How to Start Potty Training a Boy

Baby boy learning how to use the toilet.

Petri Oeschger / Getty Images 

Potty training can be an exciting and challenging time—for toddlers and their parents alike. For boys, this means learning to pee both sitting down and standing up. As the mother of four boys, I can attest to the fun (and the mess) that often comes with this process. There's the thrill of "big kid" pants, the disappointment of accidents, and the inevitability of pee getting all over the toilet.

First, it's important to make sure your child is ready to potty train. Then, focus on the potty training itself before worrying too much about their technique. You can let them try sitting or standing at the potty, but sitting can initially be easier.

"I don't really see [potty training boys] as much different than girls. It's all about when the individual child is ready and when parents want to try to help foster the skill," says Jennifer Trachtenberg, MD, a pediatrician at Carnegie Hill Pediatrics and an assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at Icahn School of Medicine Mount Sinai in New York City.

A young child's penis is small and it usually sticks straight out. This can make it hard for them to grasp and accurately direct where the urine goes. "I often recommend to start sitting with the penis pointing downward into the bowl before trying to teach standing up," says Dr. Trachtenberg.

At this age, children are still learning how to control their body, when they need to go, and the other ins and outs of how to use the toilet. So, it's easy to understand why sitting down may be the better option at first. That said, you can certainly work on both sitting and standing at the potty from the start if you prefer. We'll walk you through what you need to know about how to potty train your little one.

When to Start Potty Training a Boy

One key to potty training is to understand (and accept) that kids can't master using the toilet until they're ready. Being ready for potty training means that your child is aware of their bladder and the signs that they need to urinate and poop. Once they can feel the pressure of their bladder and bowel movements, they can start to connect that "gotta go" feeling with heading to the potty.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), toddlers typically begin to learn their body's signals for needing the toilet between the ages of 18 and 24 months. However, the AAP also notes that while most toddlers begin potty training between ages 2 and 3, some aren't fully toilet trained until age 4.

The difference in anatomy makes potty training a male a bit more complicated than with females. This is particularly because they need to aim, and can either sit or stand to pee. But generally, the process of potty training males and females is very similar, says Dr. Trachtenberg.

Males generally tend to master this skill a few months later than females. Studies show that the average child has completed potty training at around 2 years and 7 months old. However, those numbers include all kids, so boys will likely be a bit closer to age 3.

There may be several reasons for this delay. One is that there is a wide range of when children become fully aware of their need to use the toilet. Some kids master this early and others might not really clue in until they are closer to age 3 or even later. The child also needs to be able to listen to and follow directions, take underwear or pull-ups on and off, and be motivated to try using the potty instead of going in their diaper.

Signs Your Child Is Ready for Potty Training

It's not always clear if your child is totally ready, simply because you can't always know for sure what bodily sensations they are aware of. However, there are some signs you can look for, says Dr. Trachtenberg:

  • They're able to dress themselves (particularly pull on and off pants, shorts, and underwear).
  • They can understand and follow basic instructions.
  • They can walk to and from the bathroom and sit on the toilet (they may need a step stool).
  • They seem aware when they go in their diaper (they may hide).
  • They tell you when they go in their diaper and/or complain about diapers being wet or dirty.
  • They keep their diaper dry for a minimum of two-hour stretches during the day.
  • They express an interest in "big kid" underwear and using the potty.
  • They wake up with dry diapers from naps or at night.

"Signs include knowing that they have already urinated or had a bowel movement and are uncomfortable in the diaper, along with being able to hold urine for a few hours during the day," says Dr. Trachtenberg.

Note that your child doesn't need to display all of these readiness signs. However, the more of these skills they have, the easier their potty training experience may go. Ultimately, if you're not sure if they're ready and/or they are resistant, you might want to check with your child's healthcare provider or wait a few more weeks before evaluating again.

How Long Does Potty Training Take?

There are a variety of potty training methods available to try, some of which offer success in a matter of days or weeks. Others may take months (or years). Different kids will respond to various potty training methods in different ways, with some techniques more suited to them than others.

Which method you choose and how quickly the training progresses will depend on your child's readiness, temperament, and willingness. Consistency matters, too; make sure your child is getting the same messages from all their caregivers.

Note that some research shows that starting potty training earlier (before age 2) is associated with the process taking longer to master. So, if your goal is to potty train quickly, you may want to wait to begin until your child is a bit older and very enthusiastic and engaged with the process. Ultimately, though, whatever works best for your family is how you should proceed.

For some families, potty training can seem to drag on and on, with their child experiencing success one day and regression the next. A child can also begin to protest potty training. Sometimes, this resistance can turn into an unwelcome battle and a frustrating experience for all involved. When this happens, potty training can take even longer. Ultimately, how long it takes for your child to master using the toilet depends on a variety of factors, some of which are not always in your control.

So, instead of setting expectations for a specific length of time, it can help to focus on making sure your child is truly ready to begin. Next, try out the potty training method that you feel will work best for you and your child. Then, give your child as much time and practice as they need to learn these important skills. Often, the less pressure they (and you) feel for them to master potty training quickly, the smoother it will go.

Recommended Potty Training Methods

Potty training methods abound and you can feel free to try out whatever techniques make sense to you. There are numerous books, songs, videos, and gadgets you can use. However, according to the AAP, the most effective approach is a child-centric one grounded in positivity and following your toddler's lead.

Once you've determined that your child is indeed ready to potty train, you'll want to talk through the process with them. Let them know that they will be learning to use the toilet and going without diapers.

Show them their new potty (or the toilet and step stool) that they will be using and big kid underwear. Go over each step in their bathroom routine. Use body-positive, accurate words that your family is comfortable with, such as urine, penis, and poop.

"Reading books about going potty, as well as learning by imitation at this age is helpful. So, let them watch you in the bathroom as well," advises Dr. Trachtenberg.

Model how going to the bathroom works by letting them watch you. You can have them practice the process as well, even if they don't need to go. Then, watch your child for signs they need the toilet, such as squirming, reaching for their penis, grunting, face turning red, or squatting. Talk to them about noticing these indications that they need to pee or poo.

"First, have all children learn sitting down on the potty," recommends Dr. Trachtenberg. Then progress to learning to stand to pee.

Once you think they need to go, have them sit on the potty (and/or stand to pee). Praise your child for their efforts, even if they don't go. Create a toileting routine for them to follow. Make practice trips to the toilet often, even hourly, until they get the hang of it.

However, let your child be as in charge of the process as possible, since the ultimate goal is for them to fully take over this important personal care skill. Remember to include instructions on wiping and hand washing.

Tips for Potty Training Boys

Potty training can be a very exciting time—but it can also get stressful fast. Try these tips for potty training males to help ease the process.

Honor Your Parental Instincts

Different parents may feel more or less comfortable with various techniques. And that's just fine. You might also try one technique and then need to shift gears if it doesn't resonate or prove successful with your child.

Some kids may do better with the boot camp approach, while others may need a less rigid training style that offers a more gentle transition from diapers to big kid pants. Or they may do best with an approach that falls somewhere in between.

Use a Child-Sized Potty

An adult-sized toilet can be frightening and unsteady for a toddler. Instead, use a child-size potty where they can sit with their feet firmly planted on the floor. "This 'grounding' makes it easier to have a bowel movement but also less scary than if their feet are just dangling," says Dr. Trachtenberg. "If using a regular toilet bowl with a child seat insert, be sure to use a step stool as well for their feet."

Let Go of Expectations

There's no one perfect way or time to potty train your child. Some kids are going to be diaper-free by age 2, while others may need a year or two longer. That's no reflection on you as a parent or on your child. All that really matters is that eventually, your child is using the potty independently. So, don't sweat it if that doesn't happen as quickly or as easily as you might plan or expect.

Make Sure It's a Good Time to Try

Pick a time to start the toilet training process when you have the time and energy to devote to it. If you're experiencing a time of transition or challenge, such as a move, new sibling, divorce, illness, or death in your family, or if you're just super-busy, it's probably best to wait until you (and/or your partner) can devote positive attention to the process. Potty training can become arduous and stressful if you're overtaxed, not prepared, or are feeling stressed.

Be Consistent

Set up a potty training routine that your child can count on. For example, you might decide for them to continue wearing diapers at night but only wear big kid underwear during the day. You might have them try to use the potty hourly as well as whenever they show signs of needing to go. You might also have them try to go before you leave the house.

Following a consistent schedule helps to get your child into good toileting habits, and all that practice will help them master these new skills.

It works best to follow a consistent potty routine, says Dr. Trachtenberg, which should include the following: "Walking over to the potty, pulling down pants, sitting for a few minutes, pull up pants, flush, and wash hands."

Keep It Positive

Try to keep potty training as light and fun as possible. Accidents happen. Expect them and be ready to help them clean up. Aim to respond to mishaps calmly, without judgment or shame.

Also, avoid getting into a power struggle. If your child is super resistant, consider trying again in a few weeks. Once the process starts to get tense or contentious, both you and your child may get frustrated.

There's No One Right Way

Different families and cultures may have specific potty training traditions or expectations—and your family members and friends will likely have a lot of suggestions. It's great to use that experience as a resource for support and advice if you'd like. Ultimately, you get to choose what approach to take, so follow what feels right to you.

For example, many parents of males will also have their children watch other males in the family pee so that they can model how to do it. Others may not feel comfortable with that approach.

Some families encourage their kids to learn to pee standing up by peeing outside, while others choose to limit their child's urination to the toilet. Either approach is totally fine. It's really about personal preference and comfort level.

It's okay to let them pee outside if you want to in a pinch, but when learning, it's better to keep a routine of using the bathroom inside to ease them into potty training, advises Dr. Trachtenberg.

Teach Them to Stand to Pee

A step stool can be helpful for males to reach the toilet. Be patient as they learn to successfully grasp their penis and direct the flow of urine into the potty. Show them how to get into position (leaning forward slightly) and direct their urine stream into the toilet water.

Messes are likely to happen as they get the hang of their aim. This may sound obvious, but you also may need to make sure that they understand that standing up is for urine only, not bowel movements.

"Boys do like target practice and can try aiming at a few Cheerios in the toilet bowl," suggests Dr. Trachtenberg. You can also purchase special toilet bowl stickers for them to aim at or that turn colors when they hit the target with their urine stream, she says.

But her best advice is this: "Practice, practice, practice. So, lots of fluids (water to drink) to give more opportunities during the day to use the potty."

A Word From Verywell

Potty training a male is very similar to teaching a female to use the toilet. The main differences are that males often show readiness to learn this skill a bit later than females, and males need to learn to pee standing up as well as sitting down.

While the learning curve can sometimes take longer than you'd like, your child will master this important life skill eventually. Keeping your calm (and sense of humor) can go a long way in helping you both along this journey toward bathroom independence.

6 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Create a potty training plan for your child.

  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. The right age to potty train.

  3. Kiddoo DA. Toilet training children: when to start and how to trainCMAJ. 2012;184(5):511-512. doi:10.1503/cmaj.110830

  4. American Academy of Pediatrics. Verbal and cognitive skills needed for potty training.

  5. American Academy of Pediatrics. Emotional issues and potty training problems.

  6. American Academy of Pediatrics. Increasing confidence and self-esteem during toilet training.

By Sarah Vanbuskirk
Sarah Vanbuskirk is a writer and editor with 20 years of experience covering parenting, health, wellness, lifestyle, and family-related topics. Her work has been published in numerous magazines, newspapers, and websites, including Activity Connection, Glamour, PDX Parent, Self, TripSavvy, Marie Claire, and TimeOut NY.

Originally written by Amanda Rock
Amanda Rock, mom of three, has spent more than a decade of her professional career writing and editing for parents and children.
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