Potty training boys comes with unique challenges and experiences that can be as rewarding as they are stressful. With proper preparation, this process can become a series of bonding moments that will strengthen the relationship you have and set in stone hygiene habits that will benefit him well into adulthood.
The secret to potty training young boys is patience, a well-thought-out plan, and strong communication. By following the advice of those who came before, the fears and worries that could come with potty training will disappear.
- When to Start Potty Training
- Why Early Communication Is the Key to Successful Potty Training
- How to Prepare for Potty Training
- What Happens at the Potty Session
- Going Out
- Get Naked!
- The Joys of Standing
- Night Routines
- Celebrate Your Boy’s Success
- There Is No Such Thing as Failure
- When to Put the Potty Away
When to Start Potty Training
There is no correct time for when to potty train your boy. While children can be ready as young as 18 months, it is normal for a child not to be comfortable until they are 3 years old. The average age of training is 27 months, and it may be years longer before they can avoid accidents.
A good way to tell if your boy is ready for potty training is if he is showing interest in doing so and has an awareness of his needs. If he indicates to you when he needs diaper changes or starts following you to the bathroom, he is psychologically ready.
Your child should be able to walk to the potty without help. He should also be able to pull his pants up and down even if he sometimes requires a little help. If these things are not yet possible, don’t hesitate to wait a little while longer. Physical and psychological readiness are equally important.
Why Early Communication Is the Key to Successful Potty Training
The most important role you play as a parent is as someone who listens and talks to your child about their needs. Even at a young age, when their verbal skills are limited, boys are ready to learn both through what you say and how you act as an example.
The Simple Usefulness of Watching and Learning
While not possible in every home, having a male role model willing to be watched can be very beneficial to a boy. Toddlers can recognize the anatomical differences between boys and girls and watching how adults act during bathroom breaks can help set well-communicated expectations.
Older siblings that are willing to help can also be beneficial. Seeing how they are rewarded for good behaviors can motivate a boy’s own training experience.
Choosing the Right Words for Potty Training
Having specific words and phrases can help motivate boys to open up about their needs when potty training. Find what words your boy is comfortable using to describe his need to urinate or defecate. “Wee” and “Poop” are common choices, as are “Number One and Two.”
Using the word “toilet” instead of “potty” can emphasize the end goal of the activity. What matters is consistency and comfort, so that he can communicate without fear or confusion.
It is tempting to use juvenile names such as “pee-pee” instead of “penis” when teaching boys about their anatomy.
This is unnecessary and may teach them to be embarrassed about their genitalia. There is nothing wrong with deciding to call a potty a toilet and some boys see this as a sign that what they are doing is more “grown-up”.
We must avoid negative words when talking about potty training. Words like “dirty” and “stinky” can accidentally teach boys that they have done something wrong, while accidents should never be referred to as failures.
Books and Media That Make Potty Training Fun
Songs, books, and videos can be used to help communicate with boys about anatomy, hygiene, and the routines of the bathroom. Here are just some of the best examples out there:
“Everyone Poops” and “Potty Superhero” are some of the most popular book choices designed to be read to your child at a young age. They were specifically written to encourage positivity around the subject.
“What do you do with a potty?” is a pop-up book that teaches how to use the potty. Far more practical than other books out there, it’s interactivity is a big draw.
Sesame Street’s “Potty Time” provides engaging educational opportunities using lovable characters that all toddlers recognize.
How to Prepare for Potty Training
Kids have been trained to use the toilet long before there were guides, and can often pick up most of what they need to know through seeing examples and practicing themselves. That said, why not take advantage of the knowledge gleaned from all those who have been there before you? By having a clear plan and readying yourself with the best tools available, potty training can be a clean and comfortable experience.
Potty training does not need to be an expensive experience, with several low-cost potty chairs available. However, to offer the best help to a boy, there are additional considerations that cost little and have great benefits.
A good potty chair allows a boy to have his feet on the ground and room to tuck in their penis when sitting. Choosing a light-weight potty chair will make traveling easier and, fortunately, most popular chairs are suitable for this.
Buy the potty chair early and encourage your child to sit on it before training, so as not to be nervous about using it later. Letting boys sit on the chair naked without attempting to use it can help bring a feeling of familiarity with the experience later. Playing with the chair and teaching their toys how to use the potty is also encouraged.
Sometimes a boy is already interested in sitting on the adult toilet. For such children, consider using a “potty seat” as an alternative to the potty chair. These sit in the ordinary toilet and are designed to make it easier for a toddler to sit on the larger object. This can speed up the transition but can also be quite daunting. A common fear is of “falling in”.
Buy a footstool that lets the boy have his feet planted when eventually using the adult toilet. This can also be used for him to reach the sink when cleaning.
Accidental splashing and “near misses” are common for boys when learning to urinate and so many potty chairs designed specifically for males include splash guards to prevent the spread of mess than can occur. Buying one with removable splash guards makes cleaning easier.
During the beginning of potty training, it may be necessary to change how you dress your child. Boys will need pants that are easy to pull down quickly. Overalls should be avoided at all costs.
Training underwear that is easy to pull on and off has been shown to boost confidence while helping deal with inevitable accidents. Many parents have also seen positive results by taking their boys shopping for their first pair of “real underpants”. Today’s clothing companies have a range of styles and designs to suit your boy’s personality and interests.
Soap and Targets
“Toilet Targets” are a popular way to help boys learn to aim when standing to urinate. They add a sense of “fun” to the occasion. Consider purchasing a target for the adult toilet as well. Men’s health charities often sell such items for good causes.
Buy a soap dispenser that is easy to use. If your boy needs encouragement, there are children’s dispensers shaped like their favorite cartoon characters, dinosaurs, and rocket ships.
Creating a Potty Training Routine
Creating a routine that your toddler can learn to follow helps manage expectations. There is no perfect routine to follow, from the short-term “boot camp” to the gradual transition from diaper to complete use of the toilet without a formal process.
Talking to your family doctor and other carers (including any early childhood teachers the boy may have) can be very helpful.
- Scheduling “toilet breaks” before and after bed and naps, even when he doesn’t need to go.
- Recording recent bowel movements before starting training to see if there are common times to schedule for.
- Arranging to start training on a weekend when no travel or other activities may disrupt the schedule.
- Using a reward system, whether that be a sticker chart or small toys.
- Being okay with using a combination of potty training and diapers when the situation calls for it.
What Happens at the Potty Session
So you have all the equipment, your boy is reading “Everyone Poops” and you have chosen what words and rewards to use to make this a positive experience for everyone. Now it is time to go through the process of what happens during an individual potty session.
Have the Potty Prepared at All Times
While we will be potty training using a routine, the potty should be prepared and available at all times, as the toilet is for us. If possible, set aside a place near the toilet where the potty can be waiting for any time it is needed. This avoids stress if he is in a rush to use it but encourages him to use it without your help.
A Pre-Potty Ritual
Begin the potty session the same way each time by asking if he needs to use the potty. Use the same words for a routine potty break as you would if he looks like he needs to go. This way, you are letting him know that unscheduled potty breaks are to be expected and are not discouraged.
If he replies that he does not need to go, say “Let’s go anyway.” This encourages an attitude that going “for no reason” is better than having an accident. As potty training continues, some boys may go of their own accord for the sake of novelty. Do not discourage this but also ensure you are not rewarding the behavior.
Sitting on the Bowl
By the time potty training has started, your boy has already been introduced to the potty chair, knows what it is for, and has maybe even sat on it. Only instruct him when he appears unsure of what to do, though you may be surprised by how much he has already learned from watching others.
Potty training is easier when pants are removed completely, but this does not mean they must be. It is important to let the child decide what is most comfortable for them. Be sure to check for accidents and splashes before allowing them to pull up their pants at the end of the session.
Check to ensure that the boy has tucked his penis into the bowl as this is sometimes tricky. Leaning forward while sitting is the best position but some boys feel more comfortable sitting upright.
Let your boy read, play with toys, or even watch videos while on the potty. Potty training should never feel like a “time out”.
Never ask “Have you gone yet?” Instead, let the boy sit until he indicates he is done. Some boys will want to loudly proclaim their act while others are far more subtle. If three minutes have passed without using the bowl ask if he still needs to go. If he says no, then let him stand up and continue the rest of the routine as normal.
Cleaning After Ourselves
Give the boy three or four squares of toilet paper and let him try to wipe his bottom. Teach him to wipe from front to back, as this habit leads to a decrease in urinary tract infections in later life. Let him put the dirty paper in the potty and then take a clean amount and clean his bottom again to check.
It is normal for your boy to want to “check his handiwork” and this should not be discouraged.
Check his pants and then have him pull them back on.
Take the potty to the toilet and put any waste into the bowl. Let him flush the toilet himself as an encouragement. Most potty chairs these days come with internal bowls that can be lifted to make this task easier. Immediately after, go together to the bathroom vanity and wash hands.
Congratulate him on a job well done and let him know that he can ask if he needs to use it again soon. A boy that couldn’t go the first time will often find himself needing to soon after and it is important to show that he isn’t wasting your time by asking to go again.
There is no real reason to put boys through the minutiae of cleaning the potty. However, once the boy has completed his session, it is important to immediately clean the bowl with warm soapy water. Place the potty chair back in its original position, prepared for the next session.
It is unrealistic to assume that little boys will only be at home as they potty train and being away from home is no excuse to delay or stop training. However, it is a good idea to consider what events are coming up and try to take a small outing before tackling larger trips.
It is great to get boys into the habit of going to the potty before leaving the house, a routine which makes life easier well after potty training has finished. To encourage this habit, set an example and make it part of the family routine. “Has everyone gone to the bathroom?” helps remind a growing boy that he is not being singled out or being punished.
Most potty chairs are portable and can be packed along with a spare change of clothes. Foldable “travel potties” do exist but are unnecessary. Remember that being out can add stress to a toddler during this period and accidents should be expected.
Many toddlers are already not fond of clothing. Potty training is the perfect time to take advantage of this because being naked offers many benefits to both kid and carer.
Encourage your boy to play naked near the potty chair before training. Have him sit on it with no expectation of use now and he will feel less anxious when potty sessions begin. Naked children are also more willing to take themselves to the potty without assistance.
The most helpful aspect of the naked child is that visual clues of their need to go are more prominent. Naked boys tend to clutch themselves when they need to use the bathroom.
The Joys of Standing
Potty training can be complicated enough for a young boy without including standing and urinals. That is why it is considered best to teach sitting for all needs and then let the boy stand when he wants to.
Fortunately, there is no big trick when it comes to urinating while standing, as long as he is aiming for an appropriate place. This means in the potty instead of on the floor or down directly into their pants.
You may be concerned to see your boy “playing with himself” while urinating, but this is a normal experience for him. The use of “Training Targets” can add a sense of novelty.
An advantage of being a young boy when playing in the backyard is the social acceptability of running behind a tree to wee. Encourage them to direct the stream to the base of the plant and make sure they are not standing downhill. Make sure they still wash their hands after.
Going to the potty before bed is a great habit to instill in kids but it will not avoid night time accidents. This is why many parents opt to leave their children in diapers at night until day training is completed. If he wants to wear his “big boy underwear”, though, give him the chance. Let him know that it is okay to wake you up to go to the potty and that he can even try to go by himself if he wants.
Plastic under-sheets are available to protect mattresses from accidents and are well worth purchasing. Remember to refrain from negative language when accidents occur, but getting them involved in helping to clean up their bed encourages a sense of responsibility.
Celebrate Your Boy’s Success
It would be counter-productive to throw a party every time your son has successfully used the potty, but celebrating big milestones can have a huge effect on his confidence and abilities. Rewarding his successful “big kid” actions with “big kid” rewards, such as watching a new video or their favorite dinner.
Important milestones worth celebrating include:
- Their first potty usage.
- Their first weekend with no accidents.
- The first time using the potty or toilet away from home.
- The first time they take themselves to the potty with no help.
- The first time they stand to urinate.
- The first time they use the adult toilet.
Even when not a milestone achievement, every successful trip to the toilet should be met with words of encouragement and praise.
There Is No Such Thing as Failure
There will be times when potty training becomes messy. There will be times when a boy will get off the potty without having gone to the toilet. There will be times when he will not reach the potty in time. There will be accidents.
These are not failures.
As maddening as potty training can be, staying calm is essential. It is important to explicitly let the boy know that accidents are not their fault. Every child’s journey is different. Comparing any child to another does not help.
There is nothing wrong with taking a break from potty training. If there has been little progress over a couple of weeks, take time off before trying again. It is okay for him to not be ready. Keep the potty visible and let him use it when he is comfortable. Continue to encourage him to play with the potty, sit on it, and use his toys on it.
It is not unusual for a boy to experience a stage of regression, in which accidents begin to increase again. Bringing the potty back out should not be seen as a punishment but a helping hand. Provide as much support and encouragement as you can for what can be a quite embarrassing experience.
A Word on Bed-wetting
Bed-wetting is a separate experience to potty training and such accidents are not to be included when considering how your son is doing. Bed-wetting occurs during sleep and is 100% out of the control of the child.
Bed-wetting should not be of great concern before the boy turns 7 – unless it happens nightly or is combined with pain or discoloration of urine. To decrease the chance of bed-wetting, always ensure your boy goes to the bathroom before bed. Make this a part of his nightly routine.
When to Put the Potty Away
Transitioning away from the potty relies on many factors, including the physical ability of the boy to sit by himself on the toilet and his psychological readiness for this next challenge. As he moves to the toilet, keep the potty nearby for when he is feeling less confident.
Developing independence and avoiding accidents is the priority. When he can use the toilet and no longer experiences regular accidents, it is time to put the potty away. It is time to celebrate.