and communicate about elimination gets stronger. When I see that Jonah has to urinate, and I take him to his potty and make the "sssss" noise along with the ASL sign for "wet," I am saying to him "yes, I know you have to go. I know you are telling me." The experience encourages him to communicate with me the next time that he has to go. I would like to give an example,although this example does dip into a post that I would like to make later this week, about my husband beginning to use EC with Jonah. Until about two weeks ago, I was the only person who could tell whether or not Jonah needed to use the bathroom. As subtle as his cues were to me, they were even more subtle and barely existent when he was with another caregiver. Last Saturday, I requested that my husband try to use EC with him. Daryl, with my help, learned to recognize Jonah's cues, and has shown Jonah that he recognizes and acknowledges them. Since then, I have noticed as well as Daryl, that Jonah's cues to Daryl have become a lot more obvious and easier to see. Because Daryl nurtured the communication, it has become stronger, and the two of them can work as a team.

Potty training also puts a lot of emphasis on shame. It teaches the child that the behavior of going to the bathroom in their pants is inappropriate (although it is what they were taught) and that if they have an accident in their pants, it causes great inconvenience and embarassment. Even the most sympathetic parents cannot eliminate this element of potty training. Several children become fearful of eliminating at all, because of the shame they begin to associate with it. Some parents think that they are avoiding this element by adding positive emphasis on the desired behavior. The child gets great praise when they go on the potty, and sometimes they even get a sticker. Prize systems are often set up, ranging from very simple to very elaborate. These add positive reinforcers into the mix, but it also introduces negative reinforcers as well. If the child goes potty in his pants, then he doesn't get a sticker or a candy. To an adult, this seems incredibly simple. But to a child, who all his life has been told "go in your pants," it is extremely difficult to suddenly remember the rules. This is what makes potty training extremely difficult in most western homes. EC, on the other hand, does not use shame and embarrasment or positive/negative reinforcers. Instead of saying "going potty in your pants is naughty! You need to go to the toilet when you go," it says "going in your pants makes you feel wet and uncomfortable. Let's work together to get you to a place that is desirable to both of us."

If using diapers until you feel comfortable with potty training your child works in your family, then I am thrilled that you are able to do what is right for you and your children. Keep in mind that I, and anyone else who is practicing EC, am doing the same. We are simply using an alternate method of dealing with our child's poop.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jonah,
    AMEN! I totally agree and have found the same thing frustrating - I write most days about EC to help counter that ingrained perception that EC = potty training a toddler who's been diaper-trained at birth.

    One of the great things about EC is that breaking up of skills - they pick up ideas (parts of the puzzle) all the way through, rather than having to master everything in 3 days or one week or other such program, preferably with as little effort as possible on the parent's end! Odd to me - it's not like managing diapers for years is no effort - I find EC far preferable.