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The Straight Poop on Green Potty Training

By Linda Acredolo, Ph.D. & Susan Goodwyn, Ph.D.

Check out parent chat rooms on the internet these days and here’s what you’re likely to
  • reports of more and more children nearing 4 and still in diapers,
  • news that diaper companies are accommodating older children with ever larger
    diapers (now up to size 7!),
  • nightmare stories from parents engaged in potty training power struggles they can’t
  • negative attitudes about potty training and an aversion to starting the task.

Welcome to the current state of potty-training in the United States today. Thanks to the
convenience of disposable diapers and misguided advice from pediatricians to wait until
children ask to be trained, the average age at which training is completed has risen to an
all-time historical high (over age 3) and is continuing to climb!

This delay in potty training is taking its toll on the environment. According to the
Environmental Protection Agency, 7.26 billion pounds of disposable diapers end up in US
landfills every year, with each diaper estimated to take up to 500 years to decompose.
What’s more, according to
National Geographic, the number of disposable diapers used in
one year in the United States alone (18 billion) laid end to end would circle the world 90
times!  And, unfortunately, many experts believe cloth diapers have different, but equally
undesirable consequences.

In reaction to the rising age of potty training and the environmental impact of diapers use,
parents are seeking “greener” alternatives.

Armed with the knowledge that babies in many countries around the world today are potty
trained during infancy, a small group of highly motivated parents and professionals
became advocates of what is now termed
“Elimination Communication” (also known as
the “Diaper Free Movement” or “Infant Potty Training”). With this approach, parents can
train infants within months of birth by holding a diaperless infant over a pot or sink and
making a “shhh” sound to trigger elimination.

Another early potty training method that has surfaced recently is the

which advocates the use of simple sign language to help babies break the communication
barrier and “tell” parents when they need to go. With this approach, babies can potty train
between 12 and 24 months.

Although the two approaches share an absolute conviction that waiting until the 3rd or 4th
year to start potty training is both unnecessary and harmful, they differ in fundamental

Different Goals
The main goal of Elimination Communication is to train infants within months of birth to
eliminate where and when the parent chooses, a goal reached through traditional
Pavlovian “classical conditioning” methods which train the infant’s body to automatically
begin elimination when positioned over a receptacle while parents make a certain sound.  

In contrast, the goal of the Baby Signs® Potty Training Program is to enable children
between 12 and 24 months to self-initiate visits to the potty using signs. In other words,
rather than being simply passive participants, using this program help toddlers take an
active role in their own training.

Different Methods
Elimination Communication requires very careful recording of the young baby’s elimination
schedule and the ability to read the baby’s physical signals so that the parent knows
when to bring the baby to an appropriate receptacle.

Although knowing a toddler’s schedule is helpful to parents using the Baby Signs® Potty
Training Program, potty training at this stage of development means that parents have
many more strategies at their disposal. They can talk with their children about potty use
and use books, songs and DVDs to teach their toddler the basic “script” for potty training.
Best, of all, children at this age like to imitate adults and are naturally motivated to follow
that script and be “a big kid” well before they turn two.

Different Practicality Concerns
Elimination Communication’s focus on early infancy and very careful scrutiny of
unconscious signals has made the process, rightly or wrongly, seem labor intensive to
parents—an impression which makes frazzled, first-year parents worry about its

In contrast, parents using the Baby Signs® Potty Training Program report that using a
small handful of signs and incorporating trips to the potty into daily routines didn’t require
a lot of planning or work. Once toddlers learn what to do they become enthusiastic about
potty time—thereby making the potty training experience easier and more fun for

Common Ground  
All this is not to say that the two approaches can’t work together. Parents determined to
avoid diapers even during the first year can begin with Elimination Communication, and if
they need to, can move on to the Baby Signs® method later. Also, parents who learn the
about Elimination Communication too late to try it can still potty  train  
Both approaches help parents “go green” by significantly reducing diaper use and helping
to reverse the unfortunate trend toward later and later potty training in the U.S.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Author Information
Child development experts Dr. Linda Acredolo and Dr. Susan Goodwyn are the authors of
the books Baby Signs, Baby Minds and Baby Hearts and creators of the Baby Signs®
Potty Training Program. The authors are regularly cited in national parenting magazines
and have appeared on Oprah, Good Morning America, The Today Show, The Doctors,
Dateline NBC and many others. For program information and links to their research,
please visit

Dr. Susan Goodwyn        Dr. Linda Acredolo
The Baby SignsŪ Potty Training Kit
Baby Signs Potty Training Program
The Baby SignsŪ Potty Training Kit
The Straight Poop on Green Potty Training