Boys are often late to potty train

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  April 19, 2011 06:00 AM

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Hi!

My son turned 3 a few months ago. He is not interested in potty training. We tried it over a few days and he was hostile, had tantrums, and refused to sit on the potty and peed on himself.

How is the best way to handle this? Some books I have read say to do it when he communicates interest. Is this the best approach? Should I be concerned that he isn't interested at this stage? He is in preschool but isn't required to be potty trained, nor is it required for his camp program. However, I don't want to start "too late" and have future issues. He transitioned to his bed fine but he had communicated interest in the a bed. Should this be a similar approach? What's best?

Thanks

From: Lisa, Newton, MA

Hi Lisa,

Yes, I agree that it's best to wait until a child communicates he's ready. When a child is ready, it will happen quickly and easily.

How do you know? Pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton's signs of readiness are widely considered the best yardstick and he warns that all seven signs of readiness need to be present, not just one or two:

(1) He's able to sit still and concentrate on a task;
(2) He has enough language to understand instructions and follow through on them;
(3) She has the ability to make her own decisions, for instance, she knows when she's ready to pee or poop;
(4) She's knows where things belong, like her toys or your slippers. What's this got to do with potty training? Brazelton writes, "She is getting ready to use her potty as an appropriate place for her 'products.'"
(5) She imitates your behavior;
(6) His body functions happen at predictable times;
(7) He's aware of his body, can label body parts, and verbally identify body functions.

One of the signs (out of seven) that a child is NOT ready is showing "any resistance whatsoever" to using the potty.

So yes, I'd back off. So he's 3; boys are often late to train.

Be grateful your preschool and camp aren't applying pressure, and simply tell your son, Tell him, "You're in charge of your body. When you're ready to use the potty, we can try again." Leave the potty in the bathroom, but drop the subject. Really.

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12 comments so far...
  1. My son started to pee and poop on the potty shortly after his 2nd birthday. Then suddenly before he turned 2.5 he stopped. he was never "potty trained" during that time. But would pee on the potty if he made it in time, and occasionally he would poop on the potty. From 2.5 until almost 3 he had no desire to use the potty. Then maybe around 35 months one day he decided he wanted to wear the Lightning McQueen underwear we had bought him. He hasnt looked back since. Barely any accidents, 100% potty trained. I really do believe you have to wait for them to be ready.

    Posted by Kristen April 19, 11 12:04 PM
  1. I'll agree that in many cases boys tend to be late to train; however, I think that each case is unique and generalizations should not be made about boys. I'd also have to say that I disagree with the child needing to meet so many standards of readiness.
    My son was fully potty trained, day and night by 26 months so it definitely can be done. The way I did it was that at around the age of 12 months I would sit him on the potty while I was filling up his bathtub. Sometimes he would go (though I figure it was just coincidence) and sometimes he wouldn't. I like to think that it got him used to the idea of a potty so by the time he was around 2 I think he was comfortable with the idea. At one point around his second birthday he would start pulling on his diaper to tell me he had to go (as he was non-verbal at that age). I debated training him so early but when I mentioned it to another mom she said if he's ready then go for it. Her suggestion was to commit to it for one full week. No diapers, no pullups, just underwear. It was a messy first few days but each day got easier and by day 6 it was complete.
    I don't claim to be an expert at all and I know all kids are different but this is what worked for us. I guess I just don't like to underestimate boys' abilities. Now I'll get to test my potty training theory out after my second boy is born in a few months.

    Posted by RT April 19, 11 12:06 PM
  1. My son was almost 3 1/2 years old before he started using the potty. I started introducing the potty around 2 1/2 and he was just not into it. So, I let it be. One day, out of the blue, he came to me and asked me to use the potty, I showed him what to do and the rest is history. Take comfort in the fact that he will not be going to school wearing diapers. It's just not a battle worth fighting.

    Posted by Annie April 19, 11 12:55 PM
  1. Hi Lisa,
    I have a 3 year old boy as well, and he's potty trained for about 6 months now. Before that he would not want to go potty and often preferred to pee pee in his diaper. I tricked him one time saying we're out of diapers and he needs to wear just underwear and pajama.
    He agreed. We were playing a game and I said to him that Mommy needs to go potty and told him to wait for me. Then he said he wanted to go too, so we went to the bathroom together. I told him to go first and I helped him sit on the toilette. Then I showed him the flush. Then my turn to go. Then we washed our hands and continued with our game. Ever since that day, he never wanted to wear diaper again.

    Posted by Trinh April 19, 11 12:57 PM
  1. My twin boys began potty training at 26 months (they were 5 weeks early however so that should be adjusted). The first week week was very hectic but after that things went more smoothly. One of the boys kept telling me right after he had gone poop so I figured they were ready. It was actually to our advantage to have two boys training together because they kept trying to out do each other.

    Posted by Maureen Appleyard April 19, 11 04:30 PM
  1. I get upset that there is the generalization that boys are 'late' with things like the potty. Every kid is different and every parent encourages/discourages different behaviors. We wanted to potty train my son early, when he first showed some interest, but we missed that tiny window. Then when he was 2.5 he 'decided' he didn't want to potty train.

    My nanny and I tried the cold turkey/no diapers, encouragement, reward, and nothing worked. Then we tried a simple idea, a timer. It was set for 5 or 10 minutes, when it went off, it was potty time! No one was 'forcing' behavior, just 'oops, we have to take a quick break and come right back to our activity'. As time went on the timer went to 15, then 20, then 30 minutes, until the timer wasn't needed.

    My son didn't want to take a break from activities to go to the potty, but when he truly understood that the activity was just paused and we could come right back he was all on board. We still use the timer for some things, when it is time to get ready to school, when to stop screen time, and he understands it is not a 'punishment' just time passing.

    Another idea we used was to have a potty on the floor since he was little, not used, just there to get him used to the idea.

    Please leave the adage "boys are late" alone. It isn't fair to the mama or the boys. Some boys are early, some are later, it depends on the child and the parents.

    Posted by Nicole April 19, 11 05:00 PM
  1. I found that at 21/2 was a good time to start, once kids get to be 31/2 they are used to being in a diaper.

    It's good to get them young before they become to accustomed to wearing diapers.

    Posted by Ellen Hayes April 19, 11 06:25 PM
  1. Why title the article "late" to pottty-train? You are just setting mothers up to think that their son is not meeting some standard, particularly if it is a standard set by girls, who are just different. Why not just say, most boys will be potty-trained by 3 1/2. Some will do it earlier, some later. No one's a better mother for getting their 2 year old trained. And, your son won't be peeing his pants daily in school at second grade either.

    Posted by Sarah April 19, 11 06:37 PM
  1. I'm with Annie 100%. My son was about 3.75 and had been telling us that he was going to be wearing diapers even when he was a grownup. One day he was scratching at the red marks on his hips from his diaper. I told him that if he wore his undies it would probably feel better on his hips. First he said, nah. Then a minute later he said, OK. And he's worn his undies ever since. He does still wear a night diaper though. So don't sweat it. I didn't worry about it TOO much.... but now I wish I hadn't spent even one second worrying about it.

    Posted by Sarah April 19, 11 10:16 PM
  1. I started just after two years old with my daughter. We are rapidly approaching her 3rd birthday, and she just started to use the potty on a regular basis, although there are accidents when we don't get there in time.
    I'm not sure "training" works for every child. Anything that I want my daughter to do, I can not show any desire for, or she will fight it. Sounds like in this case you son is feeling your desire for him to potty train, and is rebelling (we're in for it when they are teens!). I tried not to get angry, or pushy, but kept reminding her that big kids use the potty, and listed neighbors and other children we knew to encourage her. After a while, it just seemed like something clicked, and we are on our way. Does he spend time with potty trained children? Perhaps potty time could be a group event. (not actually all in the bathroom) But lining up together, seeing other children get praised. Maybe a little peer pressure would help. Just a thought.

    Posted by lala April 20, 11 07:52 AM
  1. The best advice we ever got: Do all diaper changes in the bathroom next to the potty on the floor. The child starts to associate urination and defecation with the bathroom/potty. Does the child go for long periods of time with a dry diaper? If so, she might have sufficient bladder control to make it to the potty. Regardless, all most all children are portty-trained prior to starting college. "Diaper-free by three" is a meaningless goal.

    Posted by Darrell April 20, 11 10:27 AM
  1. For boys; do you sit them down to go potty? Best thing about being a male is peeing standing up. Not sure if that correlates to boys though.

    Seriously, you can make all sorts of different sounds depending where in the toilet you aim. Given Maureen Appleyard's success with competition, maybe you need a duel goal here.

    Posted by Michael May 10, 11 04:09 PM
 
12 comments so far...
  1. My son started to pee and poop on the potty shortly after his 2nd birthday. Then suddenly before he turned 2.5 he stopped. he was never "potty trained" during that time. But would pee on the potty if he made it in time, and occasionally he would poop on the potty. From 2.5 until almost 3 he had no desire to use the potty. Then maybe around 35 months one day he decided he wanted to wear the Lightning McQueen underwear we had bought him. He hasnt looked back since. Barely any accidents, 100% potty trained. I really do believe you have to wait for them to be ready.

    Posted by Kristen April 19, 11 12:04 PM
  1. I'll agree that in many cases boys tend to be late to train; however, I think that each case is unique and generalizations should not be made about boys. I'd also have to say that I disagree with the child needing to meet so many standards of readiness.
    My son was fully potty trained, day and night by 26 months so it definitely can be done. The way I did it was that at around the age of 12 months I would sit him on the potty while I was filling up his bathtub. Sometimes he would go (though I figure it was just coincidence) and sometimes he wouldn't. I like to think that it got him used to the idea of a potty so by the time he was around 2 I think he was comfortable with the idea. At one point around his second birthday he would start pulling on his diaper to tell me he had to go (as he was non-verbal at that age). I debated training him so early but when I mentioned it to another mom she said if he's ready then go for it. Her suggestion was to commit to it for one full week. No diapers, no pullups, just underwear. It was a messy first few days but each day got easier and by day 6 it was complete.
    I don't claim to be an expert at all and I know all kids are different but this is what worked for us. I guess I just don't like to underestimate boys' abilities. Now I'll get to test my potty training theory out after my second boy is born in a few months.

    Posted by RT April 19, 11 12:06 PM
  1. My son was almost 3 1/2 years old before he started using the potty. I started introducing the potty around 2 1/2 and he was just not into it. So, I let it be. One day, out of the blue, he came to me and asked me to use the potty, I showed him what to do and the rest is history. Take comfort in the fact that he will not be going to school wearing diapers. It's just not a battle worth fighting.

    Posted by Annie April 19, 11 12:55 PM
  1. Hi Lisa,
    I have a 3 year old boy as well, and he's potty trained for about 6 months now. Before that he would not want to go potty and often preferred to pee pee in his diaper. I tricked him one time saying we're out of diapers and he needs to wear just underwear and pajama.
    He agreed. We were playing a game and I said to him that Mommy needs to go potty and told him to wait for me. Then he said he wanted to go too, so we went to the bathroom together. I told him to go first and I helped him sit on the toilette. Then I showed him the flush. Then my turn to go. Then we washed our hands and continued with our game. Ever since that day, he never wanted to wear diaper again.

    Posted by Trinh April 19, 11 12:57 PM
  1. My twin boys began potty training at 26 months (they were 5 weeks early however so that should be adjusted). The first week week was very hectic but after that things went more smoothly. One of the boys kept telling me right after he had gone poop so I figured they were ready. It was actually to our advantage to have two boys training together because they kept trying to out do each other.

    Posted by Maureen Appleyard April 19, 11 04:30 PM
  1. I get upset that there is the generalization that boys are 'late' with things like the potty. Every kid is different and every parent encourages/discourages different behaviors. We wanted to potty train my son early, when he first showed some interest, but we missed that tiny window. Then when he was 2.5 he 'decided' he didn't want to potty train.

    My nanny and I tried the cold turkey/no diapers, encouragement, reward, and nothing worked. Then we tried a simple idea, a timer. It was set for 5 or 10 minutes, when it went off, it was potty time! No one was 'forcing' behavior, just 'oops, we have to take a quick break and come right back to our activity'. As time went on the timer went to 15, then 20, then 30 minutes, until the timer wasn't needed.

    My son didn't want to take a break from activities to go to the potty, but when he truly understood that the activity was just paused and we could come right back he was all on board. We still use the timer for some things, when it is time to get ready to school, when to stop screen time, and he understands it is not a 'punishment' just time passing.

    Another idea we used was to have a potty on the floor since he was little, not used, just there to get him used to the idea.

    Please leave the adage "boys are late" alone. It isn't fair to the mama or the boys. Some boys are early, some are later, it depends on the child and the parents.

    Posted by Nicole April 19, 11 05:00 PM
  1. I found that at 21/2 was a good time to start, once kids get to be 31/2 they are used to being in a diaper.

    It's good to get them young before they become to accustomed to wearing diapers.

    Posted by Ellen Hayes April 19, 11 06:25 PM
  1. Why title the article "late" to pottty-train? You are just setting mothers up to think that their son is not meeting some standard, particularly if it is a standard set by girls, who are just different. Why not just say, most boys will be potty-trained by 3 1/2. Some will do it earlier, some later. No one's a better mother for getting their 2 year old trained. And, your son won't be peeing his pants daily in school at second grade either.

    Posted by Sarah April 19, 11 06:37 PM
  1. I'm with Annie 100%. My son was about 3.75 and had been telling us that he was going to be wearing diapers even when he was a grownup. One day he was scratching at the red marks on his hips from his diaper. I told him that if he wore his undies it would probably feel better on his hips. First he said, nah. Then a minute later he said, OK. And he's worn his undies ever since. He does still wear a night diaper though. So don't sweat it. I didn't worry about it TOO much.... but now I wish I hadn't spent even one second worrying about it.

    Posted by Sarah April 19, 11 10:16 PM
  1. I started just after two years old with my daughter. We are rapidly approaching her 3rd birthday, and she just started to use the potty on a regular basis, although there are accidents when we don't get there in time.
    I'm not sure "training" works for every child. Anything that I want my daughter to do, I can not show any desire for, or she will fight it. Sounds like in this case you son is feeling your desire for him to potty train, and is rebelling (we're in for it when they are teens!). I tried not to get angry, or pushy, but kept reminding her that big kids use the potty, and listed neighbors and other children we knew to encourage her. After a while, it just seemed like something clicked, and we are on our way. Does he spend time with potty trained children? Perhaps potty time could be a group event. (not actually all in the bathroom) But lining up together, seeing other children get praised. Maybe a little peer pressure would help. Just a thought.

    Posted by lala April 20, 11 07:52 AM
  1. The best advice we ever got: Do all diaper changes in the bathroom next to the potty on the floor. The child starts to associate urination and defecation with the bathroom/potty. Does the child go for long periods of time with a dry diaper? If so, she might have sufficient bladder control to make it to the potty. Regardless, all most all children are portty-trained prior to starting college. "Diaper-free by three" is a meaningless goal.

    Posted by Darrell April 20, 11 10:27 AM
  1. For boys; do you sit them down to go potty? Best thing about being a male is peeing standing up. Not sure if that correlates to boys though.

    Seriously, you can make all sorts of different sounds depending where in the toilet you aim. Given Maureen Appleyard's success with competition, maybe you need a duel goal here.

    Posted by Michael May 10, 11 04:09 PM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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