How to potty train a boy

Potty training boys is different from toilet training girls - we've got 10 tips on how to do it including using targets, practising standing and sitting and getting some help from dad

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It’s official – potty training boys is different from potty training girls! The main reason for this, according to the experts, is because of the vast, gaping differences between the way boys and girls learn (as well, of course, as the different anatomies).

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Their cognitive differences might well account for the fact that it’s not uncommon for your 3-year-old son to still be in nappies while his female friends have been in pants for months.

It may take boys longer to master potty training because of the way they process information. They develop their language responses later than girls and as potty training relies on communication and processing information, it can take boys longer to get the hang of it.

Because of this, some mums might delay toilet training their boys. For instance, in our Wee can make it happen survey, we found that 54% of parents of girls start trying to potty train their girls under the age of two compared to only 38% of parents of boys.

Others say the reason behind boys getting the hang of potty training later than girls may simply be because boys have a two-step process to get their heads around – sitting down for a poo and standing up for a pee. That’s tough for anyone to get to grips with, let alone a two-and-a-half year old boy!

Then again, some, like MFMer mommmmmy reckon it’s all down to a boy’s anal sphincter not developing as quickly as a girl’s. Blimey! Who knew?! Still, don’t worry if he’s a late starter – it’s not a race and he will get there eventually.

And remember that whenever you do decide to leap into loo training, fret not about the potential challenges ahead as your child will pick up on this and feel pressured.

Try to avoid any negative associations with going to the toilet, if you can. And if you follow our top 10 timely tips, he’ll get there without any tears or tantrums – from both of you!

10 tips on potty training boys

1. Make sure they’re ready

Before you get started, it’s important to make sure he’s ready. Look out for these 10 key signs and don’t start until he’s showing several of them.

The timing needs to be right for you too. If he’s just started nursery or you’re moving house or even due to give birth to another child, wait a little while longer before you start potty training as both he and you might feel overwhelmed by the flurry of change and you’re less likely achieve success.

2. Have a load of pants handy

Preparation is key to getting this potty party started right – and seeing all this new undies-based activity will help create excitement for him about becoming a ‘big boy’.

First things first, though, take your little boy out shopping and let him pick out some big boy pants or training pants.

Boys tend to prefer ones with their favourite characters on – and pull-ups make things easier for you, too, while getting him used to the pulling down/pulling up action that’s such a big part of potty training.

As boys are unlikely to be wearing skirts or dresses, your son may benefit from running around clothes-free on his bottom half so his trousers don’t slow down his race to the potty.

Or try loose clothing. “Invest in loose jogging pants with an elastic waist so it’s easy for him to pull them up and down,” Amanda recommends.

3. Let them pick the potty

Choosing a potty together is fun and could be crucial to success. “Choose a high-lipped potty as this will help with any mess,” advises potty training expert Amanda Jenner.

Getting the aim right will be the first challenge for your little boy and a high-lipped potty will help make sure most of the mess stays off the floor.

But some mums swear by small, detachable toilet seats that your little one’s bottom can fit into, simultaneously doing away with the common fear of falling in.

Tesco, Mothercare, Argos and Kiddicare (to name but a few) all stock mini seats and the accompanying step stools your little prince might need to help him get up onto the throne.

Take a look at our 10 of the best potties

4. Accentuate the positive

Pick out stickers and print out our special, free reward chart to show him just how proud you are of him every time he does well and uses the potty (and go nuts with lots of positive encouragement when he doesn’t quite get it too).

You can also get him to decorate his potty with some of the stickers to help him feel more comfortable with it.

5. Get some targets in

Give him something to aim for at the bottom of the potty and encourage him to hit the target with his wee. You can get Tinkle Targets on Amazon that you can stick on the back of the loo to help his aim too.

Alternatively, you could just use something bright (a Tiddly wink, a ping pong ball, a favourite car or a board game marker) to steer him in the right direction.

Be a little wary of the ‘penis as water pistol/firehose’ approach, though, because things can go awry very easily, as MFMer lullabymummy has found out: “Josh’s potty training has taken a turn for the worse – now he insists on using his ‘hose’ just like Fireman Sam! You can imagine the mess I have to clean up every day!”

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6. Experiment with sitting and standing

“I personally recommend from experience to get him to sit at the early stages of potty training to prevent any mess and stress to you both,” says Amanda. “Teach him to tuck his penis in between his thighs whilst sitting on the potty,” she says.

But if you want to teach him to stand while he wees from the off, you could always get one of these mini urinals that are colourful and entertaining in their own right.

Often, the little man will decide for himself whether he favours standing or sitting, and there’s no harm in letting him choose his own path.

And if he does want to sit, just shrug your shoulders and console yourself with the fact that it means there’s one less person in the house to nag about putting the seat down when they’ve finished!

Then again, he just might decide to wee up a tree, like MFMer Manfalou’s little lad: “The great thing about boys is they can wee up trees!

“We went to the local ‘Skegness comes to the park’ day and he was desperate for a wee but the toilets were so far away and he was already jigging, obviously holding it in through the excitement of donkey rides and candy floss.

“We found the closest tree and wee’d against it… fab! So easy… I just hope he doesn’t think he can do it anywhere and everywhere now!”

7. Use books and vids for extra help

Buying a kids’ book about potty training is never a bad idea – there are loads on the market, including some specifically for boys.

We like Pirate Pete’s Potty: Potty Training For Boys, complete with a button to press for a ‘cheer’ sound effect, The Potty Train and one for the little ones obsessed by iPads and the like, there’s a great YouTube video for kids to watch while on the potty.

8. Communicate without pressure

Talk about what’s going to happen (or what you really hope will happen!) and make sure he feels happy and at ease about it.

Start by suggesting that he sits on the potty with his nappy off. If your toddler has a favourite teddy bear or toy, you could use it for potty demonstrations.

Don’t pressure him, though. If he fights back, resist the temptation to push him too far. Just let it go and start again in a few days or weeks.

If you get cross or show your frustration and say things like: “You’re 3 and a half years old, Junior! You should know how to use a potty by now!”, it will simply lead to a breakdown in communication, hinder the whole process and make him feel like a failure.

By far the best way for a small child to learn is by imitation, let’s face it, which brings us neatly to our 9th tip…

9. Get them to watch dad (or big brother) if you can

Let your little one follow his dad or his big brother to the toilet to watch how it’s done. This will also help you explain the differences in the way mums and dads use the toilet!

And this is one area that Dad should really take the helm on – give them both something to be proud of!

But if you’re a single mum, potty training your little boy will present extra challenges, without the lad’s dad around all the time. If you can enveigle your son’s dad (if he’s still keen on seeing the kids) to at least do some of the potty training, it could really speed things up and make it a bit easier for you.

Stress that this process is brilliant for bonding between a dad and his son. But if your little one’s dad is not around, see if you can get a willing uncle or trusted male friend to let him watch how a big man pees.

10. Accept that accidents will happen

With the best will in the world, accidents are going to happen – sometimes continuing for a lot longer than you ever anticipated! Try to accept that there will be days when you feel you’ve made real progress only to be followed by a day full of little accidents. It happens.

The key thing here is not to give up and stay cool. Roll with it with a smile and don’t see it as a setback. Just stick at it and he’ll get there.

And finally…

Note that over 1 in 5 parents (22%) in our Wee Can Do This survey admit they’ve had ‘more short-lived training attempts’ with their boys compared to only one in seven parents of girls (13%), so you’re definitely not alone during this trying time.

Keep him focused with positive encouragement and praise and he’ll learn. Eventually. Remember, he wants to be dry, so he will master this new activity – in his own good time! And don’t forget, dry days come a long time before dry nights.

Many boys worry about doing a poo in the potty, so don’t make a big deal of it but do try to chat to him about what he might be afraid of.

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