Using the toilet is a significant milestone that builds a child’s confidence and independence. Parents and caregivers with young boys who show readiness and interest in using the toilet may want to begin potty training.
Potty training involves teaching a child to become aware of their need to go to the bathroom, learn to control their bladder and bowels, and use a potty chair or toilet correctly.
Each child has their own unique personality and learning style, and each develops at a different pace. Potty training success depends on a child’s readiness and on selecting the training method that best suits the child and parent.
This article provides information on when to begin potty training and lists some of the methods a parent or caregiver can use. We also outline some tips and tricks that may help with potty training.
A note about sex and gender
Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.
On average, children in the United States begin potty training between 18 months and 3 years of age.
The key to successful potty training is beginning when the child is developmentally, emotionally, and behaviorally ready. In the U.S., most children develop the readiness to potty train between 22 and 30 months of age.
A child who engages in the following activities may be ready to begin potty training:
- showing a desire for independence
- sitting still for a few minutes without becoming distracted
- pulling their pants up and down
- staying dry for around 2 hours or more
- disliking the feeling of dirty or wet diapers
- indicating their need to pee or poop
- wanting to wear “big boy underwear”
- showing an interest and desire to learn to potty
- having bowel movements at regular times
- staying dry during the night
According to a 2019 review, girls tend to develop most readiness skills faster than boys. For example, 90% of boys show interest in using the toilet at around 26 months of age, while 90% of girls develop this readiness skill at 24 months. However, these figures are averages, and developmental rates vary from child to child.
Children develop at different rates, and the amount of time it takes to potty train a young boy depends on his readiness and personality. It also depends on the training method a parent or caregiver employs.
Despite this, experts say most children will develop daytime bladder and bowel control by the time they are 4 years old, as they will stay dry throughout the day.
It is essential to note that there is no superior training method. Parents or caregivers should pick one of the following methods according to their child’s individual needs and preferred learning approach.
The Brazelton method is a child-oriented toilet training approach. It emphasizes toilet training as the child’s attempt to be in charge of their own body.
This method requires people to look for signs of readiness before initiating toilet training. Experts refer to this as the “child readiness approach.” It is a gradual, step-by-step approach that only moves forward when the child is ready for the next step. This avoids putting undue pressure on the child.
The elimination communication method is also called “natural infant hygiene.” This method instructs people to look for cues that their child is about to eliminate, such as grunting and straining.
When cues occur, a person must vocalize a sound that the child learns to associate with pooping. Once the child understands the pairing, parents can position the child on their potty and make the sound to encourage the child to poop. Further research is required to conclude the efficacy of this method.
Assisted infant toilet training
Assisted infant toilet training is similar to elimination communication. However, instead of placing the child on a potty or a toilet, a parent repositions the child in their arms for easier elimination. Research into the effectiveness of this method is also lacking.
Azrin and Foxx method
The Azrin and Foxx method is structured, rapid, and parent-oriented.
This method uses principles of operant conditioning to facilitate the child’s learning of potty training tasks. Examples of operant conditioning include repetition and positive reinforcement in the form of praise and snacks every time the child performs the tasks correctly.
When the child fails, parents administer consequences in the form of cleaning up mistakes and repeating tasks correctly with focus.
Parents or caregivers can train children as young as 20 months old if they demonstrate readiness. A child demonstrates readiness by responding appropriately to at least 8 of the following 10 requests:
- bringing a familiar object
- imitating behavior
- sitting on a chair
- placing a familiar object with another
- standing up
- walking with a person to a particular space
- showing his or her eyes
- showing his or her mouth
- showing his or her nose
- showing his or her hair
Other potty training methods include online guides and books available to purchase, such as:
Supplies for toilet training may include a potty chair with splash guards or a potty training seat attachment. Many people prefer a chair, as these are easy to transport.
Other supplies for boys include:
- potty or training seat
- loose clothing
- pull-ups or training pants
- a ladder or toilet stool
A parent may want to consider buying a drink and wet doll with a little potty so a child can get the whole experience of drinking and then urinating afterward.
To prepare for potty training, parents and caregivers can decide on a date and put up a visual reminder. They can also begin reading books on potty training. Using a potty will be new to a child, so a parent should get them used to the idea gradually.
Parents may want to choose a date when they are home and have no plans on going elsewhere. A weekend would be ideal, so they have more time to focus on potty training.
To help with potty training, a person may also consider:
- starting potty training in the summer, so the child can run around without pants or clothing, which increases the chance of success whenever the child feels an urge to pee or poop
- making potty a part of the child’s daily routine, ensuring that the child sits on the potty after waking up, after meals, and before bed
- paying attention to and become familiar with signs that the child needs to eliminate, such as the child holding his penis or jumping around
- allowing the child to become comfortable with the potty
- practicing pretend play with a doll or stuffed toy
- practicing good hygiene
- taking a break and trying again later if potty training does not work
Away from home
Parents and caregivers can start going on short trips once the child has shown consistency in using the potty at home. However, it helps to prepare for accidents by bringing along extra clothes.
When going out, people should ask their child to use the toilet before leaving and immediately after reaching the destination. A portable urinal or a travel potty seat can be a worthwhile investment if the family plans to go on trips regularly.
Once a child has mastered peeing in the potty while sitting, people can begin teaching him to pee while standing.
People can purchase cute urinals and targets to make potty training more fun. Male family members can also help model the task. Once the child has finished observing, the child can try on his own potty or urinal.
The following can help improve a boy’s aim:
- standing near the seat
- holding the penis near its tip
- using flushable targets or Cheerios
No more diapers
Parents and caregivers may consider involving their child in the decision to transition from diapers to training pants or head straight to “big boy underwear.” Having the child select their own underwear can be rewarding and add to their confidence.
Another approach is to have a child take some responsibility for his diaper. If he wants a diaper instead of the potty or needs to be changed, he would retrieve the new diaper and help change and discard the old one.
When a parent or caregiver believes their child is ready to start, fill a basket with about 2 or 3 days worth of diapers. They should let their child know that “when these diapers are gone, they’re going to have to use the potty.” This gives a child the sign that potty training day is coming soon.
Accidents may still happen, so it can help to have a stock of several pairs of training pants or underwear. People can still keep diapers, which can be handy for long trips and at nighttime.
A parent or caregiver can focus on getting their child potty trained during the day before they start leaving their diaper off at night.
If a child’s nappy or diaper is dry or only slightly damp when they wake up for a few mornings in a row, they may be ready for nighttime potty training.
Nighttime bladder and bowel control is a separate developmental phase from daytime control. Complete nighttime control may not develop until the child reaches 3 or 5 years of age.
Tips that can help with nighttime potty training include:
- limiting drinks before bedtime
- making a habit of going to the potty before going to bed
- waking the child up once in the night to potty
- waterproofing sheets
- praising the child, as with daytime potty training
Many people find toilet training difficult and frustrating. The most important thing parents and caregivers should learn is to remove expectations. Following a strict timeline or comparing the child with a sibling or peer can pressure the child.
A person must be patient and understand that potty training will happen when the child is ready.
Below are other tips that may help:
- Respond positively: Children will continue to have accidents, even after they have grasped potty training. Parents and caregivers should try to remain calm and patient rather than resort to shaming or scolding. It is important to keep encouraging the child by praising them whenever they successfully pee or poop.
- Make it fun: A parent can allow their child to become comfortable with the potty and their underpants. Having toys, such as the drink and wet doll, near the potty can help to keep the child happy and occupied.
- Use a timer: Using a timer can provide visual guidance to the child, so they know when to sit on the potty and remain seated on the potty longer. It also reassures them that they can get up once the timer goes off.
- Turn on the tap: The sound of gushing water can help a child pee.
- Have more than one potty around the house: Parents and caregivers should consider having several potties in different areas of the house to make them more accessible and prevent the likelihood of accidents.
- Directly switch from diapers to underwear: Sometimes, children get confused with pull-ups and think they are like diapers. To avoid this, switch directly from diapers to underwear.
- Find a peer: Introducing the child to another child who is potty training can help with encouragement.
- Enlist the help of other people: Male role models may be more effective in teaching young boys to pee, especially when teaching them to pee while standing.
- Collaborate: Parents and other caregivers should follow the same established potty training routines to help the child learn more effectively.
- Be consistent: Consistency is essential when potty training. People should select an approach and a reasonable timeframe and stay consistent with their chosen approach. If the approach does not work after the elapsed time, they can individualize it to better suit their child’s needs.
- Change the approach: Parents and caregivers can explore other methods if the current approach is not working.
- Take a break: If people have tried several approaches and none seem to work, the child is not ready for toilet training. Parents and caregivers can delay the training and try again after a few weeks to give the child time to develop readiness.
Potty training is a major life skill that marks a growing child’s independence. However, children who receive potty training before they are ready may experience undue stress. Signs of readiness include staying dry for longer, indicating the need to pee and poop, and showing interest in the potty.
It is essential to understand that each child develops at a different pace, and there is no single method for success. Instead, looking for signs of readiness and using the approach that best fits the child are keys to toilet training success.
Factors that can help with potty training include praising the child, making potty time fun, and taking a break from the potty training if the child is not yet ready.