Month 27: When a Refusal is a Request

Point to Ponder:   If you were suddenly rendered unable to speak anything except one word, would you prefer your one utterance to be yes or no?

Toddlers can teach us a lot about babies through their three top favorite phrases, “No!” , “I help you,” and “I can do it myself!”     When you can’t speak the language and the people around you seem totally, inexplicably inept at reading refined body language, those phrases give you power.     The first allows you to protest invasions of your property and space, the second shows you are willing to participate and learn, and the last allows you to express that you can manage and show what you have learned.  It stands to reason that pre-verbal babies are trying to convey similar desires once their basic needs are met and they begin to form preferences.

Adults get so frustrated with toddlers because they forget so easily that they can do and understand more than their vocabulary allows, and their abilities are often underestimated.

I think that being in a diapering culture gives the wrong impression that an Elimination Communication potty refusal means, “I want to pee myself” and the tendency is to give up after a few days.   I’ve discussed before that I don’t believe in potty pauses.        I am convinced that a potty refusal is actually a request.  They are trying to say a lot and it is only that the refusing party does not have the ability yet to explain in detail exactly what that is.   They don’t really want to soil the nest, though that is what is assumed.   Even the so-called regression ECers report seeing, in my observation, is usually a request for something (most likely attention).

Whenever my in arms and pre-verbal walking DD displayed a refusal, I took it as a request for more freedom.   What other  reasonable explanation is there, other than pain or discomfort, for refusing to pee or poop if you have to?     I had put away diapers and gave myself no choice but to proceed as if they did not exist.  This meant that I needed to think outside of the…uh…diaper.     Changing a pair of training pants and/or pants was no more time consuming and did not generate more laundry, so cloth diapers had no advantage over training pants.

I asked myself:

  • Am I offering too often (bladders and bowels get bigger and stronger too)?
  • Should I ask rather than tell and give her a chance to refuse (and I need to believe it)?
  • Does she want to use the toilet rather than the potty (in my house only pre-solids, in arms babies use the sink)?
  • Am I helping too much and she wants to to do more for herself (how can she learn to mount the potty if I keep plopping her on it without giving her a chance…)?

When I gave her the reigns more and more I expected some mishaps that needed guidance and I wanted to set her up for success.   When she began to pee in the wrong place I cued, “WAIT!” and rushed her to the bathroom and asked her to finish even if it seemed like she was empty.      A puddle anywhere but the bathroom toilet or potty was approached with normal displeasure and disapproval and I always had her help make it right–but I didn’t give over praise since it was expected behavior.    She needed the freedom to test her bladder limits and indepedent skills with reasonable boundaries.  At the same time, I wanted to protect my house and I took precautions like putting a puddle pad on the couch if she wanted to sit there, removing the throw rug on our hardwood floors, putting her in training pants if I couldn’t be attentive enough to allow some leeway (while I was cooking, for example, and it had been a while since the last deployment), and reducing her wandering area to a manageable space if she was bare bottomed.

It was very important to me that I not accidentally teach my dd that the floor is a potty place or that peeing your self was an okay option by having no reaction or a neutral one.   It was also important to me that I wean myself from the diaper crutch before she developed any significant memory of soiling herself that way.   I also did not want to encourage a potty place that I didn’t want to have as a common option later.   The bathtub and sink are not potty places (the sink only for an exclusively breastfed baby in arms) and outside is not a toilet except in very specific circumstances (camping or remote location).    And to ensure that every room in the house didn’t become a potty place, the bathroom was always encouraged to be the preferred potty place, and potty in the living room was slowly and deliberately transitioned out.       It is always surprising to see what they can do by themselves when they are given the chance to try.

At 2 years 3 months Itty Bitty can say to me, “No, mommy, I do it myself!”   and she can say, “Help, me mommy!”  for anything she wants.    Sure, she can’t put on her socks all by herself yet, but she wants to try and when she obviously needs help I put them on in a way that allows her to finish the job in some way.   The idea is to give her the opportunities to be part of the process.     At 9 months all she could do was a non-verbal refusal and postive body language to communicate the same exact requests she can now verbalize.

My advice is to change your perspective on what a refusal really is.   Not defiance, but a legitimate need..   Be patient, watch your own behavior, and don’t throw in the towel.   It always falls into place faster than it may seem at first.


All this is my opinion, and I’m sure many ECers will disagree with me.
I learn a lot of lessons from Itty Bitty Tantrums.    I always come out the other ending wondering what I did or didn’t notice that set it off.   I am sure I could bend her to my will, for example, when she refuses to sit in her car seat and we can both spend a miserable ride home.   What I discovered that if she was made part of the process, protests were minimal.    Yes, it is not particularly fun for me to wait five extra minutes waiting for her to climb into her seat by herself, then I adjust the straps, and then let her clip the chest clip since the novelty for me wore off long ago.  However, five minutes of my time is not a lot to ask and it makes her happy, and in the long run it will become an advantage.      It isn’t always 100% successful, but a heck of a lot better!

About Laissez Faire

I am 41...42...43...44, 45, 46 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 January 12, 2012, in Parenting, Potty Training, Toddlers and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. This is great! I just want to let you know that I appreciate you sharing your experience with EC. I am expecting my first baby in March and will be doing EC with my little one so its very helpful to hear someone who is successful share how they do it. I agree with a lot of your methods, obviously in theory still for me since I don’t actually have experience, But reading your stories help me get a better idea of what to look forward to. Anyways, just wanted to let you know that I really enjoy your blog!

  2. I actually fully agree that a protest is actually a request for a shift or change…an expression of a need…thanks for this post! 🙂

  3. I agree. My 18 month old sometimes refuses, but giving him more control and especially believing him when he says all done has made a huge, positive difference. Another problem I ran into was offering too often. He would get really upset and I finally realized it wasn’t a potty refusal, it was a ‘I just went, Mom!’

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: