Thursday, July 5, 2012

Potty Training Boys - Tips For Success

Potty Training. Just mentioning those two dreaded words to any mom will get you a serious eye roll or maybe a request for an alcoholic beverage and a shoulder to cry on.  
I didn't exactly think that I would ever write a blog post on potty training, but since four of my boys have graduated to underwear, and we'll be potty training the fifth in about a year, and it's late and I can't sleep, maybe now is a good time to let you in on what I know has worked...and has not worked for us.

Since I'm the only female on this ranch, I can only share with you what I know about potty training boys.  And, if you understand that there are about 10 billion differences between girls and boys then you are already on the right road to success.  Many parenting advice columns or books that address the topic of potty training are not gender specific.  This, my friends, is a problem. So, keep that in mind when you are trying to get Jr. to sit on the pot while you read him a story and he just wants to unroll the toilet paper and make farty sounds.

A little disclaimer: Because every child and household schedule/rhythm is unique, there are no guarantees that my ideas will work for your munchkins. However, it is nice to have a variety of approaches, just in case the first or second tries go up in flames.

Let me begin by telling you what HAS NOT worked for us:

1.  The fancy toilet.  BIG waste of money.  Boys aren't going to pee in something that could be better used as a device for destruction, construction or for anything stunt related.  The ones that make special sounds only add a dramatic effect as they jump off the lid like Superman and do the crash-n-burn with grunts and explosive noises.  So, we just use the big potty and put the special seat on top that is made for little buns to sit on.

2.  Treats.  Because we don't eat many sugary foods in our home, you would think that this would be a big deal.  But, actually, it just seemed to interfere with meal times, they always wanted the entire bag of m & m's instead of just one or two, and they expected a reward for every time they went, or daddy and I were subject to prolonged fits of nerve-racking whining.

3. Books with the flushy noise button. It's a major assault on the nerves, man.  Trust me, don't buy it, even if it's in the bargain bin.

4.  Expressing frustration to the child.  No matter what happens, you can't lose your cool.  We know this from experience. Getting stressed out over poo doesn't help matters at all.  You might feel inclined to use negative consequences or punishments, but it will only leave you and the child feeling upset.  Just remember, they're not going to wear diapers forever - and if your mother-in-law insists on scolding your undie delays by retelling the story of how your spouse was potty trained at nine months you can always schedule a long overdue get-away with your honey and let granny work her magic.

What HAS worked for us??  We've tried different things with each child depending on their personality. Here are just a few that have helped liberate us from the diaper isle:

1. Give 'em a target. Since we live in the country, letting the boys potty outside is an easy way to get them interested in "going" without the diaper.  But, if you don't live in an environment suitable for that, try to create a toilet "target" for them.  For example, if you have a portable child's potty, you can put something small and flushable in the receptacle that the little man can try to hit.  We have used Cheerios and even drawn pictures on the bottom of the bowl with a dry-erase marker. When the boys stand, take aim, and hit the target they connect their action with the goal - to go in the potty instead of a diaper.

2.  Incentives (a.k.a. bribes).  I'll admit, it's worked for a couple of our boys.  I remember our oldest son, Ben, loving farm equipment.  We went to a farm and home store and let him pick out a big CAT combine, came home and set the box on the back of the toilet.  It was enough to motivate him to get his "business" done.  The key is to let them pick out their special gift, and DO NOT let them open it until they can use the potty regularly during the day.

3.  Like father, like son! Let the little boys go to the bathroom with daddy.  Have daddy say things like, "I'm a big guy, and I wear underwear.  Would you like to wear underwear like daddy?" Then, daddy can take his little man to the store to pick out some new undies.  
(The Superman sets are a classic, and  so cute!)
(I love these shark themed briefs from the Gap ~ hilarious!)
Steve will even bring the son-in-training home and hang out with him, both in their undies, while they watch cartoons on the couch together, visiting the potty every 15 minutes or so.  The boys love this, and it's great male-bonding time.

4.  Finally, we have tried the method of offering drinks and snacks to the child and visiting the potty every 15 minutes over a period of a couple of hours.  This works well if you dedicate the time completely to the child and not to other things that will distract you from remembering to keep the drinks and potty visits going.  Also, let them wear their underwear during this time.  It's easier for them to get in and out of.  And, if they happen to tinkle in their tighty-whities, many kids do not like the feeling of being wet, and that discomfort will help them remember to use the potty.

If you have a success story and would like to comment, please do, so that other readers can share in your wisdom!


  1. Cheerioes did not work for us (lol) Child #1 would fish them out by hand and try to eat them, Child #2 was not happy with the amount of cheerioes I gave him for targets so when left unsupervised he would dump an entire box into the toilet. Child #3 is at the potty training age without much interest in going potty in the toilet...HOWEVER...Leave the litter box out in the open? Scores for Haidyn and the cat: 2 points, Mom: -4. I really don't remember what finally worked for the older 2... I've either block that time frame from my mind or I was heavily intoxicated.

  2. I agree! I wonder if you could do a post like this about what has worked (and not worked) in helping your boys not to fight? I know I'd be interested. We seem to go in cycles of best of friends for a while and then worst of enemies...

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