The Week I Tried Potty Training My 1-Year Old & 2-Year Old At the Same Time


When I was pregnant with my second child and still carrying around a baby who was not yet one year old, people would give me pitying looks as if they knew the hell I was going to experience as soon as that second baby forced its way into the world. It was obvious my kids were going to be close in age. No one told me how hard the first few months (or even the first year would be), but they would tell me how my children would someday be best friends and how incredibly special that would be for me. The other tidbit I would hear from experienced strangermothers with kids 15 months apart is that I could totally potty train my kids at the same time. Tandem Potty training is what held me through the trials of the first year and a half. When life got tough, I would l think to myself, "at least I'll only have to potty train once."  

So is Tandem Potty Training Really Possible? 

Short answer? Yes. I personally know people who have done it successfully with children of different ages (*DIFFERENT AGES* is important to note here, because the majestic twin moms have been tandem potty training since the beginning of time) 

In my experience? Sort of.

The cliff notes version of my experience attempting tandem potty training:

My kids are 15 months apart. My son is going to be 3 in September (technically 32 months, but I think it's super weird to talk about people's ages in months after their second birthday) and my daughter is 17 months. Based on the Internet, my son has been showing signs of potty readiness since last fall, but we've had many other life changes since then (selling our home, brief stint living with the in-laws, moving into a new house, transitioning to a big boy bed, etc) so I have been putting this particular life change off in the hopes that I could wait until my daughter was also showing some readiness signs.

About a month ago, my daughter looked at me, said "poop" and then proceeded to crap her pants. Well, she obviously can recognize what it feels like to have to go to the bathroom. Then two weeks ago, the kids had a cold and the weekly forecast was rainy, so we went to Target and bought some underpants, juice boxes, stickers and M&Ms all in preparation for our "Potty Party" we were to have the next day. 

Now, I had read a book on Potty Training in one day, but being the realistic genius I am, I budgeted 3 days. Because obviously it's good to set your expectations low, plus all the other internet moms said it was a 3 day project. All I needed to do was set a timer and have plenty of M&Ms, and I'd be all set.

The First 3 Days:  Bootcamp

I was the potty Nazi. Every 15 minutes we would sit on the potty for 15 minutes. I did everything the perfect internet moms said to do. I didn't shame them, I praised them when they peed in the potty, I rewarded them with stickers and treats, I had grandmas come over to tell them how proud they were, I introduced them to the sugar highs and lows of juice boxes and I even got one of those dolls that goes potty too! 

With this process, my daughter had many successes in the potty. My son fought the process. He would throw a tantrum before I was able to bribe him to sit on the potty. Then he would sit there for a while, get up and immediately pee somewhere else in protest to this potty movement. 

Day 4: Deadline

Day 4, I was still committed to doing potty training the "right"way. The 1 day/3 day way that the Internet moms promised me worked for every single child (I should trust them because their moms had 15 children and they all were potty trained this way). Day 4 was the day people said potty training would just "click" with the kids. I heard this from several people. So this was my promise land. This was the day I put all of my hope and confidence in. They would be potty trained after today.

They weren't. 

Days 5, 6 & 7: The long weekend

Dad was home! Praise Jesus! He was ready to bring a new sense of energy and enthusiasm to the process. And if you've ever met my husband, (a textbook INTJ), you would know that "energy" and "enthusiasm" are *totally* the two words that most describe him. Because he is amazing, he worked hard to meet my high expectations for his level of excitement for the process. He knew how hard I'd been working over the past week and wanted to honor me and the kids by getting psyched for each possible pee. 

However after witnessing me in my full-on potty nazi mode, he observed that I needed to give the kids and myself grace. Potty training is not about me, it's about helping the kids understand things about their body and retraining them do something they've been doing since the second they were born.

Days 8, 9 & 10: Grace or Bust

Nate went back to work after Memorial Day, and I went back to the glamorous job of wiping pee off the floor. I left my potty nazi ways and reformed to a training method I have named "Grace or Bust."  

In the week prior, I learned a lot about my two children. Most importantly, I learned that my son is not motivated by snacks or stickers or really even words of praise. He is, however motivated by a sense of power and control. At this point, he had shown me signs that he knew how to use the potty, that he could hold his pee and he could recognize when he had to go. We were dealing with a battle for control. So I stopped asking him to go to the bathroom. I also stopped cleaning up after him. It took about two or three accidents that he was responsible for cleaning up himself with paper towels, before he notified me that he had to pee. Day's 8, 9, 10 and on have been full of dry underpants for my son.  

With all the focus on the older child, my daughter continued to have several accidents. She was more responsive to the traditional 3-day method, which I will go back to with her once we get my son fully trained. She is ready and able. She has also proved to me she knows how to use the potty, she can hold her pee and can recognize the feeling before peeing, but she's not even a year and a half so having her fully trained is not as high of a priority.

What I learned about Tandem Potty Training

I am so not qualified to give a "how to" on any real potty training method, so I won't even try. However, I do have advice for anyone looking to begin tandem potty training.

Make sure both kids show some sign of Potty Training Readiness.  

If you are not sure what I mean by that, just google "Is my kid ready to be potty trained" and about ten thousand articles will pop up. You're an adult. Figure it out. 

Reassess at the end of each day. 

Like with any challenge you take on in life, it's super important to focus on the successes that happen each day to keep you going, but also analyze what isn't working about the process and what you need to change about the process to make it work. 

Every child is different. 

When tandem potty training (non twins), you need to recognize that your children are different. They are going to respond to different rewards and encouragement. When your kids are different ages, you are also dealing with different development levels. This was my mistake the first several days. I was trying to potty train them using the same method. It was not working. They are motivated in very different ways and required different types and amounts of attention from me. 

The Internet is with worst. 

Says the woman posting this to her blog assuming anyone cares. What you need to know about potty training is that it is not a one-size-fits all method that will magically train your child in one or three days. All of the tutorials you will find on your Pinterest feeds are amazing starting points to give you ideas on where to start. But after 3 days of potty training, do not believe for a second that your child will never have accidents again. Everyone's definition of "potty trained" is different. For some it may mean that they wear underpants 100% of the time day/night and never have accidents. Others mean they only wear diapers or Pull-ups to bed. Other's consider potty trained as being able to go pee in the potty. There is a wide range of what can define "potty trained" so don't be discouraged if after 3 days, your child still poops in their pants and you are afraid to go to Costco without having the additional protection of a pull-up. 

It's okay to stop and try again later. 

If for some reason, one or both of your children are not having it. Feel free to stop and give it a try some other time. You are their mother. You know your children better than anyone else in the world. You can tell if they are making progress or just aren't getting it. If they just aren't getting it, maybe they aren't ready and that's okay! For me, after the second week, I had to be more casual with training for our daughter so I could focus on the style that best jived with our son. While I believe she understands the process, it is just more important that my almost-3-year-old knows how to use the potty. I'll give her more focus later. When? I'm not sure. Maybe next week, maybe after our vacation in August, maybe in a year. I'll just watch her and decide. 

Start your day with a pot of coffee and end it with a glass of wine. 

Not like a bottle, but just one glass (or two). Seriously, tandem potty training is not for the faint of heart, but it also requires a helluva lot of go-with-the-flowness. Every day, I woke up at least 30 minutes before I knew I had to get the kids up and drank a cup of coffee and gathered my thoughts prayed for the day. Then I would fill my thermos with more coffee so it would stay warm until lunchtime and drink it all. After nap time, I'd be refreshed to start the process again and around 4:00pm (the witching hour in our home), I'd pour myself one glass of wine to calm my nerves so I could finish the day strong. If you are pregnant or just don't drink wine, find some way to chill out. 

Also, learn from me and don't eat your emotions through the process. I put on like 5 lb in a week and that just made me feel icky and bummed me out. Eat healthy and make time for yourself in the process. It is draining, but you can do it.