Potty signs with Rose

Like a mediocre general, I’m always fighting the last war. I assume that what was difficult the last time will be difficult again and what was easy, will be easy. I’m usually wrong.

When Julian was little, I had all the time in the world to do potty signs. For nearly seven months, we were mostly living alone and I was seldom working beyond my own desk. I could spend an hour with him bare-bottomed, to learn the sometimes-subtle signs suggesting it was time to pee or poop. I could carry Julian (and his potty) everywhere with ease. I could drop everything when the moment arrived. Or I could wait for the right moment.

It went pretty well. He used the potty steadily from age six months. A nine months, nine out of ten morning poops were in the potty (though our accuracy rate fell later). He used the potty on trains and airplanes and in restaurants and bars.

And even though Julian was not potty-independent earlier than the average boy, I would never have missed out on doing potty signs — my name for a traditional practice many American mothers call elimination communication. We saved hundreds of diapers and side-stepped hundreds of messy bottoms. We had fun. And when it was time to wear knickers, I never had to explain, ‘You’ve been peeing and pooping in your diaper, but now it’s time to do that in the potty.’ He knew that already.

Determined as I was to use potty signs with Rose and Jacob, I couldn’t imagine how I would ever be able to spend all that time on it with twins and with a toddler who still needs attention of all kinds, including potty-related attention. (Never ask a three year-old: Do you have to pee? Just announce that it’s time to pee. When will I learn?)

But I was wrong. So far, potty signs with Rose is easy. It’s nothing like the last war. No matter how many times parents-of-many tell me, I simply forget: your second child is not like your first and your third is not like your second. I don’t know why I never get it.

I took Rose to the potty for the first time when she was just past six months old. One week later, I’d lost count of the number of times she’d used the potty. Four poops one day, four in the potty. She has even used potty to pee in the middle of the night and goes back to sleep with a dry diaper.

So how does she do it?

It’s so simple. All you do is take her there. When she goes, I sing a short ridiculous potty song and make the American Sign Language sign for toilet. She smiles when she’s done.

We’re using a small Baby Bjorn potty insert — the same one her brother, who is three, uses. It’s less cozy, but I wish I’d tried the insert when Julian was an infant. I washed so many potties! Now we flush. But I’m also using the infant Baby Bjorn potty that sits on the floor, too, just like I did with Julian, and that works too.

Enough about the furniture.

Here’s how to start.

1. Go Bare-Bottomed.

Spend some time with a bare-bottom — the baby’s, I mean. I know this sounds like work, and it is. What about the floor, the rug, the cold weather, the scratchy grass, your email? It’s a bit of a hassle. So let me encourage you. One, you don’t need to do it much. Two, it’s worth any time you can give it.

How often do they need to go diaper-free? The babies are six months old and I’ve done it once. With Julian, I tried lots of time diaper-free (mostly lying in my lap, nursing) but didn’t learn more. When Jacob and Rose were three or four months old, I chose a warm winter day and set them on a pretty-clean wood floor with lots of light cotton cloths about. I was alone and gave them my full attention. And we just played and nursed, for perhaps an hour

What did I learn? Two things. One, they pee often, and you just don’t know how often that is, until you take the diaper off for an hour or so to watch. Two, they squirm, cry, chatter, and give you meaningful looks—with the eyes—before, during, and after they pee and poop. With poops, of course, there is often grunting and little red faces and grimacing, too.

But, you may ask, babies squirm, cry, and chatter all the time. Who says they’re peeing? You’ll find out about your own baby. I found that the vast majority of these little fussy expressions, for lack of a better word, were about potty time. Julian had a loud, sharp pee cry. And in time I realized he would cry before peeing. We caught lots of pees that way. Rose will look up at me and stop nursing or squirm away, crying, when she has to pee.

Once you know the signs, take the baby to the potty. Wait a minute or two. If she cries and objects after that, she doesn’t need to go.

2. Use Timing

The second thing to do is use the clock. I don’t mean take the baby every fifteen minutes — although anyone teaching a toddler potty-independence knows that a regular sit-down is a good method. That’s too often for your busy life. I mean use timing in a general way. For example, I take Rose to the potty on waking and she either pees or poops nearly every time.

That’s it. Beyond these tips (and I commend Ingrid Bauer’s book, Diaper Free!) you are the expert of your baby when it comes to potty signs.

That said, two more things to watch out for.

The double pee. I take her, she pees, she squirms instead of nursing, and I take her again, perhaps ten minutes later. Big pee.

The nursing poop. I take her on waking, she pees, she doesn’t poop. And once she starts nursing, it’s time to poop.

The pee plus poop. Sitting down to do one or other often seems to produce both. Handy.

What about Jacob?

Jacob doesn’t get it yet. He sits there and looks amused, but that’s it. One single huge daily poop tends to wake him up each morning, so I’m usually too late to offer the potty. But I’ve started to take him right after I find the poopy diaper, to build an association between the poop and the potty. He just smiles at me, happy to have pooped, happy to look me in the eye while I squat there chatting like a mad woman. One day he’ll learn how fun potty signs can be. Maybe Rose will tell him. He could tell her how much fun it is to eat egg yolk with sea salt. But that’s another story.

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