How I Potty Trained Triplets
My husband told me I should be careful googling 'tiny undies.'
“You might not get what you're expecting,” he joked.
But I'd already tried Target, Wal-Mart, Amazon, and Etsy. You see, neither of us are what anyone would consider tall. Add to it that our triplet daughters were born a month early and that they were about 20 months old at the time. Nothing about our circumstances or our gene pool leaned in the direction of large children. And no underwear I could find came remotely close to fitting them.
But one of our daughters was showing interest in the toilet, and I didn't want to lose a golden opportunity to make peer pressure work in my favor.
The tricky part about triplets
You may think this goes without saying, but the trickiest thing about triplets is that there are ALWAYS more of them than there are of you. I have never had enough arms or laps or boobs. My babies still only have two parents. No matter how you slice it, we are always outnumbered.
So, at scarcely over a year and a half into motherhood, I had learned a lot about inertia. Convincing one toddler to do anything can be tough, but convincing three toddlers definitely adds a multiplier to the difficulty factor. And then, there's the element of 'monkey see, monkey do.' If one of them throws a fit, the others will shortly join in.
For these reasons, I knew I needed to use the curiosity of my “middle child” to my advantage. One day, I dumped the poop out of her reusable diaper and into a toilet at swim lessons. As she watched me do it, everything about her expression changed. Because all of her previous poops had been into disposable diapers, this was different, and I could see her connecting little dots in her head. She had few words at 18 months old, but that day, we didn't need any.
At the time, I knew of no one potty training at 18 months old, but I had also learned as a mother of triplets, that it wasn't worth comparing my life to others. Most people weren't doing what I was doing. So I took her motivation, and I made it my own. If I could potty train her, those sisters of hers would soon apply the 'monkey see, monkey do' motto they all seemed to live by.
I went to the store, bought a little potty, and the smallest undies I could find. But when I got home and tried them on her, there was daylight all the way around the leg holes. I was stumped.
How I got started
Which leads us back to the Google search my husband didn't recommend. He gets a lot of things right, but this time, I found exactly what I was looking for … and then some.
The very first hit when you google 'tiny undies' happens to be a company called Tiny Undies, which sells—as you might guess—miniature-sized underwear for miniature-sized people. This underwear is unisex, comes in a variety of colors, and covers childrens' bottoms. For someone, like me, who's turned off by the pink everything and skimpy cut of most retail underwear for little girls, this was a HUGE plus.
I was delighted by what Andrea Olson, owner of Tiny Undies, had to offer. I spent far too long belaboring over what 3 colors to pick for my girls. When I finally made it to checkout, a pop-up asked me if I wanted to buy a book on potty training.
I had gotten this far on mostly enthusiasm, but I was fully aware that the rubber would soon meet the road. I was not looking forward to the negotiations, head-butting, and bribes that I assumed came with potty training.
Before my babies were even born, I had dreaded this stage. I had watched other parents tote around Cheerios, food dye, candy, and all sorts of tricks to get their kids to ditch diapers. I knew I didn't want any part of that. Much less, times three. I didn't hesitate long before I agreed that yes, I did want a book on “non-coercive potty training,” especially when it described success “without rewards, gimmicks, or M&Ms.” Sign me up for that.
The confidence I gained from Andrea's book
At this point, my girls were 21 months old, and we were traveling to see friends over a 3-day weekend. I read the Tiny Potty Training Book in the car while my husband drove. It described several things that gave me confidence.
First, it pointed out how drastically the age at which we potty train has increased since the invention of disposable diapers (from about 18 months to 3 years over a 50-year span). Second, it described the difference between the average age of potty training in Westernized countries (around 3 years old) versus the average age in non-Westernized countries (around 12 months old). And lastly, it teaches potty training as a life skill and a new independence to foster in your child rather than a behavior you need to bribe them to perform.
This last point is a big deal to me for reasons I've already mentioned. But also, because I'm a physical therapist in my life outside of 'triplet mama.' This means I've had the privilege of watching a lot of people both succeed and fail at learning new physical skills. To be honest, the biggest difference in most of these situations, is determination. People ask me sometimes how I motivate my patients. As much as I'd like to be able to do this for them, I really don't think I do. The kind of motivation that has staying power comes from within. The goal is to help every individual find that.
And Andrea's book gave me this feeling with respect to potty training. It gave me a certain calm before I even began. Rather than starting a negotiation with my children, we were embarking on a new phase of our lives where we could learn something together. Although still daunting, it no longer sounded like such a power struggle.
How I potty trained my triplets in 8 days!
When we got home from our trip, I made a big deal about having a special time for my middle child and about her learning something new and “big.” I promised the others that they would also have a turn, but that we needed to learn one girl at a time.
Although the advice in Andrea's book was to call for back-up and bring in your mother or friends to help you potty train multiples all at the same time, this really wasn't an option for me. We had survived an international move 6 months prior, and no such people were anywhere nearby. Instead, I fell back on the advice that had worked when my babies were waking us 11 and 12 times a night. One girl at a time, I taught them that 10-month-olds don't need milk in the middle of the night, and once one girl started sleeping through, I moved on to the next one.
So, I let my daughter pick the color of her underwear, and even though—per the book's instruction—she didn't wear it that first day, she proudly carried them all over the house. We met our first goal that she understand where her waste should go, and we moved on the next day to the idea of leaving the house with clothes on.
If you've never had the pleasure of going anywhere with three children under 2, let's just say it's time consuming. Add on top of that, that we lived in a rural area where even the grocery store was 15 minutes away. There was NOWHERE I was confident going with her tiny bladder and her newly acquired skill of “holding it.” So, we went for a walk. She peed before we left. We went outside for 10-15 minutes. We came back in, and she peed again. Score! Another success and another notch in our growing confidence.
The following day, we braved the grocery store. She peed before we left. She peed when we got to the store. She peed when we came out of the store, and she peed when we got home. If she didn't pee every single time, she was at least presented with the opportunity. And that was it. That was the first child I ever potty trained.
Whew! Time to move on to number 2.
I selected my oldest daughter as the next contestant because she was battling a stubborn diaper rash. She may not have been the next most motivated. But they hadn't had much diaper rash, and this one just wouldn't quit. I went through the exact same process with her, and again, it went off without a hitch.
By the time it was my youngest daughter's turn, she was chomping at the bit. We had an outing planned with friends that meant she only had one day to learn before leaving the house. Because she was so eager and had already watched her sisters, I rolled the dice and skipped her naked day. She already had the concept of where pee and poop should go.
On her first day of potty training, she put on her undies. Everyone peed before we left the house, and she made it on a short walk like a champ. The following day, we went to a strawberry patch with all three girls in undies. They peed before we left the house and peed when we got there. I knew the intervals they could hold it, so I kept a careful eye on the clock. We were back in the car in 45 minutes, and they all peed again. Three girls out of diapers in 8 days. At 21 months old. I was blown away.
Tips for potty training triplets
Although those initial 8 days were absolutely incredible, I don't want you to believe that potty training was really that simple for us. We definitely had some hiccups in the process, but they all came later. Here are some tips I learned along the way.
- We turned our diaper bag into a mini-closet and carried ALL of our underwear there, along with multiple sets of complete wardrobe changes.
- A peed-in car seat is a hard thing to deal with when you've still got to put your child back into it to get home. I started carrying all of their old burp clothes in the back of our van, and when car seats were soiled, I just changed the child and piled up enough old muslins in the bottom of the seat until the wet was covered and they could sit in it again. Then, I dealt with everything when we got home.
- There is a travel toilet in Andrea's book called a Potette Plus. Our potty training experience would have been totally different without it. It's foldable, and we take it everywhere. I hate having little people in public restrooms because they want to touch everything. Instead, I set this toilet up in our van or our boat or wherever, and we're always ready. I don't have to worry about how long it takes to get everyone into a building. The toilet is in the van and ready to go when we arrive or if we have to make a stop to take care of business.
- Before we started potty training, I debated about how many potties I should have. We ended up with one standard potty, the Potette Plus, and a seat reducer. It was perfect. There were rarely times when they all needed to go at the same time, but if they did, we had options. They also learned to use a variety of tools, so they weren't picky about where they'd go. We carried them around the house initially. Then, later, we taped off part of a hallway because our bathroom was too small for all of our equipment.
- After completing her potty training process, my oldest daughter—the one with the least interest in the whole thing—decided for several days that she just wasn't going to pee on her regular intervals and instead, would pee her clothes right after I had presented her with the toilet. I went back to Andrea's book to troubleshoot, decided that maybe she wanted more independence, and stopped taking her. Instead, when I needed her to go or thought she might need to, I would just ask her. If she did, she'd go and take care of it. By herself. If she didn't, she'd just tell me no. To this day, since I gave her the reins, she has had the least accidents of all of them.
Naps and nighttime dryness
These were probably the hardest for us. Since they were born, my life has revolved around my children's sleep. Triplets have a way of exhausting their mother, and if I'm too tired, it gets bad for everyone. Even though daytime potty training was an amazing experience for us, I was nervous about disrupting their sleep patterns.
But at almost exactly 2, they started taking their own diapers off at nap. Sometimes, they'd call us in their room and offer us the poop they were holding in their little hands. Sometimes, they'd take the diapers off and fall asleep, only to wake, having wet everything. I decided it was time to get rid of naptime diapers.
It took a lot of discussions, a lot of failed attempts and double-sheeted beds, but in about a month, they found a new rhythm. They peed before nap and then generally slept for about 2 hours. On occasion, they would call me before nap was over, but usually, if they peed before they laid down, they were fine.
As for nighttime, one of them was dry all night at about 2.5 years old. I tried to take her out of diapers for nighttime, but she wanted to wear them because her sisters were. Monkey see, monkey do. Around the same time, her sisters started holding it at night but then letting it all go at once in their sleep. This meant overflowing every diaper we tried.
My solution was to decrease fluids for the hour or two before bed and then to take everyone for a dream pee around 10-11 PM. This worked well. They totally ditched all diapers by 33 months old, but after waking every night to take them pee for almost a year, it was really taking a toll on me. At this point, they were pushing 3.5 and were completely independent with daytime toileting, other than wiping poop. So, I set their most stable potty up in their bedroom on top of the tray to a dog crate. Sometimes, they still call me. But mostly, they just take care of it when they have to go.
My favorite thing about potty training
I have to say that this experience far exceeded my expectations. People say I'm so lucky I have three easy kids, but I'm always quick to credit the method. Sure, maybe some of it is their personalities or mine, but for us, it was never a negotiation. It was learning together to do this new, super cool, super big-kid thing. The magic wasn't magic. It was intrinsic motivation.
It's a new set of logistics, sure, but now that we have it, it's easier than diapers ever were. And far cheaper. And lastly, I think potty training before 2 was a big part of their success. At that age, they greeted new things with such excitement and exuberance. By 2 and 3 years old, we have a lot more struggles over independence and who gets to make decisions. I'm so thankful to have tiny children with tiny bottoms that led me to find Andrea and her book.
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PS - here’s the video version of this episode in case you prefer to YouTube it. ;)