Key Take aways:
- Boys are very capable of learning the ropes of potty using when they show signs of readiness.
- Per the American Academy of Pediatrics, boys may take slightly longer to complete potty training than girls.
- There is no right or wrong method for potty training boys. Rather, each child is unique so they may respond better to one method over another.
- Like all people, boys benefit from positive reinforcement when potty training
- Boys that stand can be messier, so make sure they can participate in the clean-up process.
- Potty training is the perfect time to also teach them how to clean their bodies both after going to the bathroom and in the bathtub.
article summary: There are only two main things that make potty training a boy unique compared to a girl: they have different genitals and boys may take slightly longer to potty train (but that is a generalization). Overall, boys are not more difficult (as you may have heard and read), and they are very capable of peeing in the potty just like their female counterparts.
Most children show signs of readiness to potty train between 24-36 months. Ideally, you will want to start potty training when they show interest and developmental readiness. Some parents will opt to let their children take the lead in how long they need to master the potty, whereas others will tap into the 3-day method to get them a solid jump start on this milestone.
Like all potty learners, boys need plenty of encouragement and positive reinforcement. Some parents like to use rewards, such as treats and toys, whereas others give their sons quality time. No matter what type of rewards system you use, make sure you use verbal affirmations to let him know he is doing great and you are proud of his efforts.
Finally, boy parents get to make a few additional choices, such as will they let their son stand or sit. There is no right or wrong here, and realistically they will need to learn to do both. Standing up to pee can be super fun, especially in the backyard, but inside it can lead to messes. If your son stands, make sure to involve him in clean-up duties and make sure he is safe (i.e. be with him if he is standing on a step stool and make sure the toilet seat lid won't fall on his tenders.
What is unique about potty training boys?
Obviously, the biggest difference between potty training boys and girls is anatomical. Girls are limited to sitting on the potty for going pee, and boys have the choice between standing or sitting to pee. So, one of the biggest differences parents of boys get to experience is giving them options, which happens to be quite a lot of fun! Also, boys generally exhibit more tactile interest in their genitals than girls because they are out there and more available for exploration.
Aside from boys obviously having a penis to urinate with, there really are few differences when it comes to potty training boys over girls. However, you likely have run across neighbors, co-workers, grandmas, or Sally at gymnastics who have said that potty training a boy is so much harder. Whenever you hear these “nuggets” of advice, just remember that was their unique experience and there could have been a lot of other factors that framed their experience unrelated to their child's sex.
How long it takes to potty train a boy
Generally speaking, we do not see a huge difference between the sexes when parents should start potty training. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does note that girls usually complete training earlier than boys, but there is no evidence to suggest that boys are more challenging to train. Indeed, most of the potty training research out there (which isn’t much) does not even bother to separate boys and girls in their studies.
Here is what the research shows about potty training and timing:
- Some evidence shows that starting intensive potty training (meaning the child is asked to use the potty at least 3 times a day) before 27 months may increase the length of time it takes to complete potty training (Blum et al, 2003).
- Children who start after 27 months are likely to take less time to potty train (Blum et al, 2003).
- Children who begin potty training after 32 months are more likely to have trouble with daytime incontinence during the school years (Barone et al, 2009).
And, before stressing about the 32-month deadline, know that this data was based largely on parents' memory recollection of when they started potty training, which may or may not always be accurate. The study also did not take into account other factors like physiological or behavioral delays, which can affect bladder control later in life.
So, what is the key takeaway on how long it takes to potty train a boy?
Well, it depends really on the child! Some boys can master potty training in a few weeks with intensive focus from their parents and others may take months or even years. And yes, if you have helped potty train a girl before a boy, perhaps you may find it takes slightly longer for him to gain potty mastery, but again it varies by child more than by sex. The key to helping your child potty train quickly and successfully is to do it when they are showing signs of readiness. More on that below!
Which methods are best for potty training boys
Sorry to say, but there is no ideal method that is perfect for all boys. However, there likely is a method that will be ideal for your son based on his personality and learning preferences. While there are so many ways you can approach potty training, there are typically two main methods parents follow, or at least take pieces from to develop their own strategy: the 3-day method and the slow and steady method.
The 3-day method for potty training boys
The 3-day method is a popular, well-known method that appeals to parents because it claims to help children potty train successfully in 3 days. That’s like a long weekend, right?
This method is intense and requires a lot of focus, planning, and dedication from parents. But, by giving your potty training child your undivided attention, they can master a lot of skills in a short amount of time.
To do the 3-day method, you will need to:
- Ensure your child is interested and showing signs of readiness to potty train
- Carve out time in your schedule where you can focus solely on your child
- Get your supplies ready
- Prepare your child and others in your home
Many boys thrive on having their parent’s undivided attention and love to show off their skills at using the potty. With that said, this method can be pretty intense for boys who are not ready to potty train yet, or who do not respond well when they are under pressure. Here are some pros and cons of the 3-day method for boys.
- You can usually expect to see some progress after 3 days of potty work
- You are closer to spending less money on time on diaper duty
- Fewer diapers = less waste in landfills
- Diaper power struggles will be out of your future soon
- You get to bond with your child
- The title of this method can be misleading, as you will not be done helping your child after 3 days. While they can learn many foundational skills in these 3 days, you will need to spend a lot of time following up and continuing to coach them in the weeks and months to come.
- Some children may start to resist and even fear using the potty if they aren’t ready
- It may lead to unhealthy elimination patterns if children are forced into something they are not ready to do.
- It may require an element of overfeeding and over-hydrating your child to get them to go more frequently over that 3-day period.
The slow and steady method for potty training boys
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a child-centric approach to potty training, meaning that children are not forced to start training until they show behavioral, developmental, and emotional readiness. The slow and steady method mimics these recommendations by the AAP, with the belief that potty training should not be forced or rushed, but should rather follow the child’s natural rhythms and capabilities. When it comes to this method, there really is no set timeline on how long it should take a child to master the potty.
There are pros and cons to this method as well.
- This gentle, natural approach to potty train allows your child to guide their experience and comfort level
- Creates less pressure on both the child and parent
- Allows for a more natural progression of learning these skills
- Reduces conflict and stress between the parent and child
- Can be a quicker method of potty training in the end if your child is ready
- Does not involve forceful snacking and drinking
- It may increase the time they are in diapers
- Some experts feel it gives the child too much control
- Children who start potty training later may have more difficulty learning the potty (after age 3)
Finally, some parents combine these two methods in the deadline method, which is where parents usually follow a slower approach until a looming deadline like preschool nears. Then, they ramp up the intensity to get their child potty ready.
No matter what camp you are in, each method is only successful if your child shows physical, behavioral, and emotional signs that they are ready for this next milestone.
Basics of potty training boys
When to start
You will want to start potty training your son when he begins showing signs of readiness. So, you will want to watch for him:
- Showing interest in bathroom procedures, like watching parents or a sibling on the toilet
- Having fewer wet diapers or at least holding it for a few hours at a time
- Communicating when he has peed or pooped
- Exploring his body and mimicking bathroom behavior
- Going in a specific area to poop or pee
If you aren’t seeing these signs yet and he is at least two, start to build his curiosity by inviting him into the bathroom with you, talking about what happens at the potty, exposing him to potty books for kids, and learning about how other animals go to the bathroom.
Positive reinforcement is key to helping children repeat good behavior. Indeed, we all need positive reinforcement to do things, especially those that may not make sense to us at first or that we may not be interested in doing. Rewards can look like a lot of different things. It may be something tasty they can have after each potty effort, a big hug and high five, a new toy, or quality time with mom or dad. Ideally, rewards should be given right after the appropriate action is done, as younger children will benefit from immediate gratification.
Don’t get bogged down in recommendations that you shouldn’t use rewards. Many people and some experts may argue that kids should be motivated to potty train because they won’t have wet or soiled underwear and it is something they have to learn. While it is true that having clean undies is great, they have spent their whole lives thus far in diapers, and see no need for switching things up. So, trying to get them to potty train just because they have to can be a difficult sell to a toddler.
Know that some boys will benefit from tangible rewards whereas others won’t so much. When thinking about how to celebrate their potty efforts, think about what they enjoy, what makes them feel loved and acknowledged, and roll with it. But, at the very least, always make sure to acknowledge their efforts with support and encouragement.
Okay, listen up parents and caregivers: if you’ve been glazing through this article, give this section a second look because this here is the bread and butter of being a good support person in potty training.
What we say to our children MATTERS.
Our tone, body language, and words can really make or break an experience. Sure, this sounds like a lot of pressure, but the ball is in our court when it comes to keeping things positive and moving forward with this milestone.
Try to always find something positive to glean from a situation. If your son is just learning the ropes of potty going and they totally missed the mark on peeing in the potty, make note of how well they washed their hands. Or, if they sit on the potty but can’t go, you can compliment him on trying.
Accidents are almost every parent’s downfall. In the beginning, most of us can roll with it because we know it is to be expected. But, our patience can be tested when it happens frequently or when they have clearly shown they can use the potty sometimes. Accidents are where we have to put our frustrations aside, pull our shoulders back, and curb our tongues with negative comments like “why did you do that?” or “you know better than to poop in your pants!”
If they have an accident, you can say, “whoops! I know you wanted to get to the potty to pee. I know you will pee in the potty next time.” Or, you can acknowledge how they must feel by saying, “that must feel really wet in your pants. Let’s work together to clean you up.” It’s hard, but shaming them or getting angry and frustrated never has the outcome we want, so try to clear that from your playbook.
The language we use to speak about our bodies and bathroom habits is important. Children rely on us to help them learn what to call things. Potty training is the perfect opportunity to give children the ability to speak about their bodies and what they are feeling. So, give your son the tools to talk about his body parts and the sensations he experiences around going to the bathroom.
A lot of us are conditioned to be shy about our “private parts,” but this leads to children becoming adults who don’t know how to speak and advocate for their bodies.
A penis is a penis.
Boy-Specific Supplies (And Why You Don’t Need Them)
There are three main boy-specific items you will likely run across in your scramble to get ready for potty training: a practice urinal, a toilet target, and a splash guard. You don't need any of this. Here is what you can do instead:
Practice urinal - they won't likely be able to reach one for a while so let them practice standing up to pee in the potty at home or give them the opportunity to pee on every tree and bush in the backyard.
Toilet target - try a cheerio or goldfish instead.
Splash guard - Teach them to keep their urine stream pointed toward the water when they are sitting, and when there are messes, invite them to help clean it up with a spray bottle (always fun) and paper towels.
There is no right or wrong way between standing versus sitting for boys. Indeed, it is really up to the parent's preference, as well as what works best for them. Here are a few pros and cons to consider when teaching your son to stand vs. sit to pee.
- It’s fun!
- It is a way boys can learn the ropes of peeing outside and get practice holding their bladder and controlling where they aim their urine
- It’s likely how they see peeing modeled by other men in their lives
- You can throw something flushable in the toilet they have to hit for target practice
- It’s messier
- They may need support standing on the stepstool if they are using a standard-size potty
No matter what route you go, make sure he empties his bladder each time he goes. Oh, and watch out for loose toilet lids - it can be very scary and painful if they come crashing down on them.
Teaching boys proper hygiene practices is important for long-term health and infection prevention. And potty training is the perfect time to help him learn to care for his body. Teach him about his genitals and how to keep them clean. Whether he is circumcised or uncircumcised, he will need to get pesky drops of urine off his penis so it doesn't encourage bacteria to party there. Also, this is a great time to teach using gentle soap and plenty of clean water to clean their genitals. And, if they have a foreskin, you will want to show them how to properly care for it.
As far as bathroom cleanliness, boys can be a bit messier when it comes to peeing. Clean-up is an inevitable part of potty learning for both boys and girls, so involve him with helping early on. Give him a child-safe cleaning product in a spray bottle he can easily use, along with paper towels and a trash can.
Night Training a boy
Many parents wonder if they should night-time potty train simultaneously as daytime training. But, this really depends on the child's developmental readiness. Generally speaking, children take longer to develop bladder control overnight compared to waking hours. And often, boys do take a bit more time than girls in mastering overnight dryness. However, if your child is doing very well with daytime training, and often has dry diapers in the morning, get after it.
To start, make sure he hydrates well during the day and encourage him to taper off fluids after dinner time. Always give him access to water, but be mindful that if he drinks a lot before bed, he will likely need midnight relief.
Have him go to the potty at least 30 minutes before bed, then do your night-time routine and have him go one more time before falling asleep. You could even offer one more story on the pot to give him an incentive to try once more.
Some parents will wake their children up to pee before they go to bed. If your child has been struggling to stay dry at night, this may be a useful option to decrease bedwetting, but generally, it is best not to interrupt their sleep.
Likely, there will be a few accidents in the learning phase, so make sure you have a few supplies on hand to minimize sleep interruptions for both of you:
- Use a waterproof protector pad between the bottom sheet and mattress cover. These can be easily removed in the night if they get soiled. Have a replacement ready to go.
- Keep an extra bottom sheet or blanket next to the bed that you can throw on
- Have fresh jammies and wipes accessible
- Keep a nightlight on in their room, hallway, and bathroom