“Elimination Communication” — When Children Poop In Public

This weekend, a friend of mine posted the following on her Facebook wall:

Just witnessed a new low in parenting. We were waiting in line for the ferry when the dad in front of us announced his kid had to go to the bathroom. Instead of, oh, I dunno, going to one of the many port-a-potties in the area, the mom whipped out her own port-a-potty and sat the kid down in it. Right there!

This experience, as it turned out, was not an aberration. Further research on her part, and then mine because I was utterly fascinated, revealed that “kids pooping and peeing in public” is a trend in potty-training called “elimination communication.” EC, as it’s referred to by the parents who practice it, is described on Wikipedia thusly:

…a toilet training practice in which a caregiver uses timing, signals, cues, and intuition to address an infant’s need to eliminate waste. Caregivers try to recognize and respond to babies’ bodily needs and enable them to urinate and defecate in an appropriate place (e.g. a toilet). Caregivers either use diapers as a back-up in case of misses, avoid the use of them altogether, or do a mixture of the two. EC emphasizes communication between the caregiver and child, helping them both become more attuned to the child’s innate rhythms and control of urination and defecation. The practice can be done full time, part time, or just occasionally. The term “elimination communication” was inspired by traditional practices of diaper-less baby care in less industrialized countries and hunter-gatherer cultures.[1] Some practitioners of EC begin soon after birth, although it can be started with babies of any age.

Now, I’m not a parent, but even I can recognize the validity in parents working on getting their kids to communicate their need to go to the bathroom as a key component of traditional potty-training. The difference is that EC often starts much earlier, before the child is able to talk or walk. On a part-time basis, with diapers used as backup, starting potty-training early doesn’t seem like such a crazy idea, if you put aside the fact that it might be nice to allow babies to be babies for a while. But it’s full-time, diaper-free EC — which leads to a kid popping a squat in a pocket port-a-potty in line for the Staten Island Ferry — that gives me serious pause.

My friend came across a blog written by a mom EC-training her child called Diaper Free Adventures. In one post, the mother writes about her child needing to pee while they were on the subway, so she whipped out her portable potty so that he could tinkle. On the subway, in front of everyone. Peeing. Crosses a line, no?

In another post, she shares that she set her portable toilet down in the middle of the sidewalk, about to set her child down on it so he could do his business. Before she got the chance to plant his bare bum down, a passerby threw money in it, assuming she was homeless (or maybe a street performer whose set hadn’t started yet?).

EC enthusiasts argue that this is no different than breastfeeding in public. They also say that people are perfectly okay with dogs pooping and peeing in public, so why shouldn’t babies be able to? My answer to that is that people are not dogs and we don’t put our babies on leashes either. Also, if Lucca could learn to piss and crap in a toilet, I would be training her to do so.

There is something to be said for the fact that in less industrialized countries, some kids so just go to the bathroom where they are, when they have to go. But, you know, in American we do have running toilets and diapers and other advancements that have made it so our bowel movements do not occur in public spaces. It’s one of the things I love about this country, dammit.

Maybe I will feel differently when I have kids and I potentially become one of those parents who makes baby food from scratch and breastfeeds in public until my little munchkin has a full set of teeth. But I doubt it. I know babies poop and pee and I am sure potty-training is far more difficult than I can imagine, but I also cannot imagine ever being cool with carrying around a portable toilet so my kid — as perfect and amazing and ingenious as he/she may be — can take a dump in the middle of Times Square.

Have you heard of elimination communication? What do you think about it?

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