Month 25: Question — How Do You Start ECing an Older Baby?

I was asked this question and I scratched my head a bit because I don’t have practical experience ECing an older baby, only knowledge from what I’ve read, observed and absorbed.      But, I’ve got some insight based upon that and old experience with my conventionally trained siblings 25 or so  years ago.

Babies and toddlers are born mimics; they are always watching and listening.   Remember that no one really “teaches” a toddler how to use words, Grammar, idioms, or the musicality of language…they do it all by observation.   You may encourage words you like to hear and introduce words you find important, but your role in the complexities of language is mostly a passive one.   You and others speak and they copy.  Thus, if you swear, use slang, or pronounce a word incorrectly or with an accent — so will they.

In my opinion, there are two phases that must be addressed.

Inconsistency is confusing…

#1 Parent Behavior Modification

As a diapering parent the journey starts here.     Changing a habit, routine and behavior is challenging at first.    You get used to “not thinking about it” until after the deed is done.   You are encouraged to “not think about it,” and there is usually no one there to remind you when you want to change that.    You’ve got to be ready to put the diapers away either by cold turkey or planned, graduated weaning.   Diapers are not your friends, they are tools that must be put away in favor of new ones.      You will be cleaning up messes and you need patience — when they walk they fall, and when they potty they miss.    Always show normal pleasure or displeasure in your actions — never anger or over praise.      Children are masters of reading body language; you need to show no extraordinary fanfare when you get peed on or when it goes in the right place (genuine excitement on your part is fine in the beginning — you won’t be able to help it–but don’t fake it or continue it long).   They can see your normal smile or frown just fine!   Remember that you have shown, encouraged, and taught them to toilet on themselves and they need your understanding to unlearn this behavior (Empathizing with the Diapered Toddler)    Think about your behavior.   If you choose to use diapers part of the time with an older toddler during potty learning you are sending a mixed message that has no rhyme or reason to the toddler, just be prepared if they do what you are teaching–soil their pants randomly.

#2  Older Baby/Toddler Behavior Observation

A diapered baby has been taught to “not think about elimination” and that they wear their toilets.    The diaper is like a body part.     Some children have a very strong aversion to being soiled and have an ingrained dislike of diapers (the ones who remove their diaper constantly, fight to have one put on, and are uncomfortable immediately after a wet or poop).    Other children are ambivalent and quickly become completely indifferent to the feeling (these are the ones who seem happy to sit in smashed poop and wear a soiled diapers for hours and hours without complaint or notice and if you ask them if they want to use the toilet they’ll say, “no thanks”).       And then there are children who become so vehemently and psychologically attached to the diaper that removing one is like removing a limb and they are incapable of “going” without one (pee withholding far beyond normal, and poop withholding to such an extreme they constipate themselves.)      If your tot is like the first two, you are good to go.   Extreme issues like the last type is beyond my knowledge ,but fortunately,  in my observation occur generally in tots  age 2.5 and older, so you can try this method instead.    Children in diapers over the age of two in the absence of medical problems is a totally parent encouraged, and learned behavior.

Set-up for Success and Prepare Your Tools

1.   A dozen training pants (cheap is fine.  Though I am not a fan of Gerber they are readily available in your local store).   I recommend the thinner styles for day wear and the thicker styles only for night or extended outings.    You don’t want a training pant to be like a diaper.  You want them to contain a missed wee or poop, but not absorb it fully.      This will help save your floor, help you see it happening, and help them to learn to stop peeing or pooping if they aren’t in the right place.  Avoid disposable pull-ups — they are nothing but overpriced, glorified diapers.

2.   At least one “no frills” potty chair like the Baby Bjorn or similar style.   I highly recommend getting two, especially if you have a two story house.   I keep one in the bathroom at all times, and the other potty is the “roving potty”.      Avoid anything that blinks, beeps, sings, or looks like a toy.    A potty’s only function is for urination and defecation.  It should be practical, unobtrusive, and not in any way “fun”.   Playing with a potty is unsanitary and “plaything” is not the “vibe” you want to convey.  Do not let children play with potties for the same reason you don’t want them playing with the toilet.

3.   Have in one or more handy tot-inaccessible places a clean-up set.   It can be any old receiving blankets, prefolds, flats, old hand towels or rags.    Have a spray bottle of 50/50 water and vinegar or peroxide for quick sanitation.      If you have carpet you may want to get a cheap water proof tablecloth or use an old fleece or wool blanket to spread over a play area.     Wood floors and ceramic surfaces are easily cleaned up (frankly, easier than cleaning smooshed poop out of the kibbles and bits of squirming babies).     Have a defined area for containment and don’t leave a transitioning tot unattended.

4.   Even if you feel that “public pottying” is not in your cards right now, choose a portable/travel potty now and buy it.   You’ll be surprised at how handy it will become in and out of the house.


1.  Note frequency.   How often does the tot “go”?    Some children have amazing capacity and can hold for a long time — these tots tend to have huge leaks and  infrequent, large poops.  Others are “tricklers”   they do not hold anything and have frequent dribbles and small, frequent poops.      The former type can be left diaper-free for long periods with pretty good confidence but when they go it will be a considerable amount, while the latter will likely need training pants to help them feel wet and learn to stop–and save you from having to wipe up constantly.

2.  Note Rhythms.    A lot of tots have some sort of unique pattern — they may poop first thing in the morning, or after a meal, or go twice a day, etc.    Some might pee a lot in the morning and very little in the afternoon.    You might even notice they go right after a fresh diaper change.

3.  Note Body Language.  Does your tot make a “poop face”?    Does your little boy or girl hold themselves while they pee even while wearing a diaper?   Do you notice a seemingly random bout of total silence or “staring off into space” and then play resumes?     Do you hear grunting or gas?    Does the tot go “hide” in a corner and then return with a full diaper?     If your boy is bare bottomed do you notice wiggling or stiffening of the penis before a wee?

Look at Me — Timing and “Do As I Do”

By “timing” I don’t mean sit the tot on the pot every x number of minutes — that will be annoying and frustrating for the both of you.   Whether you realize it or not, you tend to go at certain times of the day rather consistently such as first thing in the morning.       From now on when you go, the tot will go to.  Don’t be a helicopter!   Be subtle as you observe, give the bladder time to fill up.  A toddler who has been in diapers full time has not had to exercise their muscles of voluntary release and may not know how to until their bladder is very, very full and happens automatically.   It is an issue not unlike having to figure out how to pee after giving birth or having a catheter.

1.  Start first thing in the morning.     Don’t linger especially if you’ve noticed from time to time that your tot has not soaked through a diaper or has been dry after a night!      The bathroom will be your first trip.    Strip the baby from the waist down and sit them on the pot in front of you or at the side close to you but facing you even if their diaper was wet.    If they fight sitting, let them be but let them see and hear you peeing.  Say, “I have to pee,”    “I am peeing.”   “See the pee in the potty/toilet?”         Ask the tot if they can try to pee and sit them on the pot, if they don’t want to sit on the pot put the travel potty insert on your toilet and see if that is more acceptable.

2.   Other good “timing” is after naps, after eating, before outings, before bed, and anytime you make a pit-stop yourself.

3.   If your tot has displayed a natural pattern or rhythm with elimination, take advantage of that knowledge and take them to potty during that window of time.

4.   Is the diaper dirty or the training pants wet?  That is a cue to put the tot on the potty to see if they’ll go some more.    You might even want to get in the habit of changing diapers only in the bathroom.

Monkey See Monkey Do:    Beginning Cueing and “Wait” Cueing

Cueing is a request made by you to the tot and eventually they will model this behavior back to make a request of you.     This means that you should pick a word, sound, or baby sign (or combination) so that you can ask the tot to “go”.      What you use is up to you, but you must be consistent.   A pre-verbal baby will likely be responsive to the baby sign as you say the word,  children who like sounds would probably respond best to a cue sound like “psss psss” or words.     I used all three and let my daughter choose at her leisure.

When you are first starting out make the word, cue, or sign when:

1.   You set the tot on the potty/toilet
2.  When you notice the pee/poo happening during a diaper change or in your living room (you will not need to do that long, just in the beginning)
3.   Whenever they are watching you “go” in the bathroom or when you talk about it or ask them about it.

Once your baby/tot understands what the words, sound, or sign means    STOP   cueing when they are going potty in the wrong place.   Instead you want to use the cue   “WAIT!”        Even if they don’t understand the word they will understand your urgency and body language.    Sometimes when you say wait “urgently” they will get gently startled (who wouldn’t!?) and that usually gets them to stop surprised.   Immediately bring them to the pot/toilet or bring the pot to them and cue them.  Don’t forget to say, “You waited!”  or “Thanks for waiting,  I know that was hard,”     If you got a little over excited (it happens) and they got really startled and are upset, don’t be afraid to apologize first and then note to them that they waited successfully.    The house and floor is not a public loo, so be aware that showing no reaction and being “okay” with it teaches them that the floor is an acceptable potty place.

Part of the Process — Small Hands Big Help

Always remember that EC is not just about communication but it is also about giving them every opportunity to be a part of the process.    When a miss happens (and they will) always describe what you see and encourage them to help even if you know their “help” isn’t fast or efficient.    Do not turn clean-up into a game or behave in a way that makes it more enjoyable than going to the bathroom.   No singing or clapping; describe, say thank you, and move along.

1.   Have them bring you a towel to clean up.
2.  If the mess is quite small, let them wipe it up (with assistance).
3.  An older walker/coordinated child can even assist with flushing or emptying the potty.

Communicate — Describe What You See

There is no bribery, over-praise, sticker charts, rewards, or coercion with EC, just expectation, observation, communication, and description.    How is all that conveyed with your behavior?

1.  Expectation.    You set this in motion when you put aside the diapers, take the tot to to the bathroom to watch you and go with you, saying “wait”, encouraging miss clean up.

2.  Observation.   When you begin to pay attention to when the child goes, wants to go, and communicate back with cue sounds at the beginning, and with taking them to the bathroom during a rhythm or pattern and letting them watch your behavior and natural rhythms of bathroom habits.

3.   Communication.   Cueing, signing, words, reading body language. Both them to you and you to them.  Talking about pottying while the process is going on.  Don’t ask…DO.   If you know the tot has to go, don’t ask them about it.  You may not like the answer!  It isn’t a negotiation.   If you aren’t willing to accept the answer then don’t put out the question.     Only when your toddler is becoming reliable and you want them to go when they don’t really need to at that moment, should you ask and accept the yes or no.   If you ask the question, you must respect the answer.

4.   Description.    Describing what you see is especially helpful when you are starting late because you need to draw their attention to the process they’ve been ignoring for months.    Phrases like, “Look at all the pee in the potty,”     “Oops, you missed, pee goes in the potty help me clean up.”     “You got most of the pee in the potty.  Let’s fix the miss.”     “You stopped going on the floor, that must have been hard to do.”   “You tried really hard to get to the potty/bathroom.”   “Thank you for letting me know you were wet/poopie.”    Etc. Etc.

Parent Weaning — How to Put the Diapers Away

I am an advocate of cold turkey.      At some point you just need to take off the training wheels and just have confidence in yourself and your tot.    In my opinion, using diapers can easily become a crutch that can cause a lot of confusion and inconsistency.        For that reason, I always suggest putting them away immediately and never looking back.    You make accommodations as if they never existed.  Of course, it is your choice to follow that advice or not 🙂     If you decide not to then you DO need to make a plan to gradually wean yourself from the diapers.    Tots have no choice in this matter.    You’ve put the diaper on them when they didn’t want it and so taking it away even if they don’t want it isn’t any different!      I assume that the tot in question is under 2.5 and has not shown any unusual diaper attachment issues — in this case, diaper weaning is about all about you.    Here are options:

A diaper is NOT a toilet from this point forward — it is your tool.

1.  Go bottomless or training pants during the day when at home, diapers only at night.
2.  If your child shows strong potty patterns, have bottomless or training pants time right after a good potty session and gradually increase the time daily until you stop freaking out 🙂
3.  If you work and can’t get your baby-minder on board, then diaper free time should happen with you as soon as you resume care.  In other words, in the morning before drop off, and then in the evening after pick up.

How NOT to Use a Diaper

1.  When one is on you stop ECing altogether.      Diaper on or Diaper-Off you still should follow patterns and communication as if it wasn’t on.
2.  Never tell your tot, “It’s okay, go in your pants.”     It is NOT okay to go in your pants.    Instead you may say, “Wait as long as you can, I’ll try to get to the toilet!”      If you don’t make it, apologize.  Really.    You want them to know that you know how hard they tried and that you know how uncomfortable that must be.
3.  Whenever you feel that the bathroom is just too far or inconvenient and that the diaper is better, remember what it was like to be pregnant and if you would have been happy peeing yourself just because getting to to the bathroom was a chore and no one wanted to help you get off the couch you were stuck on.  🙂
4.  Training pants are fine for mess containment, but reliance only on diapers make it too easy for you to “tune out.”
5.  Do not ask questions you already know the answer to, and don’t ask a question or present an option if you aren’t willing to accept the answer.  If you ask, “Do you need to potty? ”  be prepared to accept the no, since you DID ask.   Instead you can say if you are pretty sure their eyeballs are floatin, “It’s been a long time.  Let’s go potty before we eat.”   If you are unsure of their bladder status, you can ask the question and accept the answer even if that means accepting a possible mess.  It’s about trust and respect.

When is the Process Done?

When is Potty Graduation?   Well, it’s not what you think.   This is a common question that I suggest you put out of your mind if you are intending to put a date on it.    Potty learning is a process just like walking is a process.    Though it may seem like they just “get up one day and start running”, that’s not how the process works.  They’ve built up to that moment through exercising their core muscles by sitting, practicing balancing by pulling, watching the people around them until their body development reaches a point where they can better copy movements — all before they take those first wobbly steps and then each day blends into the one previous and they need your help less and less until you can’t remember the last time they asked for your hand–but they do ask from time to time.      Potty learning follows patterns too and you need to have awareness of Potty Fairness in your assessment of situations.    From now on, this is the new routine of life.  Make it a habit just as efficiently as you made diapering a habit without even thinking about it!


Got any questions? Just ask!


About Laissez Faire

I am 41...42...43...44, married with two children, two cats, and a dog. Writing is my hobby, and learning and teaching my passions. Books! It used to be that I could devour several books a week when I had the time. I am usually too tired to stray awake these days with two kids. Currently my brain and energy levels have steered me to casual games, writing contests, and some inconsistent blogging.

Posted on November 18, 2011, in Parenting, Potty Training, Toddlers and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. This is excellent! Being one who did start EC late, I know how much of a challenge it is, and how much of a challenge it still is! The only thing I would add is that it is important to be flexible and easygoing about it. Every toddler is different, so some things will work for some and not others. But that is the complete awesome part of EC. Love it 🙂

  2. I really love what you suggest about switching from “cueing” along with baby when he pees in the wrong place to saying “wait!” and taking them to the bathroom. This is not found in the 3 paperback books (I can’t find it in there!) and is something I’d love to expound upon in my EC book. It’s really key to not allow your baby to establish a habit of peeing on the floor, and typically ECers just let it happen. It’s modeling the wrong behavior, not demonstrating or teaching the correct behavior, and is just plain permissive.

    Way to go on this post! I love your ideas and will suggest some of them to my late starters, if that’s okay with you!

    ❤ Andrea

    • I’ve read a lot on EC and I’ve never seen it either anywhere, but to me it just makes sense. When she was in arms I often said “wait wait wait”…while running full speed to the bathroom when I knew she had to go but I was afraid I wouldn’t get there fast enough 🙂 then I just continued that trend when I put the diapers away before she was walking. My dd has never, ever eliminated on the floor deliberately and played in it — even now at 2 I don’t think it would ever occur to her to do that. I wonder if that is because I discouraged that from the get go by using “wait” as a cue?

      Please do pass it on. I think it will help reduce some of the typical problems. In any case it couldn’t hurt right? 🙂

    • It’s true! It is something that I had to learn the hard way. We have just finished a week of trying to break that habit of peeing on the floor and for the most part have been successful! I didn’t come across that advice anywhere either when I started.

      • Yes, we did that during the in arms phase (and still do)….and he totally waited every time. But then I took the advice of the 3 EC books while he was more mobile and diaperfree on the floor…and I kick myself for teaching him it’s ok! We are still occasionally dealing with untwining that behavior. Also, boys have a water hose and I think might play in it more??

        Annaliese….question for ya! What exactly are you doing to untrain yours?

        Can’t wait to hear! 🙂 andrea

  3. Sorry it took so long to reply. We just went into “intense ec” as I call it at home and watched our little man like a hawk for a few days. Really not hands off style, but if we saw him going cause we missed his cue or he didn’t give a cue (he rarely gives cues actually) we would pick him up and put him on the potty. Or because he is a boy – just hold the potty in front of his stream (he loves watching the stream). We also decided to give up being nice about it and tell him “No, wee doesn’t go on the floor,” so he knew we did not like this behaviour. I have to admit sometimes he doesn’t like it one bit when I don’t give him the option to go on the floor – meaning I know he needs to go and I will follow him around with the potty until it is done in the potty. This has caused tantrums but frankly I don’t care if he likes it or not anymore. Wee goes in the potty and that is it! 🙂 Hopes this helps. He has had a massive turn around since taking this attitude – like our first independent wee on the potty!

    (although because I gave birth 3 weeks ago we are going through this again because the mess up in routine etc etc made his want to go to the potty fly out the window 🙂

  4. I love this entire post, as well as the helpful comments. I am about to step up efforts with my twins—one at a time, to give them the proper attention—and I find myself really needing a strong, clear plan in this arena. Thank you so much!

  5. So funny, I wish I had read this BEFORE I bothered to write my post on EC with an older baby! So glad I started from birth, it was so easy that way!

  6. I’m hoping you might have some advice to break the “bad habit” that we’ve gotten into.
    My 14 month old will not pee or poop in his potty, only the toilet while I’m holding him in the EC hold.
    I’ve tried sitting him on the potty, sitting his teddies on the potty, singing songs while he’s on it etc but he just freaks out and immediately climbs off. Luckily he’s a small fry so I can still hold him over the toilet but obviously this isn’t ideal for the future and I don’t want to create an ongoing issue.

    Thanks in advance

    • Thanks for commenting! I dont think this is a bad habiy, just a preference you can work with. My son disliked the potty. He used it sometimes, but he always preferred the toilet. At that age I had him rest his feet on the toilet seat for leverage for an assisted squat and that helped me encourage him to pee sitting on the toilet facing backwards. Eventually he was able to mount the toilet that way without my help. He is 3.5 and still prefers to rear mount the toilet. I tried a seat reducer for a time too, but he did better without it. The only unique is that mounting that way requires pants totally off; I dont consider that a problem though…just a consequence of how he chose to be potty independent to the best of his abilities.. My daughter was different. She preferred the potty or seat reducer on the toilet. I hope that helped.

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