Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tales from the Twin Trenches: Potty Training Twins

Composed while in the throes of potty training our twosome---now nearly seven years ago---this piece was composed to describe our experience and to offer some encouragement. For those with tinier twosomes, enjoy!

Invariably, when out and about with my two-year-old twins, a compassionate (and maybe just a wee bit nosey) stranger asks, "How in the world do you do it?"

The fun part for me? Deciphering to which "it" of the perceived twin-raising challenges the curious bystander is referring.

Is "it" the dually-provoked sleep deprivation of the first few weeks? Is "it" the inevitable division of Mommy’s energy between two fully dependent infants/toddlers? Or is "it" simply the day-to-day, down and dirty rigors of juggling a double stroller, two carseats, a packed-to-the-gills diaper bag, and two sets of distinct needs?

The truth? "It" doesn’t get any dirtier or more rigorous than potty training twins.

More truth? As with every other aspect of being a twin Mommy, your preparation, mindset and positive, yet realistic outlook will make all the difference in how you perceive, and accomplish, the challenge.

Preparation. Boy Scouts must grow up to be great twin Daddies. By adhering to the wisdom of their "Be Prepared" motto, we can make our twin-Mommying lives oh-so-much easier. Get your potty training ducks in a row.You need some tools. Here’s what I would suggest:

At least two. When we told our friends with single babies we were starting the potty training process, many asked if we thought two potties were necessary. After all, what is the likelihood that both twins actually would need to go at the same time? Two hours into Day One of our potty-training: As Sarah sat wee-weeing on one potty, I chased Darren; scooping up the trailing poo nuggets bare-handed as he trotted to the second potty. They may and will need to go simultaneously. Don’t add to your twins’ apprehension about the process by not having a receptacle ready to receive bodily output at any given time. Invest in more than two if you wish. You may want to have potties strategically placed throughout your house. We made two work for us by moving them from room to room as needed We did have toilet paper or a box of tissues in each of the locales where potties tended to reside. Baby wipes aren’t a bad idea either, but make sure they’re the flushable kind.

*Books & Videos. Get your twins familiar with the idea of becoming "big boys & girls" by exposing them to some of the books &/or videos on the market for that very purpose. Also let the twins watch you use the potty. Now is not the time for modesty. Monkeys see, monkeys do.

*Familiarity with a Wide Variety of Potty-Training Methods.
We read books. We searched the web. We read the pamphlets from our pediatrician. We listened to each and every individual who "knew how" to potty train a child successfully, and sometimes, rapidly. Stored all of that information in our parental memory banks, ready for quick retrieval as situations demanded. And demanded they did. Remember the Boy Scouts: Be Prepared.

*Training Pants or Cotton Underpants/Panties.
At least 6-8 pairs per baby. I couldn’t do laundry fast enough. For the first time since the babies’ birth, with the onset of potty training, I did so much laundry that there were often loads in which I had not a single pair of my own underwear. Hello, Oxy-Clean. Now here’s my soapbox moment: Think twice before you invest in "pull-up" style disposable training pants for your twins. They are essentially diapers. Within a day or two of beginning potty training, many children decide it is easier to just pee and poo in the "pull-up" than make the rush for the potty. If you are training both twins simultaneously, you’re twice as likely to have at least one "lazy" pottier. If Twin A sees Twin B letting loose in their Pull-up, chances are, Twin A will soon start to follow suit.The twins (and subsequently, you) will make no progress; you’ll only prolong their diaper dependent days. Nasty as it sounds, the twins need to sense their bodily refuse going into the void or against their skin in order to motivate the potty deposit.

*Clorox Wipes, Resolve Carpet Cleaner, Lysol Disinfectant Spray.
You are going to live in a third-worldesque kind of squallor for a while. Do your best to try and sanitize as you can. (Brand names are unimportant. The role of the product is.)

*Talk Up the Process with Your Twins.
Let them know a mile marker is coming. Soon, they won’t need diapers anymore. For weeks before we began training, we would ask our twosome, "What are you going to say when you have to go wee-wee or poo-poo?" They’d parrot back, "M--o--m--m-y, D--a--d--d--y, I have to go p--o--t--t--y!" Of course, it didn’t work as effectively as we had hoped, but it was darned precious. I do believe that verbalization of concepts helps toddlers get their mindset....now for yours...

Mindset. You and your husband need to decide some key factors before you jump into potty training with both feet. As always with raising twins (or a single child), Mommy & Daddy absolutely must be a united front. Here are some good things to determine before the diapers go bye-bye:

*The First "Method" to Try. For us, we felt pretty good about the "Naked From the Waist Down" theory. Basically, the theory postulates that it is disconcerting for your waste to go out into your living space unhampered. By keeping the babies "free" on the bottom, they are highly inspired to "put things where they go." Some of our success early on was due to that method. We also used "potty beeper" to dictate potty-time on occasion, typically when parent instigated potty-times were met with confrontation. We read books, offered stickers, and the like. Be ready with your ample supply of theories. With twins, what works for one, doesn’t necessarily work for the other. And then, it’ll flip flop. Don’t get bogged down sticking to one method. Roll with the flow. There will be plenty of flow, believe me.

*Your Commitment.
We made a declaration that as of January 12th, we were wearing only big boy underpants and big girl panties. (Note: We did make a wise adjustment early on when we realized just how challenging it is for the kids to develop a sense of "timing". We would allow diapers during sleeping times: naps and at night. It became clear we would deprive them of any sense of victory by not giving them adequate time to "learn" their holding skills better before de-diapering during sleep time.) That said, during waking hours, we have stood our pee-soaked and poo-littered ground. Waking hours means waking hours. We selected a date to begin potty training when our out-of-house obligations for the foreseeable future were few, or non-existant. Church, grocery trips, playground forays, all went on hold until some accident-free days occurred. Dangling the out-of-house adventures proved to be quite a motivational tool (call it a bribe if you will) toward potty-appropriate behavior. Your commitment may become more tough than you anticipate. You may need to show some flexibility. If your kids get sick or an out-of-house emergency arises, you may decide to relent, and use a diaper(s) temporarily. If so, be sure to explain to your twins that the situation is temporary and you’ll be back with the program soon. Just because one gets sick doesn’t mean both need diapers. If you can stay the course with one healthy twin, do.

*The Hype. Don’t believe it. "Girls train quicker." "Boys are slow to poo-poo in the potty." "You can do it in a weekend." "You can’t train two at once." All of the aforementioned proved false for us. As far as training two simultaneously goes, you do need to decide if you want twice the mess for half as long, or half the mess for twice as long. It’s your family’s decision. Give me double the mess, half the time, thank you.

Positive, Yet Realistic Outlook. There are going to be accidents. Lots of them. Each one brings you closer to the last one you’ll ever have to clean up.

Eventually, you will have to leave the house with no diapers on. Plan a short trip, pack dry clothes, and as the old Nike slogan says, just do it. Always remember the worst that can happen is just an out-of-house clean up. Okay, maybe the car or a public place isn’t the ideal accident environment, but you cannot raise hermits. If it makes you feel better, here’s some positive outlook fodder: Ours have never had an out-of-house accident. We waited to venture out until we had experienced a few (non-consecutive) accident-free days. Your twins, once they have developed some holding stamina, may surprise you. Of course, always attempt the pre-outing potty visit. You’ll all feel better.

Here’s the ultimate positive reality:

Potty training is messy. Potty training is time-consuming. Potty training happens. Despite all my Pollyanna-isms, and the hope springing eternal in my sagging, post-twin nursing breast, I do not believe in a legitimate, universally-applicable "trick" to successful potty training. Just keep trying all the methods you can, and see if something works for your twins.

The process seems akin to adults trying to stop smoking...some can go cold turkey, some need the patch, others eat to satisfy the urge, some chew gum, some need hypnotherapy. Changing behavior is difficult, whether its smoking or using a diaper. (Nice comparison, eh?) Everyone is an individual, and different things are effective for different people. You may well discover as we did, that works for one twin, doesn’t help the other.

I think we are all so determined to make potty training happen quickly, that we "find our method" and if it doesn't work as hoped, we quickly back-track, and declare that the child "wasn't ready to be potty trained".

My belief is, it just takes time. Potentially, lots of it. Whatever you do, don’t go back to diapers! What a mixed message that sends your twins. "We have confidence you can do this," then "Oh no, wait a minute, we don't think you can after all"...

Two weeks ago, I would have told you the key for training girls was stickers; and for boys, letting them run around naked from the waist down.

One week ago, I would have told you the secret for girls is a victory song followed by an animal cracker. For boys, getting to watch a favorite video.

Today? I know the true secret/key is endurance and patience on the part of the parents.

Throughout your potty training process, remember to praise your twosome unfailingly. Always realize, despite occasional twin-parenting missteps, potty training happens.

Wishing you and your family plural poo and pee placement success!

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Dana said...

I'm just trying to potty train one and I'm losing my mind! lol! DH of mine is not on board 100% and doesn't 'get it'. I'm sending him to your blog. :-)

See you on Tuesday!

Themommytsunami (angel) said...

I. Needed. This. Post.

I have twin two year old boys. Their dad and I are trying our hardest to approach this positively...but it seems like the boys think the potty is going to bite them!

You'd think since we've done this three times before (with singletons) but...twins are just. not. the. same.

Thanks. And good luck to you!


blueviolet said...

I can't even imagine doing it x2 at the same time. Consistency and like you said, sticking to it will win out in the end.

But the messiness...ripe, huh?

MandyE (Twin Trials and Triumphs) said...

Our girls are almost 20 months old, and I'm starting to think about beginning to think about (like that?) potty training. This is a great post to start to begin to think about getting my mind set...thank you! :)

rlooney said...

Thank you so much for your post. We are getting ready to potty train our boys.

cat said...

So I have one fully potty trained - he even sleeps dry and at almost three, the other refuses to poo. Never has. I am a whit's end.

RaJen said...

Hi, followed you over from BlogHer...This couldn't be more timely for me. We JUST! STARTED! potty training with our b/g twins. And oh my gosh, the fortitude required! I soooo want to put the boy back in diapers since he has more interest in cheering for his sister's elimination accomplishments than creating his own moments. Well, in a place other than his underwear. Or my lap.

Question: how old were yours when you started?