People have a lot of opinions about how to potty train a boy — including that boys take longer to potty train (and start later), because they’re too busy playing and moving to stop and focus on the potty. That’s not necessarily true. For one, toddler girls are every bit as busy as toddler boys. Also, readiness varies from toddler to toddler.
In general, you are likely to see signs of readiness, such as staying dry for up to two hours at a time, as early as 18 to 24 months of age or as late as 3-years-old (and sometimes beyond.) There isn’t any benefit to getting a head start on the process, though. In fact, pushing your son to potty train might make the process longer and more stressful.
Developmental, physical, and behavioral milestones — not age — all play a role in potty training readiness. While some boys are ready to ditch the diapers as soon as possible, others simply aren’t ready yet.
Big transitions in the life of the toddler also play a role in readiness. So, if any of these things are happening in your family, it’s best to wait:
- Moving to a new home
- New sibling on the way
- Starting a new daycare
- Other family stress
Follow these steps to encourage potty training for your son:
1. Determine whether he’s ready to potty train. Most toddlers don’t walk up to their parents and say, “I want to use the potty now.” The life of the toddler is busy and exciting. They have a lot to do and discover each day. It’s up to you to watch for signs of readiness in your son, such as:
- Can he pull his pants up and down with ease on his own?
- Does your son stay dry for up to two hours at a time?
- Does he communicate when he’s wet or when he needs to go?
- Does your son hide behind furniture or in his room for privacy?
- Can he follow basic directions?
- Does your son communicate interest in using the potty with words or actions, such as wetting his diaper in the bathroom?
2. Get the best potty seat for your son. Different kids prefer different equipment. It’s a good idea to teach your son to master potty training while sitting down first, and work on standing once he experiences success for a few months. It helps to choose a seat that your son can get on and off of independently, as well as a footrest for comfort and a sturdy foot stool for the sink. The easier it is to use the equipment, the more likely your son will have a positive potty training experience.
3. Create a stress-free potty zone. Spoiler alert: It’s not that easy to point down or hit a target in the bowl; your son will have accidents. Remain calm and provide encouragement. This training period won’t last forever. Try to keep that in mind. Some parents find that adding a few drops of blue food coloring to the bowl to make a game of turning the water green helps boys remember to aim in the right place, while others report that Cheerios make good targets. The truth is that your child needs your focus and patience during this time. Sure, some tricks are fun and keep the process interesting, but your son needs guidance, not gimmicks, to make this transition. I always encourage parents to keep a basket of books handy to encourage sitting and trying while taking a potty break. This also reduces stress.
4. Schedule potty breaks. Toddlers are known for getting lost in play and forgetting about everything else in the process. Accidents will happen, and they won’t always alert you to their bathroom needs in a timely manner. Schedule regular potty breaks for your son and be sure to praise him for trying. It also helps to watch for signs such as squirming, holding his pants, and squatting that signal he needs to go to the bathroom.
5. Teach him good hygiene. Be sure to teach proper wiping and revisit hand washing. Though most toddlers know how to wash their hands, they can be quick about it. A small sand timer helps them practice washing the germs away for longer than a few seconds.
6. Make the transition to underpants. Once your son has a couple of successful weeks of using the potty, it’s time to shop for cool new underpants. Try a variety of sizes and styles to find the right fit and be sure to celebrate this exciting milestone!
If your son struggles or simply resists, take a break. Many kids make multiple attempts before they master potty training. It’s better to wait and have a stress-free experience than to pile on the pressure and have the whole process backfire.