What did you do on your summer vacation? I potty trained my 2-year-old twins.
It was not very Instagrammable and it sure doesn’t sound like much of a vacation, but it’s an accomplishment I’m super proud of — especially because I figured it out without a ton of information available targeting my particular situation.
I should preface by saying this wasn’t my first rodeo. I’m a mom to three girls: Tatjana, going on 5, and twins Ofelia and Indira, 2 years and 3 months at “go time.” The first time around, I was certainly intimidated by the idea of potty training a kid. I was pregnant with twins, and might’ve naturally waited a little longer to start. But I realized there would never be a less stressful (or busy) time again in my life, and so I took a friend’s advice and used the book Oh Crap! Potty Training as my guide.
Within one day of starting the program — which focuses on letting the child run around naked for about three days until they recognize the sensation of peeing, helping them to the potty so they learn the social norm of going to the bathroom in the right place and eventually introducing clothes, then underwear last — Tati had gotten it down. She was 27 months old (the book recommends the somewhat early time frame of 20 to 30 months as the sweet spot for potty training, before a child develops their sense of free will and can reject your ideas), and it worked like a charm.
By the time I enrolled her at nursery school that fall at nearly 3 years old, the teachers were complimenting me on having potty trained her so well.
My second time around, I set out to use the same system but found there was limited information available on how to handle twins. Oh Crap! author Jamie Glowacki has a blog post about twins (key takeaways? Train them at the same time, and have an extra adult handy to help), but there are few additional resources available online.
So I set out to tackle this important milestone, adapting her ideology on the fly. Figuring Tatjana had done such a good job at 2 years and 3 months, I decided to start at exactly that same time with the twins. And so after an indulgent week-long vacation in Maine, eating lobster rolls and taking everybody to the beach, I buckled down for a second week off, dedicated to training up the girls.
Here’s everything I learned about the unenviable task of potty training twins. Spoiler alert: It was a lot harder than the first time, and took a little longer. It was touch-and-go for a while, but OMG, it worked!
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So how do you even know when to start potty training twins?
In my experience, starting at 2 years and 3 months was spot on. Your child can communicate the basics to you, they’re mature enough to alert you when they need or want something and they may be expressing curiosity about the toilet.
“I don’t look for readiness — I look for capability,” Glowacki tells PEOPLE. “Classic signs are interest in the toilet; they want to be in the bathroom with you. But we are very busy nowadays. We think the signs are going to become bigger. They won’t.”
Glowacki’s book says you can start as early as 20 months and recommends trying to do it before 30 months, at which point children begin developing their sense of free will (and possibly rebelling).
If one of your twins is telling you when they need their diaper changed, you can take this as evidence that it’s a good time to start.
Do you train twins at the same time? Or one at a time?
Any twin mom knows that their kids tend to imitate each other. So apart from any idea of instilling bad self-esteem in the kid you don’t train first, you’d be confident that they’d want to imitate any major such developments. Go ahead and do them at the same time. It’s just a couple of days, and it will all be over soon.
And try to remember that your twins may behave differently. “The No. 1 thing to remember when you are potty training twins is it’s not just a set of twins — you have two individual children,” Glowacki advises. “And all children are different.”
What do you need to get before you start?
I live in a house in New Jersey where the bathrooms are on the second floor, and so when I trained my first daughter, I kept one potty upstairs in the bathroom and one downstairs in the living room. Sounds gross? Well, it’s better that than having your kid pee (or poop) on the floor of your living room. And if you want to set your kids up for success, what seems to work best is just super fast access to a potty.
When it came time to train the twins, I bought two more. We now have two potties downstairs, and two potties upstairs. At the outset, my husband thought this was ridiculous overkill, but I knew Murphy’s Law would dictate that they’re likely to need to pee (or more) at the same time. And I’ve been proven right time and again. Don’t cheap out — get a potty for each kid. If you’re in an apartment and the bathroom is close, two will do. If you have a larger house, just get four and thank me later. (Also, keep wipes everywhere.)
And this is not the place to go crazy letting your twins’ individual personalities shine. “Get two of the same potty chairs. Don’t create a specialized potty chair for each kid,” Glowacki recommends. “This eliminates all the drama.”
And trust me, there will be enough already.
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Unless you’re going full throttle with overnight training off the bat (which is a more advanced strategy), you’ll want to stock up on the easy-on-and-off diapers. Until your kid has gotten the hang of potty training, you don’t want to let them “have a break” with a diaper, but you will most likely want to use one for nap time and nighttime. Glowacki advises explaining to them that you’re putting a diaper on just for that purpose, so they don’t get mixed messages.
Also, be ready with a step stool for your kids, so they can wash their hands in the bathroom, and some undies (stashed away for the time being until you get to that phase in potty training) as a little fun perk. Glowacki advises avoiding underwear for the first few weeks until your children are solidly trained. On day one, underwear would feel too close to diapers, and might encourage accidents.
How do you start potty training?
On day one, the diapers come off, you get your kids naked and take it from there. Glowacki’s book recommends keeping your kids naked for a few days so that they can recognize the sensation of peeing for the first time (cozy diapers disguise that, so step one is just getting them to learn what peeing is all about), and helping them to the potty each time you see them doing the pee dance, or beginning to pee.
That first day, you ply them with a lot more juice and freeze pops than you normally would, so that they have to pee more and get all the practice they need in one day to begin recognizing new habits they’ll have to adopt.
Here’s the hard part: With even one child, Glowacki recommends putting your phone down for the entire first couple of days to devote your undivided attention to your child, so you can begin to spot their signals and help get them to the potty when they begin peeing. With twins, she recommends having a second adult present.
In my case, my husband was on a business trip that entire first week, so I found myself facing potty training mostly alone. During the day, I had help watching the kids, but you’re taking the lead — and you need to give them your undivided attention. Every time I thought I could steal a look at my work email, someone had an accident. Of course, one person on two kids is nearly impossible anyway, so at a certain point I moved to a divide-and-conquer strategy. One twin was in the kitchen making cookies with my mother, while the other sat in the living room with me watching The Lego Movie 2.
What if one twin is taking to it but the other isn’t?
The ultimate nightmare would be that one twin is totally on board with potty training and the other rejects it. I was worried that I’d found myself in that boat on day one.
Ofelia, my big talker who is very analytical, was not here for potty training at all — in fact, she seemed downright scared by the idea — whereas Indie, who’s a little quieter and mellower but crawled and walked first, was all about it.
(Glowacki suggests that this is probably no accident: The twin you put less pressure on is more likely to adopt the practice in a relaxed way, and being too attached to the end result can negatively impact training if you stress out your kids.)
All it took was helping Indie to the potty once before she started getting the hang of it. When it was time for her to poop (a whole ordeal unto itself, as kids often begin to poop more infrequently when you begin potty training, meaning there’s less time to help train them on how to do it), she went over to the potty, sat down and did it unprompted. She would pee once or twice an hour, and quickly understood where she needed to run to do it.
Ofelia, however, was holding it in as long as she could until she was crying in discomfort. I tried helping her to the potty and delicately but forcefully making her sit there to pee (would a hug help her relax? Playing patty-cake?) and it didn’t work at all. (Glowacki describes a great visual of trying to put a cat in a bucket of water — that’s what I was dealing with.) She held it so long she fell asleep on the couch with no diaper on, woke up and held it some more.
When she began crying for a diaper specifically, I had flashbacks to training my older daughter. My babysitter at the time felt bad that she was complaining and suggested I “give her a break” by letting her have a diaper for a while. But sticking to the book, I didn’t cave, and by the end of the day, the whining had given way to a kid who just ran to the potty when they needed to pee rather than ask for a diaper. I tried to stay the course this time, as well. Ofelia cried and would try to escape me when I tried to help her to the potty.
Meanwhile, since I was dealing with twins this time, I actually missed a couple instances where Indie had to go because I was so distracted by her sister. But eventually, I stopped pressuring Ofelia or even prompting her (you’re not supposed to “ask” your kids if they want to pee, and I realized I’d been inadvertently doing that). Then suddenly she was just going over there on her own.
Glowacki says it’s no crime to diaper up one twin and focus on the other if you’re having a really rough time. “If one is taking to it and the other is not, concentrate on the child who is taking to it,” she says. “That way they don’t start slipping, leaving you with two kids who aren’t fully trained. You can work on the other twin later.”
What do you do with siblings who want to help?
My older daughter Tatjana was very interested in helping teach her sisters. At first I resisted, and contemplated sending her out with Grandma so the twins could have some privacy when things started getting hairy. But after a long first day of training, she asked if she could show her sisters how to use the potty. I thought, “Sure, why not?”
Sure enough, Indira ran to sit alongside her and imitated her sister. Over the next couple days, I used Tati to help prompt the twins to go and she proved extremely helpful.
“Everybody wants to imitate their big sisters,” Glowacki says. “If 5-year-olds taught everybody how to potty train, I would be out of business.”
Once your kids understand the basic principles, it’s time to put some clothes on so they can practice removing them (don’t forget, that’s a totally new task) and going out of the house without diapers on (so they can learn to hold it; I put a potty in the trunk of my car so we can pull over if needed). Then, introduce underwear once you’re confident they won’t mistake them for a diaper.
Day one was exhausting. Day two was all about refining these new habits. I was so proud when Ofelia called me from bed at 11 p.m. that first night to ask me to take off her diaper so she could pee in the potty, and woke up with a dry diaper that next day. Although I had reserved the whole week for training, by the end of day three, the twins both got it. Within a week, we were able to take them out of the house with confidence. They went to the little fair in town, held it the whole time and then came running in to pee when they got home. They even started peeing and pooping at the same time. Twin powers much? (Also, P.S. — I told you you’d need two potties.)
I definitely got peed on a few times. Poop got on the floor a couple times before I recognized those more subtle signs. But a couple days in, like magic, they both got it.
And OMG, thank God it’s over!