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What Is Elimination Communication?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 19 April 2014
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Elimination communication (EC) refers to diaperless or nearly diaper free toilet training methods that have been observed in numerous countries and that are now being applied to parenting in the Western world. This trend gained impetus with writings by Ingrid Bauer in the early 2000s. It has been considered appealing because it may result in reliably trained children under the age of one, and it can be applied to older children too. Additionally, many parents are drawn to this idea because they struggle with the issue of environmental debt created by diapering.

Bauer’s writing is based on her observation of parenting children in areas where diapers are not used and on her own experimentation with the method. Bauer observed that there were several factors necessary for creating diaperless potty training, and that even fairly young infants might not have accidents when these were employed. Most important were ways to pick up cues about when children needed to use the bathroom and to be able to cue children on when it was okay to do so.

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The first thing parents have to learn to create elimination communication is timing, or when it is likely that an infant needs to go the bathroom. This changes as infants age, and within a few months of birth, it can be fairly predictable when urination or defecation must occur. Many infants also exhibit clear signs regarding waste removal. These are called signals, and if the child doesn’t have a reliable signal like grunting, they can be taught a hand signal. Lots of young babies can learn simple sign language long before they learn spoken language.

Another needed element in elimination communication is the parent coming up with some way to notify the baby where it is okay to eliminate. This is called cueing and is often done with a simple sibilant sound for urination or grunt for defecation. When the method is successful, the baby is trained to wait to begin eliminating urine or feces when he or she hears the sound.

Many fans exist of elimination communication and those practicing the method often claim babies are diaper free within a year of birth or have been raised completely without them, especially if they’ve been trained from the onset. In contrast, some organizations, the American Association of Pediatrics do not believe training can be at all reliable within this one-year period. They suggest reliability won’t be reached until babies are in the middle of their second year.

Other criticisms of this method suggest that it is more time consuming, and if a parent is not always on hand, there still may be need to resort to diapers, at least occasionally. Supporters of elimination communication suggest it is possible to teach this method on a part time basis, but it can take longer since it interferes with consistent cueing and signals. People are clearly divided on this issue, though the popularity of Bauer’s book suggests growing interest in this form of infant potty training.

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