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The Trouble with Potty Training Twins

Q. I have twin 2-year-olds who are showing signs of potty interest. My challenge is that the girls don't want to use the potty chairs and are fighting over the commode! We have two bathrooms but I can't be with each on the toilet when they are in different rooms. Any thoughts?

A. Potty training is difficult because it occurs at a time when children discover they have a mind of their own. Temper tantrums go along with the "terrible twos." So here you are going through this challenging period of development with not one but two children. While both seem eager to use the toilet, more likely each is simply vying with her twin for the honored position of sitting on the "throne".

In order not to squelch their interest in using the toilet, you'll have to pull out all the patience you have and then develop a plan. Not only will you teach them to use the toilet but, as you do so, you'll need to teach them to take turns, which is difficult for most 2-year-olds. It's likely one will be pitching a temper tantrum as she waits for her sister to practice and then eventually perform on the toilet.

A System for Potty Sharing

The plan you develop will need to include keeping track of whose turn it is to sit on the commode and whose turn it is to sit on the potty chair. Let's say Sister A claims she needs to go potty. Take her in the bathroom, check the chart. Put Sister A on the toilet if it's her turn to sit there, if Sister B insists she needs to go too, say, "It's Sister A's turn on the toilet. It's your turn on the potty chair. You can have a turn on the toilet when she's finished."

If Sister B flies into a temper tantrum, say, "You're really mad. You want to sit on the toilet right now. You can be mad but it's your sister's turn. You can have a turn in two minutes." Place a timer in the bathroom so that the girls know when their time on the toilet is up. Two minutes is more than enough time.

Because your children's emotions will run high as they attempt to be the first on the toilet, you'll need to be firm and kind as you control the situation. One will be happy as she gets her turn, the other will be sad or mad as she waits. In time they'll realize that you're managing the situation and their emotions will settle down.

Enhancing the Throne

To make the little potty chair more appealing, you can dress it up to look like a little throne. Be clever, imaginative, and creative. Buy the book The Princess and The Potty by Wendy Cheyette Lewison and read it frequently to your daughters.

Most important, you don't want to miss your daughters' potty training "window of opportunity." That window refers to the time when a child is eager, interested, and willing to use the toilet. This is the time when the child's body is ready to hold in the urine and stool, and the child's brain receives a message that indicates the need to go. The child holds in the pee or poop until reaching the toilet and then releases it.

Some families get so busy with other activities that they miss this window. When this occurs the child becomes accommodated to living in diapers or disposable training pants and then potty training becomes much more difficult. You want to avoid this situation.

Potty training is only the first of many "turn taking" challenges you'll face with your twins. There will be others: taking turns on the computer, practicing the piano, and later driving the car. You can't have two of everything. So along with the benefits of your girls learning to use the toilet will come the added advantage of them knowing how to take turns.

Jan Faull, MEd, is a veteran parent educator and the author of four parenting books, including Darn Good Advice -- Baby and Darn Good Advice -- Parenting. She writes a biweekly parenting advice column for this site and a weekly parenting advice column in the Seattle Times. Jan Faull is the mother of three grown children and lives in the Seattle area.

Originally published on HealthyKids.com, February 2006.