I am very blessed to be the mother of three beautiful boys ... the Big One (who has just turned 7) and three year old identical twins, affectionately known as the Shouty One and the Chubby Cheeks One. In three years of being the proud owner of a twinset I have lost count of the times people have said "Oh my, you've got your hands full". While this is invariably true, I can also say that being a parent of twins is marvelous in ways that parents of singeltons may not realise. My eldest (bless his cotton socks) is a needy and attention seeking little monkey who is very dependent on having an adult partner in crime for his adventures. Only this morning I have been asked to sit and watch several dreary Beyblade contests uploaded onto YouTube by his fellow über-nerds and expected to "oo" and "ah" along with him in all the right places. Yawn. And when I try to explain to him that Mummy would rather like to have breakfast he looks at me with puppy dog eyes expecting me to drop everything!
This is in big contrast to the Shouty One and Chubby Cheeks One who are very good at entertaining themselves and each other. I am not saying that having twins is a breeze ... far from it! In fact, those first 12 months will scar me physically, emotionally and psychologically for life!!! However, as they've moved from utterly dependent babies towards increasingly independent and self-reliant preschoolers I have started getting glimpses of light at the end of the tunnel! The two of them will happily play together for hours at a time, making up role plays and scenarios that as an amused bystander can be a joy to eavesdrop on! They share better than other 3 year olds I know (and some 7 year olds *cough, cough*!!!), and have learnt to take turns at an earlier age. I'm not saying that they've mastered this entirely. I still occasionally have to drag them off each other when all the caring, sharing social niceties have been tossed out of the window in exchange for a more primal wrestling and hair pulling contest! The point is that I am often surplus to requirements in their games! Yay... 5 minutes peace to enjoy a cuppa (or update this blog!).
This independence from me has been taken one step further of late with the long anticipated end of the nappy era! Just last month, I changed the very last diaper I will ever have to do (well, until I babysit for a friend or have grandkids, I suppose!). It's literally the end of an era. Seven whole years of wiping, washing and spending ridiculous amounts of money, time and effort to keep those 3 little behinds squeaky clean! I would estimate that is approximately 15,000 nappies between my husband, the occasional babysitter and myself. Phew.
My experience of potty training twins has been an interesting one. The Big One set the bar impressively high, and so my expectations were that this potty training malarkey was an easily mastered thing. He showed all the classic signs of readiness at around 2 years, and after a relatively painless week of hovering around him with a plastic potty he was dry day and night by 26 months. So when the twins turned two, I went out and bought them matching frog potties, lots of underwear, all manner of fancy pull-ups, and waited eagerly for them to show willing. And waited... And waited...
Sure, they were willing to sit and pose for photos on their potties (wearing nappies mind you). But mention the idea of using them as intended and I was met with blank refusal, denial and even hysteria from the Shouty One!
So, I had to rethink my strategy. And 18 months later we have finally achieved our goal of ditching the nappies. This is what I have learned from the experience...
1. You can take a horse to water but you cannot make it drink.
The Shouty One and Chubby Cheeks One are identical. They've got the same genetic makeup and have reached physical milestones within days if not hours of each other (literally... they both cut their first tooth on the same day!). So I was delighted when both boys started to show physical signs of readiness at around the age of 2 and a half. They were both:
- going for a reasonable amount of time (i.e. a few hours) with a dry & clean nappy.
- getting coordinated enough to pull up and down their own pants, and sit on a potty chair without much help.
Their language skills were also developing well enough that they could follow simple instructions/directions and answer simple questions. I took both this physical & verbal readiness as a cue and decided to begin potty training by staying home for a few days and letting the boys run about with no diapers. Big mistake. What I hadn't factored in was emotional readiness. Both boys were going through a particularly negative phase ("No!" being the word of the moment) and were not going to cooperate regardless of the equal parts praise & persuasion I heaped upon them.
My boys are both very strong willed and until the time was right for them, they were not going to participate. This is an important thing to remember when toilet training any child, singleton or twin, and it is only with the power of hindsight that I am able to realise why I had such an easy ride ditching nappies with the Big One. He was a chatterbox from very early on, very able to understand and follow directions. He was also quite dexterous with good gross and fine motor skills. But more importantly he was also relatively compliant at the age of 2... it was closer to three when we started with the battle of wills with him and thankfully he was already toilet trained by then!
With the realisation above, it was inevitable that I was never going to be able to get both boys toilet trained at the same time. They are individuals with very different personalities (something that Him Indoors and I have worked hard to allow the development of). Making the decision to train them separately was actually quite liberating as I had been worrying about keeping one in diapers while focusing on the other, but in actual fact it was really the best thing to do and allowed them both to be considered as individuals. Therefore, last August when the Chubby Cheeks One started expressing an interest the potty 1 month off his third birthday, we jumped straight in with an intensive week of potty training. No diapers at home at all!
With the Big One we had greeted every pee & poo on the potty with a veritable fanfare and round of applause, often followed up with kisses, stickers and even phone calls to the adoring grandparents!!! However, it became pretty clear early on that this was not appropriate when toilet training twins. Every time the Chubby Cheeks One had a potty success that we celebrated, the Shouty One became even more resistant... almost considering our praise of his brother as an indirect reproach of his lack of success. So, we definitely had to adapt our strategy and greeted the successes with a slightly more muted level of praise, especially when the Shouty One was in earshot!
My theory about waiting for emotional readiness proved right, and the Chubby Cheeks One trained relatively painlessly over a few days at home, and was dry at night within a few weeks.
Once the twins turned 3, the number of times I was asked if they were toilet trained yet seemed to grow exponentially week-on-week! It's almost as if there's an unspoken rule that kids should be toilet trained by 3... or else. That's all well and good, unless you are the parent of a 3 or 4 year old that hasn't heard of this rule and isn't planning on playing that game anyway! For example, we considered a Caribbean cruise from the local port of Galveston for the Thanksgiving Holiday, but there was no way we were going to pay several thousand dollars for a holiday in which only two thirds of our kids were eligible for the kids club (exclusively no diapers or pull ups).
I tentatively asked our pediatrician whether I should be concerned at the Shouty One's blank refusal to use the potty at the age of 3 and a quarter, and while he said "No", he did follow up with "but if he's still not potty trained by 3 and a half we can prescribe him laxatives". What?!!!!! He wasn't constipated. Just stubborn and scared to give up his diapers.
So with that at the back of my mind I decided that we needed to up our game in the form of bribery! There are probably plenty of child experts out there that will tell you that this is wrong and no doubt setting a bad precedent for the future, but I prefer to consider it "positive reinforcement". I definitely don't believe in punishing or threatening a child in order to achieve success with things like potty training, but carrot instead of stick is fine in my book.
However, sticker charts were poo-pooed (excuse the pun), candy became old hat and frankly we were running out of options. The Shouty One is as stubborn as a mule and he really did not want to give in. And this was all that was in the way of potty training success... a battle of wills. I had to make the outcome (i.e. using the potty) so worth his while that he would give in.
Therefore, I took it one (desperate) step forward and bought all three boys some shiny new remote control motorbikes they had greatly admired on a previous shopping trip! I showed the boys the toys, let them touch them and try the noise buttons, but then put them high on a shelf. They were to earn these new toys by cooperating with Mummy.
The Big One was tasked with chores to earn his, and the twins were tasked with telling Mummy or Daddy when they needed to pee or poop and then cooperating with going to the potty. This was obviously a walk in the park for the Chubby Cheeks One who had mastered using the potty months previously, and so he got his motorbike pretty quickly. And then after a few hours of watching his brother play with the new toy, the penny finally dropped. It was like a light going on! I use the potty ... I get the toy. And Hallelujah, my adorable, stubborn strong-willed Shouty One gave in at last!
Over the next few days he was allowed to play with the bike as long as he cooperated with going on the potty, but it was put back on the shelf when he didn't. A week later he was dry day and night and now 2 months on he's more reliable than his brother!
This technique may seem quite harsh, and I guess you would have to judge your own child's personality and development stage before trying something similar, but it worked brilliantly for us!
So now we are out of nappies entirely. We still have the occasional accident and my washing machine is still on the go most days, but I am delighted to have come through the other side of this challenge (relatively) unscathed.
And if you have found this page in desperation of ever getting your twins toilet trained... remember to keep it all in perspective. Your children WILL learn to use the potty. They WILL give up wearing diapers. There WILL be a day when they can use the toilet independently. IT WILL HAPPEN! Just be patient, flexible, and loving, remembering that your bright, independent and individual children will master this skill eventually! And one day soon, you will be able to sit back and reflect that it wasn't too bad ... was it!?