Up until several months ago, I knew nothing about potty training. I mean, how are my girls already old enough that I had to figure out potty training?? So I started digging around online. As with all of our other parenting decisions (sleep training, baby led weaning, a floor bed, getting rid of the pacifiers, etc.) we knew we wanted to encourage independence for the girls, chose what seemed most natural, straightforward and simple, and make any transition once and quick.
I am so glad I did, and I highly recommend it! Anyone who asks me about potty training, I immediately suggest they get and read Oh Crap! While the 3-day potty training method you can read about online had similar concepts, Oh Crap! was more robust and realistic, so I chose to focus on it (though I did pull some of the ideas from the 3-day method). The main ideas with this book is an intense focus on potty training over a short time frame to nail it down quickly. I appreciate that Oh Crap! encouraged a more child-led understanding of using the potty and embracing that this is an everyday task that needs mastered and doesn’t need rewards, punishments, sticker charts, potty watches or the likes tied to it.
When to Potty Train
I continually found 22 months come up as the age at which most toddlers were capable of potty training. Not to say that you can’t do it earlier (Montessori actually notes the sensitive period for toilet learning, when toddlers begin to show interest in the toilet, between 12-18 months) but you would need to see that your toddler was capable. After 22 months, both books were fairly confident they would be capable. And that’s just the bottom of the threshold with the books recommending anywhere between 22 and 30 months or three years.
I use the word “capable” because in my research I came to decide that I didn’t like the word “ready.” Some people seem to think that ready is when your kid starts seeming interested in you using the potty (envision a 12 month old playing with toilet water) or the other extreme that they have to be basically begging for no diapers and to use the potty instead. This is a broad spectrum.
“Capable” means that your child is physically able to sit herself on a potty (having her start mastering being able to raise and lower their pants on their own is plus), is ability to communicate in some form or fashion (doesn’t have to be verbal) to get their point across, and has some awareness of bowel movements.
Here are some of the questions I checked off before embracing potty training.
– Could the girls communicate their needs to me?
– Could they maneuver to and on/off a potty?
– Could they roughly manipulate their clothing to use the potty?
– Were their nerves formed that they were capable of being aware of and controlling their bladder (I vaguely remember from my research is that this happens around the time walking is mastered).
The girls were meeting all of these criteria. If they are capable, then I want to respect their capabilities by fostering that independence as soon as possible. So despite our girls not showing any traditional “readiness” signs, we decided it was possible to start (a nerve wracking leap of faith since every seems to want to ask “are you sure they are ready?”)
The main hang up with potty training is the need to be present for potty training, which can be tricky for working parents. So I looked ahead on my calendar and decided the weekend around New Years was going to be the time to start (the girls would be 24 months then). We chose this date for no other reason than I could be home for four days in a row. You really do need to make sure you can devote a clear calendar for several days if not a week to potty training. This should give you ample time to get over the hump, though potty training will still be top of mind for at least a month.
Now for the actual game plan for potty training. I would say there are two main types of potty training methods; bring them to the potty during set times and see if/ wait until they pee or wait until they are peeing and rush then them to the potty. Oh Crap! follows the second of these methods, which requires the toddler to go naked for the first several days so you can catch when they start going. Once you see them start peeing you say something to the effect of (and without panicking and freaking your child out) , “Oh, you’re peeing. Pee goes on the potty.” and bring them to the potty. I discounted at first, but especially liked the recommendation to include the phrase, “hold it.” They definitely won’t hold it at first, but it’s a concept you want them to catch on to. I try to say, “You’re peeing. Hold it. Let’s go put the pee on the potty.”
I like this method over just bringing them to the potty at set intervals, because you are associating the act of going to the potty with the actual feeling of peeing / having to pee, which more closely mimic how we use the toilet. That being said, there are parts of your daily routine in which you work in a trip to the toilet (before you sleep, before you leave the house, etc.) and Oh Crap! does encourage building in those additional visits to the potty as well.
Oh Crap! breaks potty training into six blocks. The first block is mastering getting pee (and poop, but for simplicity I’ll just keep referring to pee) on the potty when naked, either prompted or unprompted. I think the last part of this phrase is important, because a lot of parents probably expect that successful potty training means your child self-initiated using the potty right away. That is not the case. In fact, the vibe from Oh Crap!’s block one is that pee gets on the potty due to the observation and prompting from the parent (after learning your child’s potty signal and pee rhythm). In fact, Oh Crap! says that self-initiation usually doesn’t come until about three weeks later (block five).
Once you feel comfortable with this block (the book gives a rough time-frame of 1-3 days), you can move on to block two / three, which is commando (pants no underwear) without and then with small outings. The author recommends staying in this block for at least three weeks (this is where we are at) before adding underwear in block four, which is adding underwear. The reasoning is that underwear to closely mimics a diaper (tight fit fabric) and could trigger muscle memories that need time to reset. Commando doesn’t bother me at all, so we are perfectly comfortable staying in block three for the allotted time just in case. We have been telling the girls (because Santa bought them underwear for Christmas) that they are still learning potty training and will get the underwear once they have mastered it.
Block five is where the self-initiation comes in.
Block six is dry nighttime and naps. From my impression so far the brunt of the potty training effort comes with those first three blocks and the last three just fall into place later.
You’ll notice that only in block six does nighttime potty training come in. Oh Crap! actually give you the option to tackle nighttime potty training at the same time as daytime potty training or not, while the 3-day method I read said to tackle it all at once (though one of the “readiness” signs for that method was that your toddler was already waking dry, which is not the case for us). Nighttime potty training is a whole other beast in itself, which involves waking your child at set times in the night for them to try to pee and then slowly spacing those wakings out (reminds me a lot of eliminating the nighttime bottles). If you are not up for that challenge though, Oh Crap! is insistent that it is perfectly fine to skip night training for now. If you chose to skip, you simply explain to your child that they are still learning and will be sleeping for a long time so you are going to put a diaper on them for sleeping and it will come back off when they wake up. I’ll be honest, I really wanted to tackle both at the same time and did go through the nighttime training motions for the first several days.
One thing that really struck me though was that nighttime training usually works itself out for the most part once your child gets the new rhythm post daytime training (and starts to learn “hold it”). So after four days of washing the bedding twice a day, I decided to mostly scrap nighttime training for the time being and see where we are at with it in a few months. One modification I made to the nighttime training instead of stopping it completely is to leave the option to hold it or use the potty at night open-ended. Instead of putting the girls in diapers at night, I put them in pull-ups (which are just a differently shaped diaper) and leave the potties at the foot of their bed. Before drifting off to sleep I mention holding it or letting Mama know if they have to pee. I am actually really happy with this setup because Brooklyn seems to have caught on to the concept and has been keeping herself dry and has woken me several times to help her potty.
Also wanted to add a note on poop. It has its own chapter in the book. Pushing out a poop on the potty versus in a diaper is a whole different sensation and often trips up toddlers. The best advice I can give on this topic is to act like pooping is no big deal. If you stress about it, your kid is going to pick up on it and stress about it. Blakely didn’t poop while awake (she did it when she relaxed sleeping) for the first several days of potty training. I just let it run its course and didn’t make a deal out of it. Eventually she caught on to that too. We also used humor to help comfort them while actually going #2. We made loud grunting sounds and silly faces to show how they had to squeeze it out. Yes, that sounds ridiculous, but it made them laugh and relax about the process. We also used books and nursery rhymes to distract them while they waited (because unlike peeing, when they felt the need to go #2, it often took a bit for them to actually get it out.)
I also wanted to touch on a five key concepts from the books that I thought were important to the potty training process. I actually wrote these down on a “potty training cheat sheet” for my husband and mother (she watches the girls while I am at work), since I knew they would not read the books themselves.
1. I really liked how Oh Crap! broke down the sequence of potty training as going from Clueless –> I Peed –> I am Peeing —> I have to to Pee. I think since we are so accustomed to our own toileting routines we forget about the steps in between clueless and knowing you have to pee. This continuum came in handy in those first several days when I wasn’t seeing the progress of advanced notice, but could at least point to this continuum and say we are making progress because the other day we were clueless and now we are 75% of the way there because they do know when they are peeing.
2. The main focus of the first several days of potty training is you watching your child like a hawk. Oh Crap! puts in all caps, “YOU WILL DO NOTHING BUT WATCH YOUR CHILD!” Remember all of the first blocks say with or without prompting and self-initiation isn’t to be expected for several weeks. While watching them to be able to catch pee right away and get them to the potty and start making that association is crucial, there are other important things to pick up while you are watching your child. You need to learn your child’s signals and their potty rhythm. For instance, does your child pee ten minutes after they get a drink? Does he/she pee five times in a row? Or is he/she a camel who holds it for a long time? All of this information that you can gather by watching your child diligently during those naked days helps you build success into this process. So while the child is learning that continuum above, you are learning these things to help them build a successful toileting rhythm. For instance, you’ll know when to try small outings on block three (definitely not during a time-frame where your child tends to pee five times).
3. Do not ask them if they have to go to the potty! Simply prompt them throughout the day, “Tell me if you have to go to the potty” or “Tell me if you feel like you have to pee, so we can get it on the potty.” This is basically doing the same thing, but it makes them feel in control. Also, if you ask them and they say no (and you know they have to go) then you are stuck. It’s especially helpful to do this right when you catch the potty signal. I love doing this right when I see Blakely’s potty signal (a pause/look up out of confusion) and then see her make her own way to the potty. We also made a point to not overly prompt them or make them feel forced or nagged about using the potty. We probably prompted once to twice an hour the first two days. Then on the third day we noticed it was starting to annoy the girls. We realized we wanted potty training to just fit into regular routine and not take away from it so we started to back off and focus on the other activities of the day (playing, painting, meals) and only prompt once in the morning and after nap and then only if we saw a potty signal, an accident starting to happen or the girls seemed to be really caught up in what they were doing (and might forget) during a time when we know they might need to potty.
4. Reactions to successes and accidents are important. You want to make sure that you are giving off the right signals from these reactions, and it’s actually a delicate balance. For instance, when the girls have accidents, we don’t want to put them down or make them feel bad, but we also want them to know that it’s not the right outcome. I specifically wrote out for my family not to use the phrase, “bad girl” or anything similar but also not to use the phrase “it’s okay” (because it’s not okay). Instead we respond matter-of-factually, “Pee doesn’t go on the floor. Pee goes on the potty. Let’s put our pee on the potty next time.” We also point out that it’s a “mess” (our girls are keenly aware of messes) and have the girls help us clean it up. Oh Crap!’s Montessori mindset shines through in it’s recommendation for reactions, especially to successes. The author acknowledges that parents may not want to overly praise their child (and definitely not give a reward) for completing a basic task that is a part of everyone’s everyday life. But the author also gives the parent the freedom to choose their level of praise (outside of rewards) emphasizing that you need to at least make sure your child understands by your words or tone that this is the right outcome. Oh Crap! does dissuade using rewards during potty training because it is a basic task that everyone completes. For us, we chose to definitely make a big deal out of positive outcomes. We like praise (which is one way we aren’t 100% aligned with Montessori), though we do try to keep out praise concrete versus abstract. For instance, we love using the phrase, “You did it!” followed by describing what they did versus a vague “Good job!” This is the one area of our potty training that we evolved on over the first week and strayed from Oh Crap!’s recommendations (and it seems to be the one area that I have seen several others also sway from the book and be okay on). I understand the sentiment behind giving no rewards, but by the end of day three, we all needed a boost in motivation. We ended up turning our reaction to successes into a full-scale “potty party” which involves a dance party and some fruit snacks (originally ice cream lol, see my update post for how that went down). We tapered this off very quickly so it was more just a little bit of extra motivation as opposed to turning pottying into a rewards based activity.
5. As with all transitions, consistency and sticking it through is key! The book likened the hardest, want to give up / they aren’t ready part of potty training to the transition part of labor. I think it’s a good analogy. Right when you feel like everything is the worst it can be and it’s not going to get better, is when you are closest to the end. I am really stubborn, so I knew from the beginning there was no turning back, no matter how the next week went down. I even had my husband put our boxed up cloth diapers into the attic. I also liked that Oh Crap! didn’t force the blocks into specific time frames (like the 3-day method book did, i.e. you will be done by day 3). So I went into this process with the mindset that it may take longer than expected (the expectation for naked potty training seems to be 3 days) but we were going to persevere. I reminded myself and family that the girls are capable of this. I remember on the night of day three I was really worried about our lack of progress. Not like I wanted to give up worried, but I was more worried we weren’t in a place where I could hand the reigns over to my mom (to go back to work) and expect that same consistency. I ended up taking an extra day off to make sure my mom was on board with the process. Having us all on the same page has been very important to our potty training successes.
I hope this gives you the information and courage to tackle potty training when the time comes for you!
Okay now the nitty gritty details. How to actually make this plan happen? Here’s all the “stuff” I had to help the process go smoothly.
Here are the underwear we own. I like that they fit our girls petite frames. They’ve held up for the whole year, and Santa brought them again this past year (a bigger size). The girls love the designs.
I love the book The Potty Book for Girls (or there’s one for boys too). We started reading when we started potty training and it really helped reinforce the process. I kept it and a couple of other books by the potty for “light reading” while waiting for pee or poop to come. The girls consistently asked for it during the potty training time frame. There is one line in the book where Hannah’s parents tell her, “It’s okay Hannah.” And yes I was that petty parent who crossed that line out so we don’t read it, since it contradicted what were were trying to reinforce.
For potties, Oh Crap! was very flexible on types and locations. My original game plan was adapters for the regular toilet in the bathroom only. Then I put my Montessori hat on and realized little potties (while extra work of dumping/cleaning) are better suited for little ones in terms of maneuverability. Big toilets just aren’t made for tiny tots to use. Even with the adapter and step stool, it was struggle for my really short girls to get up on the big toilet. So I decided to embrace little potties.
For the little potties I chose Baby Bjorn Smart Potty because its small (my girls are small for their age) and simple. It’s straightforward to use, and its simplicity makes it easy to clean. I also like that it’s neutral colored. I purchased two of these, one for each girl, and we bring them upstairs or downstairs with us (and in the car for when we go out). I originally planned to keep them in the bathroom so the girls could learn to make it to the bathroom, but realized the first day that just wasn’t going to happen. So, I moved the little potties to a landing spot between our living room and dining/kitchen. This worked well while they were still learning the ropes. It’s been easier to focus on one piece of the puzzle at a time. Once the girls mastered potty training, we moved the potties to the bathrooms; one is in the their bathroom upstairs and one is in the powder bath downstairs. Even with twins, we have found (for the past year now) that we only need one in each bathroom, and they are able to share it just like we adults share the toilets. The girls still mainly use the little potties, but I also added Squatty Potties that slide under both their upstairs and the downstairs toilet, so now at three they can use the regular potty as well (we don’t have adapters, they just use the regular seat, and the squatty potty give them enough support to climb up onto the seat and have somewhere to plant their feet).
The other thing we needed to accomodate was handwashing in the bathroom. I searched high and low for the perfect step stools. I wanted them to be two steps and little taller than most because our girls are shorter, wooden and affordable. I was so happy when I finally found the above handmade step stools from a woodworker in Kentucky (check ETSY for options). They are super sturdy and tall but compact and stylish. They could even reach the faucets with these step stools. Another option is these affordable plastic two-step stools. You may also need faucet extenders like these if your kid is still unable to reach the faucet.
I didn’t purchase anything for on the go. Brad and I don’t carry a diaper bag, and we didn’t want to start after saying goodbye to diapers. When out in public, we just help the girls use the big potty (so far this had worked!) My advice is that getting your kid to embrace using public restrooms is all about the attitude you convey about them; act like they are no big deal and your kid will pick up on that. We also use humor in a lot of uncomfortable situations for easing tension.
For the first month and when we went on long trips, we brought the little potties along along with us. (great for if you have to pull over for a potty break). We have a wet bag and extra clothes in the car, but just like we did with diapers we always go back to the car to change clothes.
I also go hiking a lot with them and did originally buy a little fold out potty, but actually just taught them to squat and “water the grass.” This ended up working well and has come in (embarrassingly) handy in a few non-forest locations as well.
We also bought canvas drop cloths to protect our carpets during the learning process and covered our couch in sheets and swim towels.
Make sure you have a lot of paper towels and cleaning supplies on hand. We use vinegar water for wiping off the potties (I accidentally used a harsher spray on the potty one day and it was already starting to irritate Blakely’s bottom so a skin friendly cleaner is a must). You’ll also want to get wipes because toilet paper on a toddler is pretty tough. I just use the Equate brand wipes and store them on top of the toilet bowl in these toddler-friendly wipes container (you just push down on the lid and it pops open).
For nighttime training, I purchased a handful of cheap fleece blankets (holiday ones were on sale at Walmart for $4!) to lay down after an accident at night instead of changing the sheets. You’ll need to use two-piece pajamas too (goodbye footed sleepers). If you plan to hold off on night training, I at least recommend pull ups so your little one can attempt to use the potty if they desire. At the very least it stops the diaper changes so you can reinforce the “big kid” mindset over being a baby. We call them “night pants,” and the girls put them on themselves just like regular pants.
Finally, make sure you stock up on food, snacks and activities so you can be prepared to spend a few days homebound. Don’t forget the snacks/drinks for you too Mama, you’re going to need them!
The Twin Aspect
As a twin mama, I know questions swirl through all twin mama’s heads about potty training. Should I do both at once? Or tackle one at a time? What if one seems ready and the other doesn’t? How can I possibly watch both like the book says I should?
If you follow the mindset of “capable” verses “ready” you’ll likely find that your twins will be ready to potty train at the same time. If possible, I really recommend just tackling them at the same time. I actually found the encouragement and inspiration/example of someone else doing it too helped my girls. (I don’t recommend saying things like, “Carl is doing it, why can’t you!” etc. but the girls always helped cheer for each others successes.)
I highly recommend getting a second pair of eyes for those first few days if you can. I had to tackle alone and missed several accidents in the two seconds I was attending to the other twin. But in the end, I made it work. You just have to be super vigilant.
Also, I know you know this, but remember that you kids are individuals and might not progress the exact same. For example Brooklyn night-trained herself that first week of potty training and Blakely is still wearing pull-ups at night a year later. Just take notes about how each kiddo is responding and modify your tactics accordingly.
Wishing you the best of luck on your potty training journey! You can check out a the day by day commentary from when I potty trained the girls over on my Instagram. There is a story highlight specifically for potty training. And feel free to message me with any questions you may have.
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