Our Plan: Elimination Communication to Potty Independence


From Elimination Communication to Potty Independence

We have gradually been working on the transition from elimination communication to potty independence. We have prepared the bathroom environment in a manner that promotes independence. Our daughter has practiced necessary skills including pushing down her training pants and sitting down onto the potty. And now we are ready for the big leap: saying "goodbye" to diapers and cloth training pants.

When I first considered potty training and packing away our cloth training pants, I was quite nervous. But when I started writing this post it made me realize that we have been laying the foundation for potty independence for months. It's not going to be a sudden three-day crash course. We will continue to gradually work towards the goal of potty independence once we are no longer using "backups" as a tool.

In this article I am going to cover:

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Realistic Expectations and Keeping Our Roles Straight

We are taking the next big step on the potty learning journey with our daughter who is 20-months-old. She is our second child and this is our second time practicing elimination communication.

Wrapping up EC didn't go how I expected with our son, four years ago. Over the years I have pondered the best way to transition from elimination communication to potty independence.

Disappointment and frustration result when our expectations are far from reality.

In the realm of elimination communication, it can be difficult to know what realistic expectation are, since not many of our peers practice EC and everyone's EC journey is different.

It's also more likely that parents whose children completed EC early will share those success stories in support groups than the parents for whom wrapping up EC seemed to drag on for months and their child continued to have misses.

Expectations Were Off the First Time Around

I had heard that babies practicing elimination communication in cultures where it is still commonly practiced graduate around one-year-old. I had hoped that would be the case with our son, having practiced EC full time with him since he was one-month-old. We had done EC day and night, at home and away from home. We planned to travel long term once he turned one-year-old, so I thought it would be perfect if he was consistently using the potty by then.

I tried using the techniques in Go Diaper Free: A Simple Handbook for Elimination Communication by Andrea Olson to wrap up EC when our son was 12-months-old and we were living in a hotel in Vietnam for three months. But my husband was not okay with our son peeing on the floor during diaper-free time. I thought it was the perfect scenario: it was a hotel room, it had tile floor, and a cleaning lady mopped the floor once a day.

My husband also had the expectation that our son "aught to be potty trained by now". But he wasn't okay with me taking the steps to wrap up EC, after I had been doing 90% of the pottying and diaper changes for the past year. So I put wrapping up on hold for a while. We were using a combination of cloth training pants and disposable pull-up diapers at the time. Aside: Luckily, my husband was much more onboard with EC and ditching diapers the second time around!

Note: If you own the Go Diaper Free book, there is now a "Hybrid Plan" available as a free download on the book owner's resources page. The Hybrid plan is an option for wrapping up EC that is a mix of EC and potty training.

When our son was 19-months-old we had been living consistently in an apartment in Thailand for one month. It felt like home. I decided to wrap up elimination communication by potty training him right before we left that home.

I read both The Tiny Potty Training Book by Andrea Olson and Oh Crap! Potty Training by Jamie Glowacki.

I actually thought that after three days of a "potty training experience" my son would tell me when he needed to pee and that he would no longer have misses. Wasn't that the point of potty training? Potty training did nudge him to sometimes tell me when he needed to pee. But I was often still prompting him to use the potty, making it feel a lot like.... practicing elimination communication?

The timing was a poor choice for our family. We were having success at first. But soon we left Thailand and headed to stay with friends in Japan. I didn't think it was okay for him to go commando or wear regular underwear while we were staying with friends, so we used the same cloth training pants we had been using, just without a waterproof cover over them. And we still had misses. Especially when he was engrossed in playing with his similar aged friends, who were wearing diapers.

And then we went to California and visited various family members. So we continued to use cloth training pants. And while our son was playing with his favorite cousin, who was still wearing diapers, everything seemed to fall apart.

We returned home to Oahu when our son was 24-months-old and switched him to real underwear. I repeated a short potty training experience since we had gotten so far off track. But he still had misses for a couple months, and it was usually on the tiny bit of carpet that wasnt' covered with blankets.

Basically, I chose the wrong time to potty train for a couple reasons:

  • I thought potty training would be complete, over with, a done deal, after about three days.
  • I thought it would appear that we had not succeeded with elimination communication if we waited to potty train and stop using diapers until two-years-old.
So I'm here to tell you: It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks of your EC journey. It's between you and your child.

Our family situations are all different. Maybe someone else ditched diapers when their child was 15 or 16 months old. What does that even mean? The child may have still had frequent misses. They may have still worn cloth training pants as backup. Or maybe that child was 100% dry in underwear at 15-months-old. But it doesn't matter, because that is their child, and you have your own unique child and unique family situation.

With both of my children, we traveled full-time internationally from the time they were one-year-old until they were two-years-old. Who else is in that exact same boat? Anyone?

I pondered for a long time if potty training had been a mistake, or if it had just been bad timing. After all, there is often a stigma around "potty training" in elimination communication groups.

More Realistic Expectations the Second Time Around

With my second child, I made a conscious effort to lay the foundation for potty independence over time.

I also have more realistic expectations regarding going diaper-free. I don't expect my daughter to be completely miss-free as soon as we stop using backups. Instead, I view any misses on the floor as teaching opportunities to guide her through the steps of using the potty: getting to the bathroom, pushing down underwear, sitting on the potty, patting dry, washing hands, drying hands.

It's normal if she continues to have misses for a little while. After all, I am the one changing the expectations. We are going from: "Sometimes you use the potty and sometimes you eliminate in your backup, and that's okay!" to "Every single time you eliminate, I would like it to be in the potty".

It's important to keep the following in mind:

It's up to the parent when to stop using absorbent backup. It's up to the child when they will be completely potty independent and when they will no longer have misses.

These are two separate things. If the parent decides to stop using backup, that doesn't mean the child will immediately be miss-free and self initiate 100% of the time.

I like to think of it in terms of how long it takes to establish a new habit. If you were starting a new type of exercise or way of eating, how long would it take for it to become so routine that you no longer have to think about it or remind yourself? 30 days? 60 days? Longer maybe?

I think it's realistic that it could take 30-60+ days to establish the new habit that peeing and pooping always happens on the potty or toilet. And occasional misses are likely to happen after that with illness, teething, moving, major life changes, being overly tired...

In the support groups, I've noticed an anecdotal correlation that the sooner the child stops using diapers, the younger age at which the child no longer has frequent misses. But being reliably dry doesn't happen immediately after ditching the diapers. It tends to take a couple months.

Maybe a child stops wearing diapers at 14 months and is reliably dry at 16 months. Or maybe they stop wearing diapers at 20 months and are reliably dry at 22 months. But of course, there is a range, as all the children and circumstances are different. Please let me know in the comments how long it took from the time you ditched diapers until your child was reliably using the potty and staying dry.

In this post I am going to lay out our plan to move gradually from practicing elimination communication to our toddler being potty independent. So first, some definitions.

Elimination communication = A gentle collaborative processes in which parent and baby communicate about elimination and work together to catch pees and/or poops in the potty.

Potty independence = A state in which a child recognizes the sensation of needing to eliminate and acts upon that sensation by walking to the bathroom, removing any clothing that is in the way, sitting down onto the potty or toilet, eliminating, wiping, and washing and drying hands.

Our path from Elimination Communication to Potty Independence

The big question is: How can we gently and gradually move from the collaborative process of elimination communication towards potty independence?

Here is the path we chose to follow to guide our daughter from practicing elimination communication from birth towards potty independence. We are still working towards independence and it will be up to her when that milestone is met.

Responsive elimination communication > Montessori prepared environment > Skills > Saying "goodbye" to diapers and training pants

We started by practicing elimination communication in a manner that prioritized communication over catches. Then we integrated Montessori toilet learning when our daughter started walking. The Montessori approach incorporates both a prepared environment that allows for independence and also practicing skills, such as self-dressing. Next is the big leap of saying "goodbye" to diapers and cloth training pants.

I will talk about each of these stages of the potty learning process in more detail below.

Responsive Elimination Communication

Cloth-eez Workhorse Fitted Diaper Newborn with Boingo

Cloth-eez Workhorse Fitted Diaper Newborn with Boingo

While practicing elimination communication from birth with our daughter, we tried to do so in a way that would help her maintain her natural instincts. One reason that potty training is such a struggle in our culture is that most families start by overriding their baby's natural instincts, and then later try to re-teach the child to do what the child would have preferred in the first place.

Babies instinctually:

  • Do not want to soil themselves
  • Do not want to soil their caregivers
  • Do not want to soil the place where they sleep

Babies are capable of:

  • Controlling when they eliminate
  • Communicating their need to eliminate
  • Eliminating when cued to do so
  • Inch-worming their way out of a pee puddle in bed (if not swaddled)
  • Not peeing while in a deep sleep (due to antidiuretic hormone/ Vasopressin)

While practicing elimination communication we:

  • Used natural cotton cloth diapers without a cover at home (fitted diapers, prefolds, training pants) and changed them as soon as they were wet. This allowed our daughter to feel when she wet her diaper. It allowed us to see when the diaper was wet and learn her signals and natural timing.
  • Offered the potty when she signaled the need to eliminate (fussed, blew raspberries, attempted to climb out of someone's arms while breathing heavily)
  • Offered the potty at transition times (upon waking, before/after nursing, before leaving the house...)
  • Offered the potty after she had been worn in the baby carrier or held in someone's arms for a long time
  • Changed wet diapers at night as soon as I noticed they were wet
  • Sometimes offered the potty at night before nursing
  • Did not swaddle her for naps or nighttime. I quickly noticed that after she peed in bed she would start inch-worming her way up the bed in an attempt to get out of the pee puddle. If she was wearing a diaper I would respond by changing the diaper.
  • Used the "pssss" sound in association with peeing
  • Used blowing raspberries in association with pooping (this was a cue sound our daughter came up with herself!)
  • Sometimes gave her diaper-free time as a newborn to learn her signals and allow her to air out
  • Respected when she indicated that she did not need to eliminate at that time
We valued two-way communication and respect over getting catches in the potty.

Montessori Prepared Environment that Promotes Independence

Montessori Potty Station - Toilet Learning Toddler

Montessori Potty Station - Toilet Learning Toddler

When our daughter started walking (at 8-months-old) we started incorporating Montessori toilet learning into our practice of elimination communication. We set up a Montessori potty station for her, so she could learn to get onto and off of her potty independently and learn to put on her cloth training pants.

Phase 2 of Montessori Toilet Learning begins around the time the child starts walking, preferably around the sensitive period for toilet learning which is 12-18 months old.

One of the central elements of the Montessori approach is preparing the environment in a way that promotes independence.

There are some parents who put off potty training for years, hoping that someday their child will walk to the bathroom and use the toilet all on their own. But if the bathroom door is shut, the light switch is out of reach, and the toilet lid is locked, it's not likely that child will magically use the toilet all on their own.

On the other hand, imagine a bathroom with a beautifully prepared Montessori environment. Everything the child needs is within their reach. Everything is just their size. They have practiced the bathroom routine over and over again with assistance from an adult. So if one day that child desires to use the bathroom independently, they can go right ahead and do so.

Our family travels full time, and when we do settle down we tend to only stay 6 months to a year. This makes it difficult to maintain a prepared environment, but we try our best. Especially when it comes to a potty station or bathroom that promotes independence.

Here are some examples:

Elements of a Montessori prepared bathroom include:

  • Doing all pottying in a consistent location once the child is walking (preferably in the bathroom)
  • Small potty on the floor that child can use independently
  • Toilet seat reducer paired with a wooden step stool (with hand rails for a young toddler)
  • Step stool to reach the sink. My favorite is the Ikea Bekvam step stool with two steps. Both of my kids love using it!
  • Soap within reach
  • Hand towel within reach
  • Bathroom basket containing clean cloth training pants and cloth wipes or toilet paper
  • Hamper, pail, or wet bag for wet cloth training pants
  • Dressing chair to sit on while putting one foot, then the other foot, into training pants
  • Full length mirror to look in while dressing

Basically, think through the steps of your toddler using the bathroom, and make sure everything is accessible for them to use independently.

For tips on preparing the bathroom environment you can read the concise book Toilet Awareness: Using Montessori Philosophy to Create a Potty Learning Routine by Sarah Moudry. It's been updated since the version I read, with even more helpful tips!

Practicing Necessary Skills for Potty Independence

10-Month-Old Wearing Size 3T Tiny Trainers

Self Dressing

Another important element of Montessori toilet learning that we followed was having our daughter wear cotton cloth training pants with nothing covering them at home. Self-dressing is an important skill that is practiced in early Montessori education. It is empowering to the child to be able to dress and undress herself.

Benefits of cotton cloth training pants:

  • My daughter started learning to put on and take off her cloth training pants, with my assistance, at 8-months-old
  • I could see when the cotton training pants were wet, lead her to the potty/bathroom, help her push down the training pants, have her sit on the potty, let her wash her hands, and help her put on a clean pair of training pants (one foot, other foot, stand up, pull them up)
  • My daughter could feel when she wet the training pants
Being able to push down pants or underwear is a crucial skill for potty independence.

Some potty training books gloss over the skill of being able to push down pants too quickly. If a child is not able to push down their pants, it prevents them from being able to use the potty independently. The intrinsic motivation to learn to use the potty comes from the pride the child feels in mastering a new skill.

If a child is not able to complete the potty routine independently because they are missing a necessary skill, they may give up and not even bother to try. This often shows up in potty training with the child simply peeing their pants instead of trying to get to the potty. I discussed this in more depth in my post on Rethinking the Goal of Potty Training.

When I potty trained my son at 19-months-old he didn't know how to push down his shorts. Although I taught him to put his thumbs into the waistband and push down, he still needed my help for quite a while.

My daughter, on the other hand, at 20-months-old, can easily push down her training pants or other bottoms. No problem!

For a while, she would take off her wet trainers after peeing in them and go get a clean pair that she would bring to us for assistance putting on. I would find wet training pants scattered around the house.

She has access to her clothes and enjoys taking them out and trying them on. She also likes to try on her brother's clothes! I sit back and observe. I only step in and help her if she requests help. She generally likes to try on three outfits each morning before deciding what to wear, so she gets plenty of practice dressing and undressing!

As we prepare to say "goodbye" to diapers I calculated and realized that she's been practicing pushing down training pants for 12 months now. No wonder she's good at it! Practicing for months is way different than practicing for a couple days right before potty training.

Brands of small cloth training pants for Montessori toilet learning:

For other options, you can see my Cloth Training Pants Comparison Review.

Sitting Down onto Potty Independently

Another skill that's necessary for potty independence is being able to sit down onto the potty independently.

It can be easier for a young toddler to sit down onto a small floor potty than to climb up onto a toilet and use a toilet seat reducer. For that reason, I like to mostly use a small potty when my kids are nearing potty independence.

When my son was 19-months-old and about to potty train, he didn't know how to sit down onto the potty on his own. Without thinking about it, I had always placed him on the potty. That's just a habit I had gotten into from practicing elimination communication with him since he was a young baby.

I wasn't sure how to teach him to sit down on the potty independently. I tried demonstrating. I looked for YouTube videos of toddlers using the potty independently. He didn't have any similarly aged cousins nearby to demonstrate.

If you are in a similar situation, the online Go Diaper Free class "Wrapping up EC" has videos of Andrea's daughter Isadora demonstrating skills like sitting down on the potty, wiping, pulling up underwear, etc.

With my daughter, she often sat on my lap for me to help her put on trainers, socks, or clothes. One day when she turned around, backed up, and sat on my lap, it dawned on me that if she was capable of that, she was capable of turning around, backing up, and sitting on the potty.

We went to the bathroom to give it a try. I told her with words what to do, without physically showing her. I just said, "Turn around and sit on your potty, just like you sit on Mama's lap." And she did it! I don't remember what age that was, but it was months ago. That skill is firmly in place.

Offering the Potty at Transition Times

If you are interested in following Montessori toilet learning for a toddler around 12 to 18-months old, the other main element is offering the potty at transition times. You can give your child the option to sit on the potty, without forcing.

Common transition times include:

  • Before going to sleep and upon waking
  • Before and after eating
  • Before leaving home and upon arriving somewhere
  • Before and after a bath
  • Before and after swimming

Just watch your child and see when they have completed one activity but not yet started another activity. That way you don't need to break their concentration or interrupt them. Again, you can find more guidance in Toilet Awareness: Using Montessori Philosophy to Create a Potty Learning Routine by Sarah Moudry.

I also absolutely love this video by Montessori Guide explaining Montessori toilet learning in the classroom. I've watched it over and over again!

Toilet Learning from Montessori Guide on Vimeo.

Saying "Goodbye" to Diapers and Cloth Training Pants (aka Potty Training)

Bye Bye Diapers Potty Training at 20-Months-Old

Saying "goodbye" to diapers and cloth training pants is the portion of our potty learning journey that I am referring to as "potty training". But you don't have to think of it that way. It's not like we're transitioning from only ever using diapers to a brand new concept of using the potty in three days flat. My daughter has already used the potty every day for 20 months. I could have titled this article "How to Potty Train in 603 days!".

I had a lot of reservations about potty training my second kid. I tried to put emotions aside and analyze which aspects of potty training would be useful tools for us on the path to potty independence.

For me, the purpose of potty training is to provide a clear plan of how to break our habit of relying on diapers and cloth training pants.

Diapers and cloth training pants can be useful tools while practicing elimination communication, but they can also become a crutch. Using an absorbent backup makes the child less aware of their bodily functions. And the backup can make both the child and parent less motivated to get to the potty in time.

I admit, I had become lazy. After months of on-the-ball full time EC, I had slipped into the habit of just waiting until the backup was wet and then taking my daughter to the bathroom to sit on the potty and change into a clean dry pair. Other than offering the potty at a couple key transition times, I wasn't proactively trying to get the pee in the potty.

To prepare for this monumental step of bidding the diapers farewell, I re-read Oh Crap! Potty Training. After re-reading it with more potty learning experience under my belt, I no longer think it's a very good fit for families who have practiced elimination communication. It is very much written for an audience that has relied completely on diapers for their child's entire life and is now making the drastic jump to potty training.

There are some other potty training resources that are better fits for EC'ing families.

The Tiny Potty Training Book by Andrea Olson is a good option for families who are ready to wrap up EC or have done some amount of elimination communication with their baby. It provides more realistic expectations by breaking up potty training into two main phases: (1) the potty training experience and (2) ongoing movement towards potty independence. It also provides tips on teaching the skills necessary for potty independence. And it covers preparing the bathroom environment for independence. The section on prompting a child to use the potty, based upon the 4 roads to potty time, sounds a lot like EC.

Side Note: The one thing I strongly dislike about The Tiny Potty Training Book is that it encourages moms to stop nursing their toddlers to sleep and to night wean. In my experience, it is perfectly possible for children to be night dry while still nursing at night. With my son, we stopped using diapers at night when he was 19M. At first he would wake once at night asking to potty. Pretty soon he stayed dry all night without using the potty, while still nursing every 2-3 hours at night. My daughter has been night dry since 13M, with still nursing on demand day and night. Both my kids also have a water bottle they keep with them in bed. They are free to drink the water bottle right before bed and when they wake at night.

Andrea of Go Diaper Free also offers an online video class called Wrapping Up EC. I took the class when I was pregnant with my daughter and just re-watched it. The video class covers the elements I mentioned above: preparing the bathroom environment, allowing the child to practice necessary skills, etc.

The Wrapping up EC class is not purely about potty training. It presents three possible approaches you could take: Pure EC, Hybrid Plan, and Potty Training (for which it provides a discount code for purchasing The Tiny Potty Training Book). Maybe if this class had been around sooner I would have had an easier journey with my son! Receive 15% off the class with coupon ECPEESY15.

Go Diaper Free Wrapping up EC Class

When We are Saying "Goodbye" to Diapers and Training Pants

Rather than choosing an arbitrary age for saying "goodbye" to diapers and cloth training pants, I based it upon my daughter's abilities and having a stable living condition.

We will be living in our current apartment in Vietnam for the next month, which provides us some time to settle into a new routine. The following month and a half we will also be in Vietnam, but in different areas of the country.

It occurred to me that Vietnam is a good place to take this step since many young toddlers go diaper-free. So if we happen to have a miss in public, which is my biggest fear, it won't be as "looked down upon" as it would be in the USA. Back home, people might think, "Why isn't your baby wearing a diaper!". But here they might just smile and shrug.

Oh Crap! Potty Training did a good job of reminding me that it's respectful towards my child to honor her capabilities and trust her, even if she is not perfect at this yet.

My daughter loves routines. When she gets dressed in the morning she also brushes her hair and brushes her teeth. If I forget to offer her deodorant she will remind me. I never intended for my one-year-old to wear deodorant, but she sees me put it on and wants to be part of the ritual. So I say "di-di-di" as I dab it towards her armpits. Luckily, it's all-natural without any toxic ingredients.

The fact that her routines are really becoming ingrained is the main reason that I want to stop using backup now.

We have been cloth diapering her since birth, but recently we have also been using pull-on Mamy Poko disposable diapers. I bought a pack when we were all sick in Thailand and one pack turned into ten. We have been using cloth training pants at home and disposable pull-ups for nighttime and outings, ever since we mailed home her fitted cloth diapers.

She knows how to say "diaper" and recognizes disposable diapers at the grocery store. She has gotten accustomed to changing into a disposable diaper for leaving the house or for bedtime, and that's a habit I want to break before it gets any more set as "how we do things".

At 20-months-old she is skilled at undressing and sitting down onto the potty. And everyday she's saying new words!

Where We are at Before Saying "Goodbye" to Diapers

Here's a snap shot of where we are currently at:

  • She sometimes initiates by walking to the bathroom, pushing down her diaper, and peeing in the shower.
  • She signals her need to eliminate right before bed and in the morning by blowing raspberries.
  • She is dry through naps and normally dry in the morning (without needing to pee in the potty at night)
  • She nurses on demand day and night and has a water bottle with her in bed
  • We catch the morning wake-up pee with a pee party (her on her potty and me on the toilet)
  • We catch random other pees based on offering the potty or shower at transition times
  • We change her training pants or diaper as soon as we notice it is wet
  • We have caught less than 10 poops in the potty in the past 14 months. This was my main hesitation with ditching backups. We do change her diaper or trainers immediately, before she even sits down.

How We are Saying "Goodbye" to EC Backup

Before taking this leap and saying "goodbye" to backup (diapers and trainers), I wanted to have a clear plan.

In using potty training as a tool during the potty learning journey, I am keeping in mind that potty training is neither the beginning nor the end. My child is already familiar with the potty and its intended use. And learning will continue even after potty training.

In potty training the progression is:

Clueless > I peed > I'm peeing > I need to go pee

My daughter is past "clueless" and "I peed" and somewhere within "I'm peeing" and "I need to go pee". Our goal is to get her to consistently act on the sensation of needing to eliminate by walking to the potty and sitting down.

The piece of potty training advice that is most applicable to families who practice elimination communication is:

As soon as your child starts to pee on the floor, get her to the potty and try to catch part of the pee in the potty.

This teaches the child to move to where the potty is located. For us it's always in the bathroom. It also teaches the association that the act of peeing/pooping should be done on the potty.

First, I will share with you the plan I wrote before we said "goodbye" to diapers. Then I will tell you how it actually went!

(1) Bare Bottomed and Leading to the Potty

I plan to do one bare-bottomed teaching day, or maybe only half a day, depending upon how it goes. I don't think we need an extended time bare bottomed since my daughter is already aware of eliminating and the sensation of needing to eliminate. I would like to catch a poop in the potty before moving on to the next block, since we haven't been catching poops.

It's okay for me to prompt if I see an obvious pee pee dance, but I also want to allow her room to initiate.

I will start in the morning, right after our wake-up pee, by explaining that she is bare bottomed so that she can practice peeing and pooping in her potty.

(2) No More Nighttime Backup

Wool Puddle Pad and Blanket for Nighttime Potty Training

We will no longer use diapers or any other absorbent backup at night.

I prepared the bed with a wool puddle pad and a blanket layered over it. We will also use this set up when she sits on the couch. We are still using the same XL wool puddle pad from Little Bunny Bear that she used as a newborn.

She has been night dry since 13-months-old, but she has been peeing in her disposable diapers some mornings ever since we moved from Malaysia to Vietnam and her circadian rhythm has been off. But I think we can get back on track, so I'm not worried about nights or naps.

(3) Wearing Loose Boxers at Home

H&M Girl's Boxers for Potty Training

Oh Crap! Potty Training recommends having your child go commando (pants/shorts/skirt with nothing under) for a couple weeks. But commando at home doesn't make sense for our family. We live in hot climates and my kids pretty much just wear underwear or training pants at home.

If I were to dress my daughter in shorts or skirts at home she would immediately think we were going out and would be very disappointed when we didn't, "go, go, go!".

Going commando serves two purposes: (1) a single layer of clothing is easier to manipulate, (2) it feels distinctly different than wearing a snug fitting diaper.

I decided to have my daughter wear loose breezy boxer style underwear at home. It's a single layer, doesn't feel like a diaper, and bonus is that she'll be dressed like her brother! The boxers fit her loose, which will make it easy for her to push them down.

I bought her a 5 pack of girl's boxers size 1.5-2 years at H&M. I probably should have gotten two packs!

If we were back home I would have gotten her City Threads Girls Boyshorts Underwear. I love City Threads kids underwear. They are high quality, cotton, made in the USA, and start from size 18-24M. My son wears the boys boxers.

I prepared her bathroom basket with clean boxers and cloth wipes and hid it away until after the bare-bottomed day.

(4) Commando for Short Outings

Toddler Skorts

Skort with Attached Boxers for Potty Training Outings

For short initial outings I bought her some skorts that she can wear commando. They are like skirts with built in boxers. That way she will still feel breezy, but won't flash anyone. I figure if we're going to potty train, we might as well make it enjoyable, so super cute skorts it is!

She has been wearing her interlock wool diapers covers as bottoms when we leave the house, but those would not be comfortable to wear commando and I'm afraid she might forget that there isn't a diaper underneath. I plan to let her wear them again once diaper-free outings are going well.

She only had two pairs of cotton shorts, so that's why we bought cotton skorts. If your toddler already has clothing, use what you have!

(5) Diaper-Free Bag for Outings While Potty Training

Purse Packed for Potty Training Toddler

What I packed for First Outing with Potty Training Toddler

I packed my Wanderers Travel Co double-zip purse with items we might need when leaving the house. A double-zip purse is perfect for me, since I can pack my essentials in one compartment and items for my toddler in the other compartment. I wrote a blog post a while back on Packing a Diaper Free Toddler Bag.

I didn't pack a travel potty since I just hold her on the big toilet seat when we are out and about. Plus, here in Vietnam, the public bathrooms sometimes have little toddler-sized toilets! To see kid's restrooms around the world, follow me on Instagram @ecpeesy.

For our first diaper-free outing I packed:

I kept it simple, since we were only going to the indoor play area at our apartment complex.

(6) Continue until Going Smoothly (at least two weeks), Then Underwear

We will continue with boxer style underwear at home and commando skorts or cotton shorts for out and about until things are going smoothly. At least two weeks. Maybe a month.

Sometime after that we can switch to regular underwear for home and away. We already have Komfi Baby organic cotton underwear. I didn't want to put my daughter straight into those, as she has gotten accustomed to peeing in them while wearing them over her Under the Nile organic cotton training pants. We were doing the double-layer in order to get a good fit.

I also ordered a couple pairs of organic cotton underwear from CHOI Organic Cotton & Eco Lifestyle here in Vietnam.

How it Went Ditching the Diapers and Training Pants

First Diaper-Free Outing 20 Months Old Toddler

In summary, here's how it went down:

My daughter decided: Forget all those complicated steps! I will wear boxers alone at home and under a skort when going out.

The bare-bottomed phase lasted about 10 minutes. My daughter decided to drastically simplify the process and just go straight to wearing boxers style underwear. And that's okay. I've been following her lead this entire potty learning journey.

She whizzed through the first four blocks of Oh Crap! Potty Training in one day. The next step is consistent self-initiation. It ended up being not so much potty training, and more just that we made the switch from diapers and training pants to boxers.

I will spare you all the details, but the first week being diaper-free went well.

One thing that seemed to really make a difference was explaining to her that, "Today you are going to practice peeing and pooping in your potty". I guess sometimes it's as simple as telling her exactly what I want her to do. "Walk to the bathroom, push down your boxers, and sit on the potty."

The first morning, after her wake-up pee in the potty, she held her pee for a really loooong time. By the next morning we were back to our normal routine of catching pees in the potty.

There have been catches and misses (of both kinds). There have been a couple pee puddles at the indoor play area at our apartment complex, but we cleaned up and moved on.

The highlight was when she initiated going to the bathroom and used her potty independently once on her first day diaper-free!

Any time that she started peeing on the floor I would take her hand and lead her to the bathroom singing, "When I need to go pee, I run run run to the potty". It's a little song from the Tiny Potty board book by Andrea Olson. It really helped to dissipate any tension.

The main thing I learned was that it doesn't do any good to try to force her to use the potty if she doesn't feel like it. Sometimes she doesn't want to sit on the potty when she wakes up from a nap or before leaving home, and it's best just to respect that.

I learned that my daughter can hold her pee for a long time, as in a two hour outing plus a three hour nap, before finally peeing upon wake-up.

By day 7 we finally had our first miss-free day. It was a team effort with both Mama and Dada offering the potty.

All naps and nights have been dry since we stopped using backup.

I'm proud of all of us for taking this big step on the potty learning journey. Even her brother has been helping with cleaning up pee puddles!

Consistently getting to the potty on time and complete independence will come with time. For now, we've done our best to lay the foundation.

Resources for Wrapping up Elimination Communication


That wraps up our path from elimination communication towards potty independence. You may also want to see our list of Early Potty Training Supplies.

About Heidi Avelino

Heidi is passionate about spreading awareness of elimination communication and natural cloth diapering. She is an environmentalist and strives to live a minimalist and zero-waste lifestyle. Heidi practiced EC with each of her three children. Her eldest son and her daughter have reached potty independence. She is currently practicing EC with and cloth diapering her youngest son.


  1. Angie on January 27, 2020 at 6:23 pm

    A great, incredibly detailed, and thoughtful blog post. I appreciated your openness to share your journey, as well as the many resources you mention. The mix of different toilet learning methods is interesting. Why do it all one exact way, right? I like how you mention that every child is different. That is so true! Thanks for sharing. My second child is much different from my first. She is more independent and resists when I offer her the potty, but likes to sit on it herself. I’ll be started a more potty training approach in the next few days because I think she is ready for that and wants to do things independently. She already mounts and dismounts from the potty herself as well as attempt to pull up her pants when she’s wearing them. I use potty leggings at home almost all the time, and I tried to remove the pad folded cloth diaper and I think she could tell the difference. That cloth diaper was a barrier to her I believe. She knew it was there and that she wouldn’t be able to use the potty with it still on her, but she didn’t know how to take it off.

    She’s almost 14 months old, so let’s see how it goes!

  2. Heidi Avelino on January 28, 2020 at 9:30 pm

    Thanks for reading, Angie! Allowing for independence is such an important aspect that sometimes gets overlooked by parents practicing elimination communication. I’m really glad that we blended in Montessori Toilet Learning. It turned out that the “potty training” experience wasn’t really necessary for us. It ended up being more that we made the switch to underwear.

    My two kids have very different personalities, as well!

    It sounds like things are going well with your daughter. 14-months-old is a great age to allow for more independence in the process! She will feel so proud when she can do things herself.

  3. Francisca on March 9, 2020 at 5:40 am

    Boys are less interested in being clean. Sorry, I never noticed even as babies that my boys cared whether they had a full diaper or not. Yes, during the elimination, there might be some discomfort, but afterwards, it was indifference. Same goes for potty training my toddler boys. No problem for them wet pants or with full diapers. Especially while playing, they just do not pay any attention to the pants. Boys are very focused on activity from little on to adulthood!

  4. Sara on August 13, 2020 at 11:24 am

    I did EC from birth with my daughter. When she turned one she always asked me without me prompting her, although we did use a night nappy. But… during those 12 months from 1 to 2 she regressed many times, to the point that i put her back in nappies when she was two just for pees and we potty trained again at two and a half. A lot of friends commented that she maybe was not ready the first time. Im happy i listened to her through her and that my expectations have been totally crashed now she is three and she still wears night nappies… i take her in the night but there is too many misses to not wear a nappy.
    Its a slow progress and that’s ok. Thank you for you post, it’s nice to see it was not just me…